By Plane -- If you're arriving at Kansai International Airport (KIX), there are a couple options for travel onward to Kobe. Easiest are the Airport Limousine Buses operated by Kansai Airport Transportation Enterprise (tel. 072/461-1374; www.kate.co.jp), departing KIX every 20 minutes for Sannomiya Station, costing ¥1,900 one-way, and taking about 75 minutes. If you want to use your Japan Rail Pass, take a kaisoku (rapid train making only major stops) to Osaka Station and change there for the JR Kobe Line's 20-minute ride to Sannomiya Station (considered the heart of the city). If you're staying in a hotel closer to Shin-Kobe Station, take the JR Airport Express Haruka train from the airport to Shin-Osaka Station and transfer there for a speedy Shinkansen connection to Shin-Kobe Station.
If you're arriving at Kobe Airport (UKB; tel. 078/304-7777; www.kairport.co.jp), which opened in 2006 on Port Island to serve domestic flights, you can take the Portliner Monorail to Sannomiya Station in 16 minutes for ¥320.
By Train -- The Shinkansen bullet train takes 3 1/4 hours from Tokyo, 31 minutes from Kyoto, and about 14 minutes from Osaka; the fare from Tokyo for an unreserved seat is ¥13,760. All Shinkansen trains arrive at Shin-Kobe Station, which is linked to Sannomiya Station (considered the heart of the city) via a 3-minute subway ride (or a 20-min. walk). If you're arriving from nearby Osaka, Kyoto, Himeji, or Okayama, it may be easiest to take a JR express train stopping at Sannomiya Station if you're staying in one of the area's hotels.
By Bus -- JR Highway Buses (tel. 03/3515-1950; www.jrbuskanto.co.jp) depart from Tokyo Station's Yaesu south exit for Kobe four times nightly (two of the buses make stops also at Shinjuku Station's new South Exit), with the 10:30pm bus arriving at Sannomiya Bus Terminal (near Sannomiya Station) at 7:46am. Fares range from ¥5,000 to ¥8,690, depending on the bus and the season.
There are tourist information offices at Shin-Kobe Station (tel. 078/241-9550; daily 9am-6pm) and outside the west exit of Sannomiya Station on Flower Road in the Kotsu Center Building (tel. 078/322-0220; daily 9am-7pm). The English-speaking staff can provide maps and sightseeing information and make hotel reservations. Ask here for your Kobe Welcome Coupon, available only to foreigners and containing 16 coupons offering slight discounts to more than 70 sights and facilities, including the City Loop Line and most museums. More tourist information is available online at www.feel-kobe.jp/english.
Internet Access -- The Litz Comic Café, on the sixth floor of the Tatsumi Building at 5-3-2 Asahi Dori (tel. 078/241-8815), is open 24 hours and charges ¥480 for the first hour and then ¥50 for each subsequent 10 minutes. It's a 2-minute walk southeast of Sannomiya Station, down a small street parallel to the tracks (there's a Starbucks on the corner), on the sixth floor above a pachinko parlor.
Orientation & Getting Around
Squeezed between Mount Rokko rising in the north and the shores of the Seto Inland Sea to the south, Kobe stretches some 29km (18 miles) along the coastline but in many places is less than 3km (2 miles) wide. It's made up of many ku (wards) such as Nada-ku, Chuo-ku, and Hyogo-ku. The heart of the city lies around Sannomiya, Motomachi, and Kobe stations in the Chuo-ku (Central Ward). It's here you'll find the city's nightlife, its port, many restaurants and shopping centers, and most of its hotels. Unlike most other Japanese cities, many of the major streets in Kobe have names with English-language signs posted, so it's easier to get around here than elsewhere. Additionally, the various maps provided by the tourist office are good.
Because the city isn't very wide, you can walk to most points north and south of Sannomiya Station. South of Sannomiya Station is the Sannomiya Center Gai covered-arcade shopping street, beyond which lies Kobe's business and administrative district. North of Sannomiya Station are bars and restaurants clustered around narrow streets such as Higashimon Street. Kitano-zaka leads uphill to Kitano-cho (usually shortened to Kitano) with its Western-style houses, about a 15-minute walk north of Sannomiya Station. Shin-Kobe Station is a 20-minute walk north of Sannomiya. Running from Shin-Kobe Station south through Sannomiya all the way to the port is a flower-lined road -- called, appropriately enough, Flower Road.
About a 10-minute walk west of Sannomiya Station is Motomachi Station, south of which lies the fashionable Motomachi covered-arcade shopping street, Chinatown, and Meriken Park, established to commemorate the birthplace of Kobe's port. The next stop on the JR line from Motomachi Station is Kobe Station, just south of which is Harborland, a waterfront development with hotels, restaurants, and the colorful Mosaic outdoor restaurant and shopping complex.
Two train stops east of Sannomiya Station is one of the city's most ambitious urban renewal projects, HAT Kobe (an abbreviation of Happy Active Town), a mixed-use neighborhood of apartment complexes, research facilities, schools, and museums, including the Disaster Reduction Museum, which chronicles the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Nearby Nada Ward is home of several renowned breweries.
Because of restricted space, Kobe has also constructed two artificial islands in its harbor, Port Island (home of Kobe Airport) and Rokko Island. Farther afield, on Mount Rokko, is the Arima Onsen Spa.
A 13km (8-mile) City Loop bus, distinguished by its old-fashioned appearance, passes all major attractions, including Kitano, Chinatown, Meriken Park, and Harborland. Buses run three to four times an hour from about 9:30am to 5:30pm, with the route marked on the map distributed by the tourist office. It costs ¥250 for adults and ¥130 for children per ride. Or, a 1-day pass, allowing you to get off and reboard as often as you like and offering slight discounts to attractions mainly in Kitano, costs ¥650 for adults and ¥330 for children.
You can also use the JR Local Commuter train, which stops at Sannomiya, Motomachi, and Kobe stations, if you don't mind walking to destinations north and south of these stations (the City Loop Line buses will get you closer to major attractions). The subway is useful only for transportation between Shin-Kobe and Sannomiya stations. The Portliner Monorail connects Sannomiya with Port Island, while the Rokko Liner travels between JR Sumiyoshi Station and Rokko Island.