Kobe is an important Japanese port and is considered one of the country's most attractive cities because of its abundance of new buildings after the devastating 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, the early influence of Western architecture and the sandwich effect of the lush Rokko range to the north and the shimmering Inland Sea to the south. The city is relatively small, so it is wonderful to explore by casually wandering the streets, especially the pleasant Western-style neighborhood Kitano and colorful Chinatown. The cable carup Rokko Mountain, which operates from a building near the Shin-Kobe train station, is particularly nice around sunset.

Kobe was one of the first ports to open to foreign traders, so it has long had a small enclave of Western-style homes in the Kitano district up against the mountains. Although more of a novelty for Japanese visitors, the area is nevertheless pleasant for strolling and full of trendy cafes and boutiques.

In addition to the good Chinese food on offer in Kobe's Nankin-machi, Kobe is also famous for Kobe beef, one of the most expensive meats in the world. You may think you have eaten a "Kobe beef burger" back home, but that was meat fraud. Kobe beef comes from Tajima bullocks that have an unsaturated higher fat content and more marbling than Western breeds, which is why it melts on your tongue. A tiny portion of the 3,000 or so head produced a year are available for export, but even if you paid a fortune for a Kobe beef steak in the U.S., it was likely a Tajima cow cross-bred several times with American cattle to reduce the fattiness and increase flavor for the local palate. To try a steak without completely breaking the budget, visit Kobe Plaisir (http://www.kobe-plaisir.jp) where 5-ounce sirloin steaks will only set you back $110.

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