Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway



Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway, Part 3: Pursuit of Perfection

Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway.

Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway.

Last month, I rode the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway in Kobe, Japan. In part 3 of the photo essay, some of the ropeway’s design choices are explored and summarized. Click here for part 1 (Intro) and part 2 (Herb Gardens).

For city planners learning about cable transportation, there are a number of important lessons to take home from the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway. Even though it doesn’t set any world records for being the biggest, longest or tallest, the ropeway is still considered one Japan’s premiere cable systems. 

As mentioned previously in parts 1 and 2, attention to detail to the entire customer experience is one of the attraction’s most outstanding features. 

As I began to learn more about Japanese culture, there appears to be several underlying philosophies that guides these design choices: Kodawari [こだわり] and/or Kaizen [改善]. Translated loosely, Kodawari is, “an uncompromising and relentless devotion to a pursuit, an art, a craft, an activity… when special consideration and attention is given to something,” while Kaizen is, “the practice of continuous improvement”.

Personally, I like to think of these ideologies as a pursuit of perfection. While some designers in other gondola systems might overlook small details, this is certainly not the case for the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway. Some of these “finer points” that could form best practices for other urban gondolas are summarized below. 

Information boards

Insightful information displays are shown as passengers disembark the gondola.

Information boards: A series of colourful visuals are displayed along entire length of the queue and exit line. In turn, this helps maximize the utility of what is generally underutilized or dead space for other urban gondolas. In essence, passengers are now able to not only learn more about the site’s offerings but the ropeway is able to market its products and services in a pleasant and non-intrusive manner. Inside the cabin (not pictured), information pamphlets are available to describe nearby attractions.

Cabin and tower colour choice.

Sensitive colour choices.

Colour and Design: The ropeway’s towers are painted in a brownish shade to help the system blend into the surrounding foliage, thereby minimizing visual intrusion. Furthermore, the updated red cabins (completed in 2011) provide the system with a more modernized styling to match the site’s new branding. Within stations, the interiors feel bright and spacious thanks to a partially glassed roof that allows sunlight to penetrate into the platform area


Warm blankets.

Blankets: Warm, colourful and clean cotton blankets are neatly folded and placed in cabins for passenger use during cooler seasons. Compared to costly heating design interventions, this is an ingenious and simple solution for unheated cabins. While this is not necessary, this small gesture helps enhance the overall passenger experience. 

Clean cabins

Spotless cabins.

Cleanliness: The entire ropeway system, including site grounds were maintained to a very high level of cleanliness. Everything inside the cabin (windows, fabric seating, etc.) was in tip top condition and shown almost no visible sign of wear and tear. I can’t stress this enough, but being able to appreciate the surrounding beauty and take photos without smudged/scratched windowpanes greatly enhances overall ride experience.

Outside the glasshouse, visitors can soak their tired feet in the Herb Garden's herbal footbath.

Free herbal foot baths!

Varied site offerings: Visitor offerings are constantly adjusted to match an ambience and/or theme during particular time/season. For instance, different flower varieties are available for different seasons while nighttime gondola tickets are available for purchase during busier summer visitation periods. Such varied offerings can encourage repeat visitation and widens the site’s appeal to a greater market. Small rewards such as a free herbal foot bath and scent samplers are available for those exploring the herb gardens. 

Varied site offerings

Top station area and adjacent European themed buildings upgraded in 2011.

Modernization: After 20 years in operations, the replacement of aging equipment and facilities has reinvigorated the site. In turn, its appeal to local and international has been enhanced as it is currently ranked as one of the top attractions in Kobe. In recent years, improved marketing campaigns and a renewed focus to increasing customer satisfaction has resulted in visitor numbers growing by 20%. 

— — — 

Given my brief time there, I am certain there are many intelligent design choices that I have missed. The list above merely presents some of outstanding items that I personally witnessed during my site visit and is not meant to be comprehensive by any means.

In a nutshell, the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway is a fantastic example of how gondola technology can be sensitively implemented to improve sightseeing and leisure opportunities in a city. Cities seeking to build their own urban gondolas would be astute to incorporate design ideas developed by the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway into their own systems. 






Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway, Part 2: Herb Gardens and Urban Recreation

Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway.

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


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.

Promotional items and pamphlets providing visitors with information about the site's many features and products.

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.

The ropeway is a year round attraction, offering visitors with opportunities to see different types of flora during different seasons.

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.

The site 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 helps inform visitors the approximate dates on which flowers they may wish to view.

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.

Herb Gardens, top station.

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 viewing deck.

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, restaurants and gift shops keep guests entertained.

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.

