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Kōbe, central Japan, rockets between being a forested mountain haven and a futuristic city on the move. This city has a long history of trade, and as one of the first places to open to foreigners in the 19th century, there's a long-established cosmopolitan feel. In pedestrian-friendly Kōbe, historic shrines, misty mountains and sleek technology welcome travellers looking to experience modern Japan.
Hostels in Kōbe include a hostel with a roof terrace overlooking the city lights; or you could spend the night in a Japanese capsule room. Most places have dorms, although there are some private rooms available. Some Kōbe hostels have cafés and gallery spaces where you can meet other travellers, and there are plenty with communal kitchens and free Wi-Fi too. Check out a Kōbe hostel with bicycle rental to explore the city on two wheels.
The commercial centre of Kōbe, including Motomachi shopping street, is south of Sannomiya Station. On the bay, Harborland is a collection of brick warehouses converted into restaurant and shopping mega-complexes such as popular Mosaic. Nearby Meriken Park's reclaimed waterfront is home to art installations and museums overlooked by the twisting, illuminated lattice of Kōbe Port Tower. To the north, the hillside village of Kitano-chō is dotted with ijinkan (foreigners' mansions), built and decorated in the style of their European merchant owners.
Things to see and do in compact Kōbe are an eclectic mix of old and new. Tetsujin 28 Robot Statue is a towering symbol of strength, built to commemorate the city's recovery after the 1995 earthquake. The scarlet-wooded shrine of Ikuta-jinja is an ancient centre with links to Kōbe's saké (rice wine) industry. Spend an afternoon touring the breweries; most end with free samples. To see more of the surrounding countryside, journey to Mount Rokkō (35 minutes from the city). Take the cable car up for sea views from the summit, or have a soak in the hot springs at Arima Onsen bathhouse.
Kōbe Airport has domestic flights if you're travelling from within Japan, but Kansai International Airport is closest if you're coming from overseas. From there you can catch a 30-minute ferry ride to Kōbe or a shuttle bus taking 20 minutes. Sannomiya Station in the city centre is the main rail hub, with connections running to Osaka (20 minutes) and Kyoto (50 minutes) via high speed train. To get around the city there are regular buses travelling between the sights as well as a subway system to get further afield.