Downtown Kobe - Sannomiya - was devastated in the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake but has returned to being the heart of the city. Kobe station does have its own amount of shopping and amenities but isn't the true heart of the city. This is also the city where I live. (Not telling you where!)
My Osaka friends say Kobe is stylish. The Kobe Collection fashion show is held here every year, and the people have more of a poise than Osaka people. (It comes off as dignified at good times and cold at bad.) There's a Kobe dialect, close to Osaka dialect but with its own differences, and Kobe people see themselves as very VERY different from Osaka people. I've heard all about this, hehe.
The earthquake still figures in many minds, as almost everyone alive in Kobe experienced it and knew someone affected by it. The city's shipping business never recovered. Maybe that's why Kobe is trying to capitalize on its cool international image as its economic power with things like the Kobe Collection.
Kobe's not a big gyaru haven like Osaka, but there are enough stores - and other fun things to do - to keep a visitor busy.
Floor 3 of OPA has SLY, Spiral Girl, Ravjiour, Navana Wig, EGOIST, Rodeo Crowns, and Lip Service. 1 has a Samantha Thavasa and B1 has a rather large Cecil McBee. If you're into cute accessories there's also a SWIMMER on B2.
Marui is a much more adult-looking department store in Kobe. Mode fans take note: EMODA and MURUA are here. As is Laguna Moon, and sometime crossover brand moussy. The basement has all sorts of accessories. Nice bathrooms for doing makeup that include electric plugs!
Centa-gai and VIVRE
Centa-gai is an super confusing complex mall, with lots of small alleys AND several floors.
A few stand-alone stores are in Centa-gai such as LOVE GIRLS MARKET and AVIRA PINK.
Make sure to explore the alleys, where you'll find a deco store, a Bonita shoe store, and a slightly cheaper accessories store called AcceDepot.
Deco shop A Beautiful Life. A couple of lolitas waltzed in right before I took this picture.
The second floor of Senta-gai, which tends to carry more discounted items, has several nail places, a deco salon (a place where you take your items into get blinged, not buy pieces to bling yourself), a discount socks/tights store I really like, a couple lolita stores and an AcceDepot outlet. If you like your anime/manga/video games Kobe's little otaku district is clumped together on parts of Centa-gai floor 2 and floor 3.
Most gyaru clothing stores in Centa-gai are on floor 3 of VIVRE.
I suspect the VIVRE chain isn't doing well, as all the VIVRE department stores I've ever been in seem like they need updating. Floor 3 has JULIANO JURRIE, ANAP, several agejo-leaning stores, HIP DIMPLE, a Malibu wig shop, a cute stationary/makeup/accessories store, and GINESS.
GINESS carries Gilfy brands and lower-priced GILFY brand ripoffs. I'm not so interested in the ripoffs as the quality tends to be bad, but the good thing about GINESS is that they're more likely to put Gilfy stuff on sale than the regular GILFY stores.
The shop staff at VIVRE are much talkative (less pushy, but less likely to have spontaneous conversation) than at other department stores.
Luxury brands. I doubt anyone reading this is going to buy luxury brands in Japan at retail but hey, you can walk through and dream! The bathrooms are also the best for doing makeup on the fly ;)
Piazza Kobe runs underneath the JR tracks from Motomachi to Sannomiya stations. There are a number of cheaper men's and women's gyaru-leaning clothing stores, shoe stores, and a deco store. It's too narrow to get good pictures in there so you'll have to be happy with a pic of the outside ^.^
Kobe Lettuce is a small physical shop and online shop that often advertises in gyaru magazines. The shop staff are generally not gyaru; the clothes (which are their own label) are generally not of the creativity of other labels - but the prices are not bad and they often have good sales, and all their models are gyaru.
NARS, MAC, other expensive brands.
LOFT (in SOGO) and Tokyu Hands
Both stores are good sized (not Shibuya LOFT size, but only a little smaller) and carry lots of middle brand makeup and cute other things that you'll spend too much money on -_-;;
There are lots of drugstores and other independent stores all over the place that carry various amounts of middle brand makeup. There aren't any in particular that are better than the others, although sometimes the discount drugstores have makeup on sale.
Sannomiya Don Quijote, just a little down the road from Tokyu Hands, is very claustrophobic but could have something you need (especially at night). Lots of cheaper makeup and lashes, and used luxury items. Usually after 10 pm it turns into drunk people central which could be funny or annoying depending on your mood :D
There's a new Mega Don Quijote in Kasuganomichi (one stop over on Hanshin). It's a lot less cramped, carries food and all the leopard print/hime-gyaru like floral home accessories you could want.
Are everywhere, including in LOFT and 0101 and Tokyu Hands. Japanese speakers can look on Hot Pepper Beauty for something they like the look/coupon of.
There are plenty of massage places, including national chain Raffine (next to Hankyu east exit). My lone experience is going to Huahin Luang Thai-style massage once with some friends. However, the experience was very positive - the ladies were extremely friendly, one speaks English, the massage was good and the atmosphere of the place was great. My much more massage-experienced friends gave it a two thumbs up too.
Kobe Sauna & Spa
I've never been in here, but a friend had a massage and a bath and said it was good. A public bath in scale in between Spa World and the small local baths that also offers some spa services. There's a free foot bath in the small street next to it too. On the same main street as Tokyu Hands and Don Quijote.
part two: Sannomiya Entertainment and Harborland
part three: Marine Pia/Sanda outlets and Arima onsen
(may or may not be published next ^.^)