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Sunday, 26 April 2015

Kobe (My old hometown!)

Kobe is a city in the Kansai region and a port city, as it was a major port it was one of the cities in Japan (Yokohama was the other) that flourished once Japan began to open up to the west. (A small historical aside here, Dutch and Portuguese traders first set up trading posts and settlements in the 16th century it was at Nagasaki on the southern island of Kyushu. By the 17th century the shogun who controlled Japan expelled most of the foreigners, only a few were allowed to remain on a small island near Nagasaki called Deijima. Japan was then shut off from the world for the next 200 years. By the mid 19th century with the arrival of the American Matthew Perry and the 'black ships' Japan was forced to open up to the west. Japan itself then went through a major renewal with a new Emperor and a move to Tokyo as the new capital, and the Meiji Restoration as it became known proceeded to learn, change and adapt to the west, and that included trade. Thus endth a brief history lesson!)

Kobe was opened up as a trading port in 1868 (I looked up the date!) and with trade came non-Japanese who lived and settled in the city. This makes Kobe rather unique in my opinion, it has a very strong multi-cultural tone to the city in comparison with the rest of Japan which is very homogenous. Small towns and cities in particular, it's not usual for people who live there to have had no contact with a non-Japanese person, to have never seen one. On a trip to Kyushu with some work colleagues (all westerners) I had the rather off putting experience of a family driving past in the car as we walked along the road and one of the adults in the car lifting up a toddler and pointing us out for the toddler to look at! His first sight of westerners! We waved!

Enough of my tangent, so Kobe opened up to the west and with the new settlers, they also brought along their architecture and customs. Much of the old settlement, as it was on the more level ground near the sea, was destroyed in World War II bombing raids. (Kobe was an industrial city as well as a port so a major target for bombing raids) A few buildings survived.


These buildings were situated along the 'kaigan' which in Japanese means beach, this was right on the water, now with land reclamation it is set back from the water, there's a 4 lane road, an elevated expressway and a park behind where I took this photo, then water.


This is the chocolatier Morozoff founded by a white Russian (a supporter of the Tsar so he found himself in danger and left when the communists took charge). Dimitri Morozoff ended up in Japan, established himself in Kobe where there was already a foreign community and began his confectionary business. It's credited that Morozoff in 1936 introduced to Japan the custom of selling chocolates for Valentine's Day. It was marketed to the foreigners in Japan. (A Japanese friend of mine was quite shocked when in conversation I said to her that Valentine's Day had a vague connection to St. Valentine. She thought it was just a day invented by a chocolate manufacturer to sell chocolates. In Japan only chocolates are given for Valentine's Day, and only men receive them, women give them but receive nothing! There's even something called 'giro chokoreto' which is obligation chocolate when a female worker is obligated to give chocolates to her male co-workers for Valentine's Day!

Women did complain and then an artificial day called "White Day" on March 14th was established where men were supposed to give cookies to women. (My Japanese friends said if they had girlfriends they could be somewhat racier and give white lingerie!) Regardless it seems more chocolates are actually given than cookies reciprocated!)


As more foreigners settled they left the plain near the port and moved up to the northern part of Kobe and settled there. This is the Kobe Mosque, it was built in 1935 (it was designed by a Czech and based on Turkish mosques. Keeping with the multicultural theme!)The Islamic community in Kobe began raising money for a mosque in 1928, and it was completed in 1935, it was the first mosque built in Japan. (Yes research again!) It seems it was built with very a very strong foundation and a basement as it survived undamaged from the bombings in World War II and also the 1995 earthquake.

On the same road is the catholic church, when I first arrived in Kobe the old church, which had survived WW2 was still standing but it had been badly damaged in the earthquake. The church was built in the style of Notre Dame (Paris) with two towers or turrets at the front, the earthquake had split the towers down the middle and there was a huge gap. It took the Kobe catholic community several years to raise the money for a new church, unfortunately the old historic church was eventually demolished and a new church stands there now.



In the same area of Kitano but further up the mountain is the Jain Temple. The Jain are a branch of the Hindu religion. The Kitano area has a large Indian population who are now third and fourth generation Japanese born, the families mainly are involved in the pearl trade as wholesalers. This temple was built by the community in 1986.

The Kitano area also has a synagogue but it wasn't in the vicinity of where I was walking so no picture. But it does illustrate what a diverse area Kobe and particularly the area known as Kitano was and is.

Sightly further away is Chinatown, the only Chinatown in Japan. Kobe has a large Chinese population, the second highest amount of registered foreigners, the highest amount are ethnic Koreans many of whom were brought to Japan in the 1930s when Japan occupied Korea. Their descendants are still considered foreigners and the main Korean neighbourhoods are away from the city centre part of Kobe.

All in all Kobe is a really interesting city, a terrific place to life and its diversity makes it different to other cities in Japan.

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