With a long history of foreign trade, Kobe is a cosmopolitan city that is filled with international influences.
As one of the first Japanese locations to open its doors to foreign trade in the 1860s, Kobe has since become well-known within Japan as a historically significant port city, home to unique provincial ambience and Gothic Revival architecture. However, the city was once virtually unknown outside of the country, save for their famous Kobe beef. Then, on January 17, 1995, the Great Hanshin earthquake shook the city to its core. In the aftermath, the world watched as communities across Japan joined together and helped the city dig itself out from the wreckage. The sincerity and passion that drove 1.38 million Japanese to help Kobe rebuild inspired the world to visit the city. Today, Kobe is a popular tourist destination in Japan, with between 3 and 5 million people visiting its Luminarie Festival every year.
Occupied since the prehistoric Jōmon period, Kobe has been documented as an important religious location since 201 AD, when the Ikuta Shrine was founded by Empress Jingū. The city’s name, Kobe, originated from kamube (神戸), or kanbe, which referred to the ancient people who belonged to shrines and served in rituals. During the Nara period the city established a port on Osaka Bay, which would later become an important historic and economic focus for the city. Beginning in the 8th century, and continuing for almost 1,100 years, save for the isolationist period, Kobe welcomed traders from China, Europe and America. After the port reopened in 1868, foreign traders brought with them many technologies that helped the country enter the modern age. These traders fell in love with the city, and they established communities and neighbourhoods near the port, building homes and shops in the architectural styles of their motherlands. Kobe remains a popular destination for foreign nationals, with no less than 44,500 people living in the city with Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or American heritage.
Located near Osaka and between Kyoto and Hiroshima, Kobe sits on a major train corridor, making it a convenient stop for travellers. The region enjoys mild temperatures resulting from its ideal location nestled between Osaka Bay and the Rokko Mountains. Locals take advantage of the warm winters and cool summers by enjoying many outdoor activities: skiing in the local mountains, soaking in the Arima hot springs (onsen), hiking in Mount Rokko National Park or relaxing at the beach. Located north of the Rokko mountain range, the Arima hot springs are situated in a valley surrounded by scenic forests. The onsen is one of the oldest in Japan, founded 1,300 years ago, and it attracts visitors from across Japan and around the world.
The ideal climate also attracts locals and visitors to Kobe’s many famous festivals and events. Every November, the Kobe Marathon sees upwards of 20,000 runners compete along a waterfront course that encourages participants to not only challenge themselves, but also to run for victims of disasters around the world. Philanthropy is a theme in many of Kobe’s famous events. The renowned Luminarie Festival remembers the Great Hanshin earthquake and the country that came together in the wake of the disaster through a light show held annually in December. Hand-painted lights donated by the Italian government illuminate the night sky every night for two weeks and symbolize hope, recovery and renovation. The event is near and dear to the hearts of the people of Kobe since during the earthquake and subsequent reconstruction, many had to live in darkness due to supply issues with electricity, gas and water. The Kobe Matsuri is held annually in mid-May and is also known as the citizen’s festival. The event centres on a massive parade with dancers from across the region flooding the streets and an enormous reworks display over the harbour closing the festival. Kobe is also home to one of Japan’s largest Chinatown districts, or Nankinmachi (南京町), and Chinese New Year festivals. The district celebrates the coming spring with traditional lion dances, reworks, acrobatic performances, special delicacies and sales in many local shops.
Venus Bridge panorama
Diversity and deliciousness in this multicultural city
Nankinmachi is an exciting destination throughout the year, even without the thrill of the New Year’s festivities. Lanterns line the streets where visitors line up for panda sweet buns, Kobe beef and shumai (dumplings) at food stalls. A few blocks away, the Old Foreign Settlement, or Kyukyoryuchi (旧 居留地), is home to beautiful Gothic Revival architecture as well as many bakeries, patisseries and European cafés. Sitting at a café along the fairy-tale streets of Kyukyoryuchi with a chocolate croissant and a delicately brewed latte, one could think they were in Paris. And, of course, there’s Kobe beef. The succulent, melt-in-your-mouth, tender, juicy cubes of delicious marbled steak that transport you to transcendence with a single bite. Meat from locally raised and specially selected Tajima-ushi cattle are available in mouth-watering preparations such as steak, sukiyaki, shabu shabu and even sashimi. Accompany your meal with sake produced in Kobe’s Nada district, located east of the downtown core and accessible by train. Nada produces much of the sake made in the Kobe region, with numerous breweries offering tours and sampling, and most within walking distance of both JR Sumiyoshi and Hanshin Railways Sumiyoshi Stations.
Kobe is a cosmopolitan city with European and Chinese in uences on its minimalist Japanese sensibilities. Nowhere else in the world can you have a latte and a croissant in a European neighbourhood for breakfast, spend the afternoon soaking in a historic onsen, sample local Kobe beef and sake for dinner, and spend the evening strolling underneath buildings adorned with Italian hand-painted lights.
Kobe eats and treats
From succulent beef to crisp locally produced sake, aky pastries to savoury shumai, Kobe is a food paradise.
Est Royal Baumkuchen : Baumkuchen (“tree cake” in German) is a famous style of cake synonymous with Kobe. With its dozens and dozens of lightly toasted layers, the cake resembles a tree’s rings when cut—hence the name. Picture Courtesy of Est Royal
Kobe beef: A world-renowned delicacy. Only the most highly rated Tajima-ushi cattle have the required pedigree, cultivation, flavour and tender fatty marbled texture to earn this title.
All photos ©KOBE CONVENTION & VISITORS ASSOCIATION unless otherwise noted