Kobe, Japan

Reference work entry


Kobe is the capital of the Kobe prefecture, on Honshu island. Lying on the eastern side of the inland sea, it is one of Japan’s most important commercial centres. In 1995, 4,500 people were killed and much of the city was destroyed in an earthquake.


In the eighth century Owada Anchorage (now called Wadamisaki Point) was established as a trading post and would develop over the centuries into Kobe’s port. By the end of the thirteenth century the foundations of the modern urban area were in place, financed by trade with China and other Asian nations.

Under the Tokugawa Shogunate of the seventeenth century international trade was virtually ended, although the port continued to service domestic requirements. In 1868 international trade began again and 21 years later the City of Kobe was incorporated. Kobe flourished throughout the early part of the twentieth century but suffered badly during World War II when the population shrank. However, administratively conjoined with Osaka in the 1970s, it has subsequently prospered as part of Japan’s second largest industrial zone, Keihanshin. Prone to typhoons, in 1995 Kobe was struck by an earthquake that lasted 20s, killed 4,500 people and devastated 100,000 buildings.

Modern City

Tertiary industries (including wholesaling, retailing and services) account for around three quarters of Kobe’s economy today. Major heavy industries are shipbuilding, engineering and chemicals. It is also a famed centre of sake brewing. The main commercial area lies close to the harbour. There are two major railway stations (running bullet express trains), an airport and extensive port facilities. There are road connections with other major cities in the region. The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, opened in the late 1990s, is the longest suspension bridge in the world.

Places of Interest

Motomachi is Kobe’s main shopping street. There are two institutions of higher education, Kobe University and Hyogo University of Education. The Inland Sea National Park, nestled in the Rokko Mountains, can be accessed by road or cable car. Other attractions include Oji Zoo, the ancient burial tomb at Goshikizuka Kofun, several sake breweries and public parks. There is an annual municipal festival and a Luminarie, held each Dec. in remembrance of the earthquake victims.

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