Post by Nick Chu
The Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway and Herb Gardens is one of Kobe, Japan’s preeminent attractions — ranking as TripAdvisor’s top “Thing to Do” in the city. Thanks to its accessible location, charming setting, and integrated visitor experience, the urban cable car continues to attract thousands of visitors each day despite being more than 25 years old.
For those unfamiliar with the City, Kobe is positioned between the Rokko mountain chains and Osaka Bay and is considered a modern Japanese metropolis known for its cosmopolitan vibe. While the City proper only has a population of 1.5 million residents, Kobe is part of the much larger metropolitan region known as Keihanshin which encompass the cities of Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka. This area represents 15% of the country’s population (19 million) and is Japan’s second most populated region after the Greater Tokyo Area.
Given its strategic location by the water, Kobe was one of the first Japanese port cities to open up to foreign trade in 1800s and remains a strong hub for trade and commerce today. For tourists, the city is well-known for a number of attractions including its legendary Kobe beef, Arima Onsen hot springs, “exotic” western styled buildings, and fashion.
Throughout this photo essay, many of these themes may reappear as we tour the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway.
The Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway offers visitors convenient, affordable and scenic access to the Nunobiki Herb Gardens, a quiet and serene urban oasis located on a hilltop of the Rokko mountain range.
The ropeway and herb gardens wre built over a former golf course and opened in 1991 as part of a larger city redevelopment plan which included the nearby Shin Kobe Oriental City (commercial complex).
When the system was first conceptualized, I learned that it was actually envisioned to improve access to multiple sites along the Rokko mountains but planners eventually settled on a 3-station, 1.5km alignment. While it’s uncertain why a more fulsome system wasn’t built, it is worth noting that the Rokko mountain range in Kobe has long been a place of refuge and recreation for its inhabitants. The first Europeans built cottages in the greenspace while visitors retreated to its hot springs.
In fact, long before the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway was built, the mountain range was already well-connected with four cable-driven systems! This includes the Maya Cable Car (1925), Maya Ropeway (1955), Rokko Cable Car (1932) and Rokko Arima Ropeway (1970).
Despite the number of visitor facilities built on the Rokko mountains, the greenspace remains a highly attractive nature escape for city dwellers. Similar to many European ropeway in the Alps, this network of ropeways in the Rokko mountains provides another example that when implemented properly, cable-driven systems and natural areas can co-exist harmoniously.
The ropeway is strategically located next to the Shin-Kobe Station — a large transport hub connected to three major rail lines including the Sanyo Shinkansen Line (bullet train), the Seishin-Yamate Line (subway), and the Hokushin Line (railway). If that wasn’t enough, five local bus lines (#2, #18, #90, #92, #60) and one tourist “loop bus” provide passenger access to the ropeway’s bottom station.
For myself, I arrived in Kobe via a direct 30 minute Shinkansen ride from Kyoto. Once disembarking the bullet train, well-placed way finding signs in both Japanese and English provided simple directions to the ropeway.
SYSTEM AND STATIONS
From some of the previous photos, readers might notice that the lower terminal is housed in a four storey building. While a station of this size and height is a little atypical for a lower capacity recreational ropeway, I learned that the bottom three floors were designed for the ropeway/herb garden’s offices. Despite the large station size, it did not feel out of context since it was discreetly nestled between a highly treed area, a stream and the gargantuan 37-storey Oriental City commercial complex. However, compared to the beauty of the herb gardens, the bottom station’s greyish concrete exterior is fairly utilitarian in nature and easily forgettable.
From a technical standpoint, the current ropeway is a 2nd generation system which underwent an upgrade in 2011 as part of larger renovation works. The original system was built in 1991 by Mitsubishi but the latest revamp was performed by Nippon Cable (the Japanese partner of Doppelmayr).
The 2011 upgrade gave the ropeway a fresh and modernized look from white coloured cabins to red coloured cabins. Technologically, the gondola features fairly standard specifications commonly found in Monocable Detachable Gondolas (MDG).
- Length: 1.5km
- Cabin: 6 persons
- Speed: 4 m/s
- Ride time: ~10 minute
- Altitude difference: 330m
- Capacity: 1,800 pphpd
While the ropeway lacks any extraordinary technical stats, the gondola system remains an first-class visitor experience as there is an incredible amount of “attention to detail” to almost every single component of the attraction.
From my two weeks in Japan, this pursuit of perfection was often found in many top destinations. Furthermore, it seemed evident that the designers understood their target market very well as nearly everything was done with the intent of maximizing a guest’s overall experience. Many of these small gestures are so seamlessly integrated that I imagine most visitors aren’t even aware they exist.
After ascending 330m vertically over 1,500m of ropeway, visitors arrive at a Bavarian-themed village and Japanese-style garden. Overall, the leisurely 10-minute gondola ride is incredibly well-managed and offers visitors an exciting and unforgettable way to reach the hilltop and garden space.
In part 2 of this photo essay, we will explore the herb gardens and describe why it is one of Kobe’s top attractions.
Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.