Hyogo Highlights: History, Culture, and Gourmet Food Wrapped Up in Kobe, Awaji Island, and Himeji
Hyogo is a charming prefecture with a lot to offer, such as the World Heritage Site of Himeji Castle, the foodie paradise that is Awaji Island, and the world-famous Kobe beef. It is a Japan in miniature, with enough diversity in the history, culture, and gourmet options across its lands to please just about anyone that drops by. Let us introduce you to some of its highlights.
Mar 10 2023
*This article was written in collaboration with the Hyogo International Promotion Cooperation Committee.
About Hyogo Prefecture
Hyogo Prefecture has long been an important center for trade and exchange in Japan owing to its geographical location, with the major Kansai cities of Kyoto and Osaka to its east and the Chugoku towns of Okayama and Tottori to its west. The prefecture covers a vast amount of land that extends from the Sea of Japan in the north to the Seto Inland Sea in the south, resulting in diversified climatic and natural features as well as different kinds of communities, giving visitors the opportunity to experience multiple aspects of Japan all in one prefecture and earning Hyogo the nickname "Japan in miniature."
<Getting to Hyogo Prefecture by Train>
From Osaka to Kobe: 30 minutes from JR Shin-Osaka Station, JR Osaka Station, or Hankyu Osaka-umeda Station
From Tokyo to Shin-Kobe: 160~190 minutes using the JR Tokaido or Sanyo Shinkansen (Nozomi vs Hikari trains)
<Getting to Hyogo Prefecture by Plane>
For those arriving by air, transferring to Kobe from either Kansai International Airport or Itami Airport is a breeze, and there are a number of highway buses that will deliver you directly into the heart of the city. Kobe Airport is small, but also offers a number of domestic routes. It will start accepting international charter flights in 2025, with regular international flights scheduled to begin in 2030.
Kobe: Art, History, and Gorgeous Views Await
Kobe is the seventh-largest city in Japan and is the shining capital of Hyogo Prefecture. Even prior to the Edo Period (1603-1868), Kobe flourished due to its production of sake and status as a major port city in Japan. At the tip of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Kobe was established as a major international port in Japan, which opened the floodgates to a major influx of Western people, goods, and culture, much of which has made a lasting impact on the urbanscape of the city even now.
Kobe has an excellent public transportation network, however, what better way to start your day than by immersing yourself in the city by bike? The Kobelin rental cycle system allows you to rent a bike at any one of its many rental stands and peddle to your heart's content as you traverse the port city.
Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum
Highlighting traditional Japanese craftsmanship methods that have been passed down from generation to generation, the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum is a celebration of the tools that have made the construction of Japan possible. The museum was opened in 1984 as the only museum dedicated to Japanese carpentry tools and is committed to preserving, protecting, and passing on traditional Japanese construction practices as we further plunge into the modern age.
Motomachi, Nankinmachi, and Sakaemachi
Motomachi is Kobe's central commercial district, with a shopping alley that has a mix of stores that have been in business for over 100 years and new establishments. You can find everything from department stores to shops selling all kinds of sundries, chic eateries, cafes, and confectioneries.
Not much further than Motomachi is Kobe’s very own Chinatown, Nankinmachi, where Chinese eateries and other restaurants fringe the streets with delicacies that remain in people's memories.
Lastly, there's Sakaemachi, a former business district of Kobe that feels like a blast from the past with its vintage vibes and numerous small, individually-run stores tucked in retro buildings and back alleys. Here you'll find that special "something" that shows off the proprietor's sense of style, such as made-to-order accessories, handmade fashion pieces and clothing, imported goods, and even cafes with amazing atmospheres.
cafe & bar anthem
When you're running low on energy after exploring the city of Kobe, it's time to take a break. Kobe is so chock full of chic cafes and patisseries that it can be hard deciding where to take a breather, but we recommend the popular cafe & bar anthem in Sakaemachi. Hidden away on the fourth floor of a nondescript building, they surprise visitors with their bright and open interior, perfect for a few hours of relaxation. The cafe's menu is laced with Western-style delights such as quiche, croque monsieur, and pasta that are all sold as reasonably priced sets with a drink, soup, salad, and bread. They also have a no-bake cheesecake with homemade berry jam that you'll completely fall in love with.
BE KOBE Monument
One of the most iconic landmarks of Kobe is the giant BE KOBE monument that graces the seaside port in Meriken Park. What better way to flex your Hyogo Prefecture trip on social media than with a commemorative photo with the larger-than-life sign?
AQUARIUM × ART átoa
Encompassing the second to fourth floors of the Kobe Port Museum, átoa is a theatrical aquarium where aquatic life meets art. Encounter all kinds of marine creatures in this magical space carved out into zones using enclosures and digital art. An exhibit like you’ve never encountered, átoa is certainly a sight for sore eyes!
Kobe Portopia Hotel
After a long day of being out and about around Kobe, relax and settle down at one of the city's premier hotels. Boasting an unrivaled panoramic nighttime view of Kobe from its roof terrace "Sorafune Kobe" 110 meters above ground, Kobe Portopia Hotel teases comfortable rooms, tantalizing dining options, and an unwavering commitment to exceptional hospitality. It is conveniently located just 2 minutes away from the Portliner station "Shimin Hiroba" on foot.
At Teppanyaki Grill Tajima on the second floor of the Main Building, guests can watch experienced chefs skillfully cook Kobe beef steak right in front of them. The hotel also has a fitness center and spa facility, as well as an aesthetic salon, which are perfect for relieving the fatigue built up over a trip around Hyogo. A stay at Kobe Portopia Hotel will surely make your Kobe trip one to remember!
