Exploring Japan goes down to the Kansai area now with a visit to Hyogo Prefecture.
Hyogo Prefecture is in the western part of the Kansai region. It spans across the island from the Seto Inland Sea to the Sea of Japan. This is a very international prefecture that is also filled with historic sites. The population is 5,582,978. The capital city is Kobe. These are the five largest cities:
- Kobe (1,545,410)
- Himeji (535,945)
- Nishinomiya (483,598)
- Amagasaki (450,244)
- Akashi (290,776)
Hyogo has a slowly decreasing population, although Kobe and Nishinomiya are growing.
Himeji Castle is the castle to see in Hyogo, and quite possibly all of Japan. It is probably the most famous castle in Japan, and it’s the best original castle. It’s currently undergoing renovations until March 2014. It is a must see.
Akashi Castle in Akashi city is an original, although it never had a central tower. There are two remaining turret towers, though. Also, there is a base for the central tower, which was never built.
Ako Castle in Ako city is a partially reconstructed seaside castle. There is no central tower, and it isn’t impressively big. Some of the reconstructions were recent.
Izushi Castle in Izushi is mostly ruins, but some parts were rebuilt. There’s a clock that was placed in the castle grounds, which is now a symbol of the town.
Sasayama Castle in Sasayama is another castle that never had a main tower. Most of the buildings were destroyed, but the main hall was rebuilt in 2000.
Sumoto Castle in Sumoto on Awaji Island is a reconstruction made of concrete.
Kobe has several sports teams, including two professional baseball teams. The very popular Hanshin Tigers are based in Nishinomiya, while the Orix Buffaloes are based in Kobe. In J-League soccer, Vissel Kobe is based in Kobe.
Things to see and do
Hyogo has a lot to see and do, and probably the biggest thing to see is Himeji Castle. I’ve seen a lot of pictures of Kobe Port, which I’d love to walk around.
Kobe is a major tourist destination, and being very international, has some international sights. Ijinkan is the foreign residences from the 19th century, and they’re built in different styles. Likewise, Kyu-kyoryuchi near Motomachi has a lot of 19th century buildings that are now restaurants and shops. Meriken Park is a memorial to the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 and it features Kobe Port Tower, with a great view of the city. City Hall Observation Deck also has a good view. Chinatown is another popular place with plenty of Chinese food. There are several parks, including the Fruit Flower Park and the Nunobiki Herb Park. Sorakuen Garden is a nice Japanese garden in central Kobe. There are also many sake museums and breweries to visit, such as Sawa-no-Tsuru Museum, Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum, Hamafukutsuru-Ginjo Brewery and Shop, and Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewing Company. You can also visit the Oji Zoo. Mt. Rokko has a rock garden and a great night view of the city. Nunobiki Falls are one of the most important waterfalls in Japan. I’d also like to see Ikuta Shrine, one of the oldest in the country.
Akashi has a couple of things to see. One is the Akashi Planetarium. Another is the Akashi Brewery, which makes Akashi Beer. The beach is known to be relaxing and not very busy.
Himeji has a lot of history to see. In addition to Himeji Castle, there are plenty of other places to see. Kokoen Garden is a beautiful Japanese garden that was created in 1992. Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History is a good place to see Japanese history. Himeji City Museum of Art features some local artists, while the Himeji City Zoo has various animals in small enclosures. Senhime Shrine gives a great view of Himeji Castle, while Engyoji is a beautiful temple. Tegarayama Botanical Garden has a small aquarium. There are plenty of festivals, but hanami (cherry blossom viewing) features koto and taiko performances.
Nishinomiya is between Kobe and Osaka, and is really famous for one thing: baseball. Koshien Stadium is home to the Hanshin Tigers, and also hosts the National High School Baseball Championship, which is a really big deal in Japan. Hyogo Performing Arts Center shows a large variety of performances. Manchidani Park is well-known for its cherry blossoms in spring, and is also featured in the novel Grave of the Fireflies. I’d like to see Hirota Shrine, Nishinomiya Shrine, and Kannoji Temple.
Takarazuka city is famous for a couple of things. Takarazuka Revue is a famous theatre group that features female actresses in all of the roles. It is famous across the country. Also, it has the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum, dedicated to the “Father of Anime.” The Takarazuka Gala Fireworks Festival is one of the oldest fireworks displays in Japan. Nakayamadera looks like a nice temple.
Awaji Island is a well-known island that features a fascinating natural phenomenon. The Naruto whirlpools are accessible from the island. Akashi Kaikyo Bridge is the world’s longest suspension bridge, and it joins Awaji Island to Kobe. Kiseki no Hoshi Botanical Garden is apparently quite beautiful. Nojima Fault Preservation Museum is dedicated to preserving a section of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.
Probably the most famous food out of Hyogo is Kobe beef. This famous beef is known for its marbling and taste. It’s fairly expensive. I have seen wagyu beef (Kobe is a variety of wagyu) in the supermarket, and it is pretty expensive.