Kobe is the sixth-largest city in Japan and is the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture on the southern side of the main island of Honshū, approximately 30 km (19 mi) west of Osaka on the north shore of Osaka Bay. With a population of about 1.5 million, the city is part of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe metropolitan area along with Osaka and Kyoto.
The earliest written records regarding the region come from the Nihon Shoki, which describes the founding of the Ikuta Shrine by Empress Jingū in AD 201. For most of its history the area was never a single political entity, even during the Tokugawa Period, when the port was controlled directly by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Kobe did not exist in its current form until its founding in 1889. Its name comes from “kanbe” (神戸?), an archaic title for supporters of the city’s Ikuta Shrine. Kobe became one of Japan’s 17 designated cities in 1956.
Kobe was one of the cities to open for trade with the West following the 1853 end of the policy of seclusion and has since been known as a cosmopolitan port city. While the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake diminished much of Kobe’s prominence as a port city, it remains Japan’s fourth busiest container port. Companies headquartered in Kobe include ASICS, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Kobe Steel, as well as over 100 international corporations with Asia or Japan headquarters in the city such as Eli Lilly and Company, Procter & Gamble, Boehringer Ingelheim and Nestlé. The city is the point of origin and namesake of Kobe beef as well as the site of one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts, Arima Onsen.
Wedged in between the coast and the mountains, the city of Kobe is long and narrow. To the east is the city of Ashiya, while the city of Akashi lies to its west. Other adjacent cities include Takarazuka and Nishinomiya to the east and Sanda and Miki to the north. The landmark of the port area is the red steel Port Tower. A giant Ferris wheel sits in nearby Harborland, a notable tourist promenade. Two artificial islands, Port Island and Rokkō Island, have been constructed to give the city room to expand.
Away from the seaside at the heart of Kobe lie the Motomachi and Sannomiya districts as well as Kobe’s Chinatown, Nankinmachi, all well-known retail areas. A multitude of train lines cross the city from east to west. The main transport hub is Sannomiya Station, with the eponymous Kobe Station located to the west and the Shinkansen Shin-Kobe Station to the north.Mount Rokkō overlooks Kobe at an elevation of 931 meters. During the autumn season, it is famous for the rich change in colors of its forests.
Kobe is most famous for its Kobe beef and Arima Onsen (or “hot springs”). Notable buildings include the Ikuta Shrine as well as the Kobe Port Tower. It is well known for the night view of the city, from mountains such as Mount Rokkō, and Mount Maya as well as the coast. Kobe is also known for having a somewhat exotic atmosphere by Japanese standards, which is mainly as a result of its history as a port city.
The city is also widely associated with cosmopolitanism and fashion, encapsulated in the Japanese phrase, “If you can’t go to Paris, go to Kobe.” The biannual fashion event Kobe Fashion Week, centered around the Kobe Collection is held in Kobe. The jazz festival “Kobe Jazz Street” has been held every October at jazz clubs and hotels since 1981.
Kobe is the site of Japan’s first golf course, Kobe Golf Club, established by Arthur Hesketh Groom in 1903, and Japan’s first mosque, Kobe Mosque, built in 1935. The city also hosts the Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club, founded in 1870 by Alexander Cameron Sim, a prominent foreign cemetery, and a number of Western-style residences from the 19th century, in the Kitano area. Museums include Kobe City Museum and Kobe City Museum of Literature. Most of the 1957 romantic drama Sayonara takes place in Kobe. The city is also the setting of the Studio Ghibli film Grave of the Fireflies.