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Kobe

Famous for its beef, Kobe is a busy port city that exhibits an eclectic mix of cultural influences. Located just south of Okinawa on the island of Honshu, Kobe is one of Japan's most important ports with a cosmopolitan flavor and diverse attractions.

Kobe became a port city in the 19th century when international trade embargoes were lifted. Immediately, the city began to absorb both eastern and western influences – European houses sprang up in clusters, Chinatown blossomed and churches and synagogues dotted the city. Today's Kobe is proud of its multicultural make-up – the Western-style housing suburbs are a major attraction for domestic tourists – but those wanting a traditional Japanese experience still have plenty of opportunities.

One authentically Japanese aspect of Kobe is its sake. The Nada district close to the port is one of the leading sake producing regions in the world and many of the breweries there are open for tours, tastings and souvenir shopping. A more salubrious slice of Japan can be experienced at the seaside Samaura Park or Oji Park, two optimum sites for enjoying the cherry blossom festivals in the spring.

Kobe, being a harbor city, experiences much activity port-side. The waterside Meriken Park (deriving from 'American') features the red cylindrical Kobe Port Tower with viewing platform at 90 meters, the sail-shaped Maritime Museum and a memorial to those lost in the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. The Mosaic complex, just across the harbor, offers more commercial froms of entertainment with shops, restaurants, some amusement rides and cinemas.

In terms of food, it would be remiss of visitors to Kobe to ignore its signature beef. From pampered wagyu cattle (reportedly fed beer and massaged with warm sake), this fatty marbled beef must conform to the tightest regulations before it can be considered authentic. For something less high-end, travelers can go for some soba – the regional specialty here is sobameshi, an inexpensive dish of fried rice and noodles. Accessing Kobe is possible by air or overland. Kobe Airport only accepts domestic flights, so international travelers will usually arrive via Osaka International Airport, 40 minutes' drive away. Bullet trains are also available from Tokyo – a trip of about three hours.

For more information on hotels and landmarks in the different areas of Kobe, click on the interactive Kobe map on the left-hand side of the page.