By Peter Sidell
Being more or less right next to Osaka and Kyoto, Kobe is sometimes overlooked by visitors, but they're missing out on a distinctly interesting place. In its compact boundaries you'll find beautiful natural scenery on Mount Maya, Japan's second largest Chinatown, and a good number of other interesting sights, such as the European-influenced Kitano district, the earthquake museum, and the nearby Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art.
On the waterfront about ten minutes' walk from Hanshin Iwaya station or JR Nada station, the museum is a work of art in itself, a striking building designed by prominent Japanese architect Ando Tadao; you can easily identify it by the giant green-and-yellow frog living on the roof, though I imagine he migrates inside in rough weather. There's a spacious terrace at the rear of the building with a couple of pleasant colourful sculptures, then a "grand staircase" leading down to the water's edge, while the "sea terrace" gives you an enjoyable panorama over the bay, all good places to relax and take in the view.
There are regular special exhibitions, often by artists with some connection to Kobe, Hyogo or the wider Kansai area, but there have also been exhibitions from overseas museums or by internationally known artists such as Gustave Moreau, Vincent and Theo van Gogh, and Marc Chagall; the charge depends on the particular exhibition. The museum also rotates displays of pieces from its permanent collection, also largely by locally connected artists, in a wide variety of media: there are classical portraits, abstract and pop-art paintings, modern sculpture, and striking Warholesque silkscreen prints by Yokoo Tadanori, whose art and collection is the main focus of another museum in the city. I enjoyed the variety here, never really knowing what I was going to see from one room to the next.
As well as the exhibition rooms, there are an auditorium and a lobby space where events are often held, and on the day I visited they were both in use! First I saw an entertaining show by local rock band Watanabe Flower, aimed at kids but still fun, and then in the lobby there was an operatic recital by a pianist and two vocalists.
There's also a restaurant where you can get light meals and cake sets, and a more upmarket restaurant if you want a full lunch or dinner course. There's also of course a gift store, where you can pick up prints, postcards or other souvenirs of your visit.
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I came to Japan from Manchester, England in summer 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I`m not working I write satire at www.iothern.blogspot.com and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check my youtube channel `CunningPunster` for a taste.