Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway.
Last month, I rode the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway in Kobe, Japan. In part 2 of the photo essay, we will explore some of the ropeway’s main attractions and discuss some potential lessons for urban planners. Click here for part 1.
STUNNING VISUALS AND GUIDES
From the site tour, it became quite clear that the herbs garden and ropeway has a symbiotic relationship — neither one can exist optimally without one or the other.
To gain a better understanding of the site, the herb garden provides visitors with an array of promotional materials which highlights its main amenities and offerings.
Spring Edition of the Herb Gardens and Ropeway guide places a heavy emphasis on fresh, seasonal offerings as well as events that celebrate the coming of spring. Thanks to the highly visual in nature of these brochures, it even helps non-Japanese readers understand the site offerings.
Panning through the brochures, it becomes clear that the herb gardens and ropeway is designed to be a year round attraction. During spring, cherry blossoms are the site’s top attraction while different flowers and herbs are available for viewing during other seasons. Seasonal festivals and events are also held year round to encourage repeat visitation and diversify site offerings.
3-D map clearly marks all the main attractions in the Herb Gardens. Note that there is a simple, but highly informative “flowering schedule” beneath the map. This tells visitors the dates in which different flowers are available for viewing.
Once visitors disembark from the gondola, they are essentially dropped off in a serene hilltop Japanese-style garden built in an European-themed village. For international visitors, it may seem a little strange to see Bavarian-style buildings in the middle of Japan.
However, it’s important to remember that Kobe was one of the first entry points for Westerners in the 1800s. As a result, the City has a fine collection of ijinkan, or foreigners’ homes where they’ve become popular attractions for domestic tourists. Apparently, a popular saying amongst locals is, “If you can’t go to Paris, go to Kobe.”
From general observations, the herb gardens were meticulously maintained (full site renovations in 2011 also helped refurbish existing buildings). While I didn’t visit when the flowers and cherry blossoms were in full bloom, the site was still beautifully curated with many opportunities for sightseeing and enjoyment. With 12 gardens, 75,000 herbs and 200 kinds of flowers, there were pleasant surprises around almost every corner.
Beautifully designed herb gardens inspired by Kobe’s ties to Europe and its fashionable/cosmopolitan vibe.
City skyline, Port Island, and Osaka Bay can be seen from the observation viewing deck. I’ve been told that Kobe is equally impressive at night from this location. In fact, locals have coined it the “Ten Million Dollar Night View”.
Rest house, flowers, restaurants and gift shops keep guests entertained. As night falls, the buildings are illuminated in the ropeway’s “Forest of Illuminations” event, providing a picturesque backdrop against the city lights.
Attractive flower beds provides visitors with many photo opportunities. To the far right, a new German themed eatery was being built to expand the site’s food offerings.
Plentiful shaded outdoor seating available. Perfect place to hang out during warm, sunny days.
A wide range of flowers and plants are available for purchase.
Guests immerse themselves in an endless assortment of herb and flower scents.
Concert hall is a popular venue space for musicians, performances, and lectures — especially for piano recitals.
Next to the concert hall, a full service restaurant with a salad buffet is offered. Note the restaurant is designed with large windows, allowing visitors to enjoy and take in views of nature in the comfort of a climate controlled setting. This is a great place to relax and rest before trekking to the gardens below.
After a quick lunch, we made our way down to the main gardens.
Assortment of plants and flowers showcased.
Ropeway system gently glides overhead as visitors leisurely stroll between gardens.
Making our way to the glasshouse/greenhouse.
Inside the greenhouse, many hanging baskets of plants and flowers were all presented in an attractive fashion. Fruits and flower varieties of fuchsia, hibiscus, bananas, guavas and papayas are available for viewing year round.
Outside the glasshouse, visitors can soak their feet in a free herbal footbath. A nice little perk, not to mention a perfect way for hikers to relax before they continue their journey down the hill.
Ropeway continues to glide peacefully above garden and park space.
The leisurely and rhythmic pace of the gondola cabins helps animate the garden space.
Even though spring did not fully arrive during my visit, I was lucky enough to see one blossoming sakura tree. Once spring kicks into high gear, visitors can participate in a Japanese custom called hanami. This is where friends and family gather under sakura trees to hang out and appreciate the surrounding beauty of nature.
The ropeway travels nearby Kaze no Oka Flower Garden. Benches are located on top of the small hill to allow visitors to rest as they trek down from the hill and gardens.
After a leisurely stroll, we arrive at the mid-station (Kaze no Oka station). For most visitors, once they reach this location, they board the gondola and travel back to the bottom station. For more adventurous visitors, the bottom can also be accessed via a short hike through the park.
Similar to the other stations, the mid-station is bright and airy. Plants are placed throughout the station as accent pieces to improve the aesthetics.
URBAN RECREATION IN GREENSPACE
From an urban planning perspective, the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway and Herb Gardens can be viewed as an integrated city attraction which improves citizen access to leisure, relaxation and greenspace. While we at the Gondola Project generally focused on urban transit ropeways in the past, it is important not to forget the importance and impact of urban recreational ropeways.
As cities continue to grow worldwide, the demand for greater access to greenspace is inevitable. Providing opportunities to both work and play is critical to the overall health of its citizens. As such, leisure-oriented gondolas built in urban areas can play a vital role in fulfilling the recreational needs of both locals and tourists.
Since the Rokko Mountain’s first cable car was first opened nearly 100 years ago, civic leaders in Kobe clearly understood the importance of providing accessible and affordable recreation for its inhabitants. The Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway and Herb Gardens simply builds upon the City’s proud history of building recreational ropeways.
As an urban planner (and tourist), I loved how the attraction was packaged so it appeals to a diverse range of users. For instance, extensive hiking trails and the option of a one-way fare allows fitness-minded visitors to ride the gondola to the top and hike their way down. Or if visitors are feeling particularly adventurous that day, they are able to hike up and down the trails.
Meanwhile, for leisurely-minded folks and mobility-impaired individuals, the ropeway provides a convenient, scenic and affordable means of accessing greenspace in a environmentally-sensitive and non-intrusive way.
Ultimately with these site tours, our hope is that we can raise awareness and educate netizens about the many under-appreciated urban ropeways around the world. From this, hopefully we can share and learn how cities have been able to carefully balance the need for recreation and conservation.
In part 3, we’ll summarize our visit and discuss how some important best practices found in the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway could be applied to other urban recreational gondolas.