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Kobe History, Japan

Kobe, like many other large Japanese cities, has a rich history that has majorly contributed to the city’s current importance. Kobe is, after all, the first Japanese port that was opened for foreigners, and it is therefore no surprise that this modern city is one of the most ‘international’ cities in the country. Kobe has probably the largest immigrant population in all of Japan, and its westernized atmosphere draws thousands of Japanese and foreign tourists. Despite its location in the famous Kansai region, which can boast of major tourist destinations like Osaka and Kyoto, Kobe remains one of the country’s main tourist magnets. Many of the city’s sights have a tale rooted deep in the city’s history, so this Kobe History Guide gives you a general idea about Kobe’s history.

Kobe History Guide - Early History

Although modern Kobe was founded in the late 19th century, the port has existed since the Joumon Period, or the Japanese Prehistory. Archaeologists have found several artifacts which prove that people had already settled in the area by the 4th century BC. In 201 AD, Empress Jingu founded Ikuta Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in all of Japan, and Kobe’s most important historic site. During the early Japanese Middle Ages, in the Nara and Heian Periods, the settlement was known under the name of Ouwada Anchorage. For about five months, the port became the capital of Japan, and it was also the site of a historic battle between two of Japan’s ruling clans, the Taira and the Minamoto. The port continues to develop and to grow, and by the 14th century, it was the main trading port with China and the western world. The port, known at the time under the name of Hyogo, was the first Japanese port opened to westerners during the Meiji Restoration. After the abolition of Japan’s seclusion policy in 1868, many foreigners came to Kobe for trade, and a large number western-style houses still stand today.

Kobe History Guide - Modern History

Kobe was officially founded in 1869, but by that time, the city was already a successful international trading port. Kobe was among the few locations in Japan where foreigners were allowed to reside, along with Yokohama and Nagoya. Industry has started to flourish in Kobe in the late 19th century. Several shipyards were built, as well as iron-work factories. Kobe enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity until World War II, when American bombs killed over 8000 of the city’s inhabitants, and destroyed over 20% of the urban area. Kobe was designated as a city by government ordinance only in 1956. In the 1970’s, the inhabitants of Kobe petitioned for the banning of ships carrying nuclear weapons from the port. In 1995, Kobe was hit hard by the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which killed approximately 5000 people and destroyed over 20,000 homes in Kobe. If you happen to be in Kobe in December, this Kobe History Guide suggests that you attend the Luminarie, an impressive light festival held in honor of the earthquake’s victims.

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