Central flower bed provides beautiful backdrop for photos.

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 seating available.

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.

A wide range of flowers and plants are available for purchase.

Guests sample the many different herb and flower scents.

Guests immerse themselves in an endless assortment of herb and flower scents.

Concert hall provides venue space for musicians, performances, and lectures.

Concert hall is a popular venue space for musicians, performances, and lectures — especially for piano recitals.  

A delicious salad buffet, pasta, and fish with was served during my visit. The restaurant is designed with large windows, allowing visitors to enjoy the natural surroundings and take in views of nature in the comfort of a climate controlled setting.

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 many gardens at the site.

After a quick lunch, we made our way down to the main gardens.

Assortment of plants and flowers showcased at the Herb Gardens.

Assortment of plants and flowers showcased.

Ropeway system glides silently overhead as visitors enjoy the site and scents of the gardens.

Ropeway system gently glides overhead as visitors leisurely stroll between gardens.

Making our way to the glasshouse.

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 tired feet in the Herb Garden's herbal footbath.

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 quietly glides above garden space — almost becoming invisible to guests as they enjoy the site's scents and flower arrangements.

Ropeway continues to glide peacefully above garden and park space.


The leisurely and rhythmic pace of the gondola cabins helps animate the garden space.

During my time, only one cherry blossom tree was blooming. I can only imagine how much more beautiful the ropeway ride and gardens would have been if everything was blooming.

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.

Ropeway travels nearby the Kaze no Oka Flower Garden. Benches are strategically placed for weary visitors coming down the hill and gardens.

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.

Kaze no Oka station from outside.

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. Green plants are placed nearby to as accents.

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.


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.



Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway, Part 1: Background and Gondola


Last March, I had the opportunity to visit the Japanese port city of Kobe, Japan and tour its most modern cable car, the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway.

Last March, I had the opportunity to make a side trip to the Japanese port city of Kobe. During my time there, I was lucky enough to spend half a day touring the city’s most popular recreational cable car, the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway. In this first blog post, I will provide a background of the system.


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.

Keihanshin Metropolitan Region. Image from Japan Talk.

Keihanshin Metropolitan Region. Image from Japan Talk.

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.

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System Dossier: Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway


The Shin-Kobe Ropeway. Image by Flickr user Valeri-DBF

The Shin-Kobe Ropeway. Image by Flickr user Valeri-DBF.

The maritime city of Kobe is highly regarded as one of Japan’s most attractive cosmopolitan cities. For many centuries, Kobe has acted as an important port for the Kansai region and was one of Japan’s first ports to open for trade with the West. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, but the city is the source of the popular cuisine dish, Kobe beef.

A popular tourist site situated to the north of the city along the Rokko mountain range is the Nunobiki Herb Garden – home to 75,000 unique types of herbs. Connecting tourists to the garden from the city is accomplished by a 1.5 km urban gondola system.

Built initially in 1991, the gondola was upgraded to an MDG system in 2011 by Nippon Cable. Before the upgrade, the system was operated by Kōbe City Urban Development (神戸市都市整備公社) but is now owned by Kobe City and managed by Kobe Resort Services (神戸リゾートサービス ).


View of mid-station. Image by Flickr user Henry Lau.

The base station of the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway is conveniently located 5 minutes from the Shin-Kobe train station. From there, the gondola makes an intermediate stop at Kaze no Oka station, which is located at the bottom of the Herb Garden. From Kaze no Oka, passengers can access hiking trails leading to Mount Maya and the Nunobiki waterfalls.

Lastly, the cable car reaches its destination of Nunobiki Observation Deck where tourists can experience scenic views of Kobe (and even the distant Osaka if visibility allows it). A fascinating feature regarding the ropeway is the medieval Tudor design of each station. While this is an architectural style not often seen in urban cable cars, the design fits in appropriately to the garden’s naturalistic and serene ambiance.

The Ninokobe Herb Garden Observatory Deck. Image by Flickr user Manish Prabhune

The Ninokobe Observatory Deck. Image by Flickr user Manish Prabhune.

All the gondola’s 69 cabins are composed of glass around all sides allowing for panoramic vistas of the garden and city at day or night, making the trip up to the destination just as exciting as the actual destination. The ropeway has been a premiere attraction in Kobe for nearly 3 decades now and demonstrates once again how urban gondola technology can enhance visitor experience and satisfaction.

Year opened (upgraded) 1991 (2011)
Length (km) 1.5
Trip Time (minutes) 6.5-10
Stations 3
Capacity (pphpd) 1,800
Speed (m/s) 4
Fare both ways (Yen) 1,400
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