Catching a taxi to the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art from downtown costs just 1,300 yen. Time-permitting, you could enjoy sea breezes while walking along the waterfront to the museum. I did the reverse, ending my visit with a twilight, weaving through joggers and strolling past the fishermen, as I followed the water back to the city center.

Inside, huge open rooms filled with Japanese and European art, draw the eye and in particular provide fascinating insights into the cool Kobe art scene. The collection documents fun moments of radicalism, dark and serious expressions, and throwbacks to the 70s.

When I visited, the staff ushered me in to see the treasures of the Hermitage exhibition. The first piece to greet me? A huge portrait of CatherineⅡ the Great. It seemed fitting that the Czarina stood present in these giant concrete halls dedicated to art.

The world of Europe’s Old Masters also seemed to belong on the walls of this museum representing the international port town of Kobe. In fact, the chance to see such great work without the crowds that usually pack large exhibitions in Tokyo provided a genuine pleasure.

This museum overflows with sculptures, paintings, found objects, installations, and works by Tadao Ando. My graduate school in Tokyo was housed in a building designed by Ando, the concrete exterior boldly beautiful and the interior often confusing. Here in Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, you can gain a real insight into the breadth of the master architect’s work.

Following the Kobe earthquake of 1995, the museum moved to a newly rebuilt building on the waterfront. Visiting today, there are only a few visible reminders of the tough times the city went through during that period.

In fact, the city’s reconstruction has proven so successful that anyone unaware of the history wouldn’t notice. This museum has become a symbol of that recovery to the people of Kobe.

Just 20 minutes up the road on foot in an annex building of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art you’ll find the Yokoo Tadanori Museum of Contemporary Art. Since 2012 this dedicated facility has housed regular and continuing exhibitions of the influential artist work. The open studio on the first floor and reading spaces on the fourth are free, while exhibitions require a fee depending on the exhibit.

In between the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art and Yokoo Tadanori Museum of Contemporary Art stands the BB Plaza of Art where works by Japanese painters line the walls alongside prints by Renoir, Chagall, and Fauvist artists.

Museum Road, as it’s colloquially called, serves as home not just to these three art galleries, but also to a variety of outdoor sculptures, ranging from Yanobe Kenji’s giant “Sun Sister” (known locally as “Nagisa”), to Florentin Hofman’s big inflatable “Kobe Frog” (which is not on display during bad weather).

Looking up at the giant “Sun Sister” with Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art of art in the background, the building seems quite stately. The waterfront location and bold modern lines of the architecture almost resemble a temple towering over the surrounding landscape. It seems to say that creativity will overcome any obstacles the world can toss in our path. Here, Kobe offers a real art sanctuary for everyone to enjoy.

Photographs by Julian Litter & Peter Chordas Text by Julian Littler