Ten essential experiences to have in the prefecture we call home.
Affectionately known as the bellybutton of Japan, Hyogo is a treasure trove of fun and adventure. Thanks to an expansive train network, several ferry ports, innumerable bus routes and its own airport, Hyogo is a very accessible prefecture – which is ideal because there is just so much to enjoy! When you first received your JET placement you, like me, may have had little to no knowledge of the prefecture and gone straight to Wikitravel for help to be more than a little underwhelmed. Next, every backpacker’s best friend, the Lonely Planet: just a few short pages covering little more than Kobe and Himeji castle…what is this huge-but-seemingly-empty prefecture we have moved to?! I’ll tell you what; it is Japan’s best kept secret.
Often described as Japan in miniature, Hyogo has snow-covered mountains in winter, beautiful beaches in summer, flowers galore in springtime and sensationally vivid autumnal leaves. In short, it is a delight in every season and has cosmopolitan cities, fascinating culture and unbeatable cuisine to boot! The question really is where to start. Well, here is the answer, or rather, ten of them!
It’s simple word association: I say Kobe, you say steak. If you are in Hyogo it’d be rude not to sample its finest cuisine. Everyone should try this luxurious succulent steak once; head to Wakkoqu for the full experience or Wanto for a budget-friendly burger option.
Perhaps Japan’s most famous castle, this UNESCO-listed building has come out of its box after several years of restoration works to restore it to its original grandeur. Although spectacular at any time of year (and even impressive under scaffolding), in cherry blossom season it is quintessential Japan.
Every prefecture has its top cherry blossom spot and Hyogo is no exception. Shukugawa is a long river running the length of Nishinomiya city. A pleasant stroll year-round, its banks really come to life in April when over 2000 sakura trees bloom into perfect pink clouds. Expect to see lots of happy picnics and romantic dates.
4. Kinosaki Onsen Town
Hyogo’s northern coast has beautiful beaches and the even more relaxing traditional onsen town of Kinosaki. Head here to luxuriate in traditional Japanese baths, rejuvenating in all the hot mineral-rich water you could desire, and to stay in a Japanese guesthouse. Make sure to read the travel review in this month’s issue. If you don’t have enough time to go north, Arima is another lovely onsen town just outside of Kobe.
5. Takarazuka Revue
Prepare to be wowed by the incredible triple-threat performers at Takarazuka Revue. The all-female troupes train for years in singing, dancing and acting – and it certainly shows. They will bedazzle you with talent and more sequins and feathers than ever seen before on one stage!
You cannot visit Hyogo and not see a baseball game at the famous Koshien stadium. Book ahead to see the Hanshin Tigers play at home and join in on all the chants with some of Japan’s most die-hard fans, or in summer watch the high school baseball tournament – it’s free!
7. Naruto whirlpools
Between Hyogo’s Awaji island and Shikoku is Japan’s fastest strait. Admire the impressive Naruto whirlpools from the bridge between the islands, or brave a dramatic boat ride which will make you think of krakens lurking beneath the water…
8. Takeda Castle Ruins
Hiking is great fun, it’s even better if it takes you to striking castle ruins seemingly suspended above the Earth. Intrigued? Get up early for the best chance of walking above the clouds on Japan’s Machu Picchu.
The world’s longest suspension bridge, the Kaikyo Bridge is an incredible feat of engineering, connecting the mainland to Awaji island, a destination in itself. Impressive by day and beautiful by night when it is lit up in rainbow colours, you can even scale the bridge for yourself to admire the views of Awaji and Akashi.
10. Kobe Night View
The urban sprawl from Kobe to Osaka may be grey and unrelenting by day, but by night it is lit up like a Christmas tree and one of Japan’s top three night views. See for yourself from either Mount Rokko or Kobe Port Tower.
Whilst you may not be able to turn to Wikitravel or the Lonely Planet for many Hyogo travel ideas, the Hyogo Times, Hyogo AJET and JapanTravel.com are great resources of information for events and things to do in your area. Though the best way is simply to step out your front door and see for yourself; you’ll be amazed at what you can discover in Hyogo.
This is an adapted version of the article originally posted on JapanTravel on 15 July 2014.