Panoramic view from Rokko mountain. Click on the image for a somewhat larger version. You can also view the really large size, though that one is big.
In the center foreground is Kobe's Sannomiya area, with Port Island (site of Ikea and the airport) to the right. In the background left is Osaka city (I think you technically can see our house from here), becoming Sakai city toward the right along the coast. Way in the back on the right, a narrow strip of lights in the sea is Kansai Airport (in the huge version above you can see the bridge connecting it to the mainland).
Our only excursion during this year's Obon holiday was a day trip to Rokko mountain in Kobe. Eastern Kobe lies along a fairly narrow strip of land between the sea to the south and the steep slope of the Rokko mountain to the north. It's pretty high - more than 700 meters - so the climate is notably cooler and drier, and the views can be spectacular.
You can go up by bus on steep, winding roads, or you can take the cable car at the foot of the mountain. You get there by bus from any of the three railway stations (JR, Hanshin and Hankyuu lines) passing by below. The cable car itself is fun, with big open windows and a glass roof that gives you a good view as you get pulled up some very steep gullies and through a number of tunnels on the way to the top.
The mountain top is littered with corporate retreats and summer homes, used for conferences and parties. This one seems maintained but clearly unused (that's why I could get right up to it); the company could be bankrupt, or they may simply have sold the place and the new owners have yet to take it in hand.
There's apparently a lot of outdoorsy things you can do up on the mountain, with a sports center, parks, golf course, hiking trails, farms to visit and so on. For those, like us, with a less physical approach to leisure time the Rokkosan hotel is an alternative.
The hotel runs two restaurants in separate buildings right on the edge of the precipice, one an indoor fondue and general Western food, and the other one a mostly outdoor barbecue place with three levels of balconies overlooking the mountainside. We ate at the all-you-can-eat barbecue place ("Djingis Khan" is the Japanese name for it) where you pick up meat, fish and vegetables from the buffet and grill on the hot plate on your table while watching the sun set over the sea.
This kind of place is family oriented of course, and usually aims for affordability over quality. Knowing that, we were very positively surprised. Lots of good quality meats, sausages, fish and shellfish to choose from, and the vegetables, too, were fresh and plentiful. I must have eaten a dozen scallops alone, to say nothing about all the lamb, squid and buttered corn I managed to stuff myself with. For dessert you could pick among an assortment of puddings and cakes, and some really good stick ice cream in three flavours. 90 minutes was either not nearly long enough, or too long already, depending on whether you care more about the food or the resulting waistline.
All pictures and more are in the Rokko Mountain set on Flickr.
Detailed image of Sannomiya. It really hits you how much of Kobe is just a narrow strip of land between the mountain and the sea. Makes the Kobe subway system layout, with two lines running in parallel, seem much more sensible too.