Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway, Part 3: Pursuit of Perfection

Post by Gondola Project

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. 




Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

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