Sunday, July 6, 2008

The most outstanding view in Kansai

Japan is a mountainous archipelago. More than two third of the land are made of abrupt moutains covered by forest. There are sometimes only a few hundred meters of plain between the hills and the sea for humans to settle. I suggest we leave today for the “Rokko-san” (六甲山) range near Kobe (神戸) to get a spectacular summary of Japanese geography, and to enjoy the most beautiful panorama in Kansai (関西). You may want to end the trip in the hot-spring resort of Arima (有馬), probably the oldest in Japan.
For the less brave, a ropeway leads to the top of the moutain range. The observation platform near the upper station is worth a few minutes to enjoy the outstanding view of Kobe harbor. A bus then allows you easy access to the main tourist attractions. You may also want to hike you way to the summit. Departure of the trail is near the ashiya-gawa (芦屋川) station on the Hankyu Kobe (阪急神戸線) line. You should first follow signs to the « Rock Gardens » (ロックガーデン), then the well-mark track to the summit of Rokko-san. You will spend around 5 hours to climb and go down to Arima onsen. As always when hiking in Japan, you should be adequately equipped.
Mount Rokko is a climatic resort since 1895, when a British resident, Arthur H Gloom, installed a mountain hut near the summit. The place developed then as a resort where residents could enjoy the cool weather. The mountain is an important part of the city identity: the song of “Hanshin Tiger” (阪神タイガー) baseball team is “Rokko Oroshi” (六甲颪) or “The wind of Mount Rokko”. According to Hanshin fans, it is best song after a few beers during an outstanding victory against the Yomiuri Giants (読売巨人), the rival team from Tokyo.
The place has all the usual spots of Japanese tourism. The “Rokko Garden Terrace”, a replica of an European village, is a cluster of trendy shops. It even includes a castle tower, with a wall that reminds more of Japanese suburban houses than of Scottish castles. Rokko-san is also famous for its sheep farm, where local cheese is made. A restaurant near the “Rokko Garden Terrace” of course offers the “Genghis Kahn”, a mutton stew. The oldest golf of Japan was also built nearby, and you may enjoy the botanical garden and the “Country House” that also includes an artificial ski run.
More than the tourist spots, the most pleasant is the wonderful view from the mountain. The terrace at “Rokko Garden Terrace” is a wonderful place to watch Kansai from above. The panorama extends from Kobe to Osaka, with the sea in the background, just a few kilometers away. If the sky is clear, you may also see the Kansai International Airport built on a man-made island. This is a huge metropolis, with concrete as far as the eye can see, but high rise buildings are few and far apart. The Japanese cities are often chaotic: heterogeneous buildings are gathered randomly, with the exception of downtown Kobe, an area that was rebuilt after the earthquake. Reclaimed land area is visible all along the shore. In Kobe, two large man-made islands were built, “Rokko island” and “Port Island”. With the long recession, not all of this expensive land is used. During the earthquake, they proved especially unstable due to the high amount of water in the ground. This did not prevent the city from building an airport on reclaimed land, even further off the shore than Port Island.
Once you enjoyed the view, you may want to come back to Kobe through the other side of the moutain. A cable car will get you to the Arima. The 12 minutes trip above the forest is very pleasant. Once in Arima, you may want to go back to Kobe, but you may also spend a few hours enjoying the hot-springs. There is a legend that a 7th century emperor stayed several months there to enjoy the bathes. The town had ups and downs, and was almost destroyed by a major landslide in the 11th century. It was rebuilt by General Toyotomi Hideyoshi during the 16th century, and has thrived ever since. Two public bathes, “Kin-No-Yu” (金の湯) and « Gin-No-Yu » (銀の湯), can be visited during the day. There are many ryokans if you want to stay overnight.
Access to Mount Rokko

The « Rokko Cable car » goes all the way to the summit of the range. The departure station is close from the “Rokko” train station on the Hankyu line. One way ticket: Y570 (3.45 Euros), return ticket Y1000 (6 Euros). A return and summit bus ticket « Omote Rokko Shuyu Joshaken » is also available for Y1300. Access to the cable car is easier by bus 16 from the Hankyu « Rokko » station and JR “Rokko-michi” station.

« Rokko Arima Ropeway » links Arima station to the summit. Ticket is Y980 (6 Euros) one way, Y1770 (10.80 Euros) for a return ticket. A formula including the summit bus “ Ura Rokko Shuyu Joshaken” costs Y1900 (11.52 Euros).

A one way ticket from Kobe to ARima including the cable car, the summit bus, and the ropeway called “Rokko Arima Katamichi Joshaken” will set you back Y1700 (10.30 Euros).

You may return from Arima to Kobe using the Shintetsu (神鉄) train line, with a transfer in Arimaguchi (有馬口), and then a transfer in Tanigami (谷上) to the Kobe subway. The trip to Sannomiya (三宮) costs Y900 (5.45 Euros) for 30 minutes of train.

Kin-No-Yu: Admission Y650 (4 Euros), opened from 8:00 to 22:00, closed every second and fourth Tuesday of each month.
Gin-No-Yu: Admission Y550 (3.3 Euros), opened from 9:00 to 21:00, closed every first and third Tuesday of each month.

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