Awaji Island: Get in Touch With Nature
Awaji Island has historically acted as a vital connection between Honshu (the main island of Japan) and Shikoku, as it is sandwiched right between the Kansai and Shikoku regions. It is the largest island in the Seto Inland Sea and also carries the nickname "region of foods" owing to the prefecture being a great source of marine ingredients for the kitchens of the Imperial Court back in the day. Being just an hour away from the metropolis of Kobe, the island is the perfect addition to a relaxing holiday in Hyogo Prefecture. There's plenty to explore, as Awaji Island has a plethora of local specialty goods as well as an abundance of nature, so let us introduce you to some of them below.
Parchez Kaori no Yakata
This theme park is dedicated to fragrances, with flowerbeds, greenhouses, a hot spring, a cafe, and even several hands-on workshops where you can make your own scented perfumes. In their incense-making workshop, you're given 40 to 50 minutes to add your favorite fragrance to a powder mix of sandalwood and powdered laurel bark, then knead everything together to form your very own incense. With over 100 herbs and flowers on display, you're sure to be treated to gorgeous views of seasonal blooms.
Greenarium Awajishima is comprised of not just a restaurant but also a strawberry and tomato farm, meaning that diners get to indulge in truly fresh produce. Dine on scrumptious lunches and desserts like parfait within their greenhouse.
Depending on the season, visitors can try their hand at strawberry or tomato picking. From late December to the end of May, they offer the "Strawberry Picnic," where you can do more than just eat strawberries. You can borrow a picnic set and savor sweets and drinks among the strawberries for 90 minutes, basking in the lovely picnic atmosphere.
Hello Kitty Show Box
Come and see Hello Kitty and all her friends at the Hello Kitty Show Box on Awaji Island! Here, you can dine at the Hello Kitty Cafe and enjoy a variety of performances where Hello Kitty sings and dances and takes photos as well as talks with the audience.
Honpukuji Temple's Mizumi-do Hall
Mizumi-do Hall is the new main temple building of Honpukuji which was constructed at the end of the Heian Period (794-1185). Designed by the renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando, it stands out for its concrete temple structure.
This marriage of contemporary architecture and traditional Buddhism is uniquely located beneath a massive pond and is dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing.
Embrace the historic side of Awaji Island by staying in this local "kominka," a term that refers to old residences with distinct traditional Japanese architecture. You can rent out the whole house, allowing you to savor Awaji Island's vast nature, townscape, and residents in complete peace, away from the hustle and bustle. They also offer farming experiences whose contents change by the season.
Himeji: Taking Pride in Tradition
Hyogo’s second-largest city is the gallant Himeji, which can be reached in just 40 minutes from Kobe's Sannomiya Station or 1 hour from Osaka using the JR line. Stepping into Himeji is like breathing in history and romance, with its towering namesake located at its center. Of course, there's far more to Himeji than its castle, so let us introduce you to some of them below.
Cafe de Muche
Get an early start on your day and kick off your morning with breakfast at Cafe de Muche. Often featured in the media, Cafe de Muche is the home of Himeji’s famous almond butter toast. The cafe prides itself on its wide variety of Western-style dishes, all served in heaping portions at very reasonable prices.
Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Perched on Mt. Shosha at an altitude of 371 meters, Engyoji is a Tendai temple founded by Shoku Shonin that was once featured in the Hollywood movie "The Last Samurai" starring Tom Cruise. It has various structures worth seeing, such as the Mani-den, Daiko-do, and Jiki-do halls, the last two of which are nationally-designated Important Cultural Properties of Japan. Visit to bask in gorgeous nature scenery and the mystical atmosphere brought about by the temple's traditional architecture.
One of Himeji's most famous delicacies is the "anago" conger eel as it faces the Seto Inland Sea, so you can find many restaurants serving up this freshly-caught seafood across the city. Hiiragi is particularly famous for conger eel. They broil it the traditional way using fresh, top-quality catches, resulting in a fragrant and flavorful dish. Apart from their anago-ju (pictured above), they also offer anago sashimi and set meals with tempura and other kinds of side dishes. Have a look and see what you prefer the day of your visit!
The crown jewel of Himeji and the pride of Hyogo, Himeji Castle is said to be the most famous castle in the country. Its present form was fully constructed by 1618, and though that was over 400 years ago, the castle has not once been part of any battle or war or suffered as a result of one. Thanks to this, many of its structures such as its castletower, turret, and gate remain in excellent condition. It holds great cultural value, hence why it became Japan's first World Heritage Site in 1993.
Often called the “White Heron Castle” in reference to its pristine white exterior, the castle is busiest during the cherry blossom period as few views in Japan can rival the image of the stoic castle facade in contrast with the gentle accent of the pink sakura petals.
There's Something for Everyone in Hyogo Prefecture
Whether it’s your first time or your 51st time, Hyogo Prefecture has so much to offer and is sure to be a truly remarkable experience for everyone! Use this article to help plan your trip, or branch out by checking out the prefecture's official social media accounts below to explore all there is to do, see, and eat in this charming prefecture!
Official Facebook pages
Hyogo Prefecture: https://www.facebook.com/HyogoTheHeartofJapan
Kobe City: https://www.facebook.com/visitkobe/
Himeji City: https://www.facebook.com/himejishi/
Awaji City: https://www.facebook.com/AwajiKanko/
Official Instagram accounts
Hyogo Prefecture: https://www.instagram.com/hyogonavi_official/
Kobe City: https://www.instagram.com/visitkobe/?hl=ja
Himeji City: https://www.instagram.com/himejitourism/
Awaji City: https://www.instagram.com/awajishima.kanko/
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.