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HISTORIC KANSAI : Fashionable city - Kobe

by Junzo Tanaka
Kobe is the most fashionable city in Japan, popular not only among Japanese but also among foreign nationals.
It cannot be said that the city has completely recovered from the serious damage suffered in the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 but has considerably achieved rehabilitation. The number of visitors to Kobe has grown year by year and the city is expected to regain its pre-earthquake prosperity in 1999 to make a fresh start toward the 21st century.
Kobe's fashionable pillars are the district of foreigners' mansions on the hill and Kobe Luminarie, the annual festival of illumination held in the Old Foreign Settlement.
Attractiveness of the district of foreigners' mansions has long been known. Kobe was designated as a port opened to the outside world in the closing days of the Tokugawa government and many foreign nationals lived there. Their offices and living quarters were restricted to the settlement close to the seaside, but they located their houses on the hill during the Meiji and Taisho periods, seeking higher places as they did in the United States and Europe.
The foreigners built their houses, extracting the essence of construction technologies in the late 19th century through the early 20th century. The exotic charm of the houses is still popular among citizens and tourists. The area is also valued as a historic heritage showing the customs and the mode of living in the age of the U.S. and European advances into Asia.
As stated before, the Old Foreign Settlement was a tract of land offered to the U.S. and European countries and the whole area was built under a full-scale city plan, rare in Japan at that time.
The district is still the center of Kobe and after the earthquake, Kobe Luminarie was inaugurated as an annual event. Luminarie is an old Italian word meaning illumination. Arches and objects decorated with numerous light bulbs make people recall the earthquake, encouraging them to look to the future with hopes.
This year's event opened December 11 and will last until December 25 with ""the firmament of light"" as its theme. Clad in fashionable winter clothing, people, passing through the tunnels of light, are enjoying the atmosphere of the fashionable city. Kobe streets will become more dressed up in the year-end through the New Year.