Since its port opened in 1868, over its 150-year history Kobe has developed into one of the world’s leading port cities. However, its roots lie much further back in time, during the Nara Period (710-794), and in the Heian Period (794-1185) the samurai commander Taira no Kiyomori developed Owada-no-Tomari as a strategic base for trade with Song Dynasty China. It became an important hub for ships plying the Seto Inland Sea, and was the precursor of the port that underpins Kobe’s economy to this day.
TRANS- takes place in three areas of Kobe, including the Hyogo Port district where Owada-no-Tomari was once located. All three are coastal districts to the west of Sannomiya and Motomachi, the present-day center of Kobe, and feature townscapes that retain the nostalgic atmosphere of the Showa Era (1926-1989), with large and small factories, old shopping streets, and old-fashioned neighborhoods with narrow lanes. While many old buildings remain and they seem at times like places that time forgot, these areas have been evolving gradually, with a growing number of young creative people and foreign nationals moving to them in recent years.
Because the roots of the port city of Kobe lie in these areas, which are still undergoing a renaissance after the devastation of the 1995 earthquake, the area is a source of inspiration for artists, and the works they have created for these sites will transform their atmosphere and show intriguing new aspects of the city.
Shinkaichi flourished as a central area of Kobe from before World War II through the middle of the Showa Era (1926-1989), and was full of all kinds of entertainment facilities including cinemas, theaters, and dance halls, so lively and bustling it was known as Western Japan’s equivalent of Asakusa, Tokyo. A long shopping street built over the filled-in Minato River, formerly an elevated waterway, is home to cultural facilities such as the rakugo (solo comic performance) theater Kirakukan; Kobe Art Village Center, which features a cinema, hall, and gallery; and the Shinkaichi Gekijo specializing in taishu engeki (popular theater), as well as pachinko parlors and video game arcades. There are many old-fashioned coffee shops and yoshoku (Japanese Western-style food) restaurants, and visitors can experience the old-school atmosphere of decades past.
In contrast to the glitter of the Meriken Park area in Motomachi, around Hyogo Port is an industrial area where many huge cranes tower above the Kawasaki Heavy Industries submarine docks, and there are ironworks, shipbuilders’ carpentry workshops, large and small warehouses, and canals. Not far away, though, are points of interest including the Hyogo Daibutsu, one of Japan’s three great giant Buddha statues; Shinko-ji Temple, of the Ji-shu sect of Pure Land Buddhism, where Ji-shu’s founder the 13th-century Buddhist monk Ippen Shonin passed away; the Okagata Club, formerly a social club for merchants; and Kiyomori-zuka, said to be the grave of Taira no Kiyomori, which hint at the area’s glory in bygone days. Noevir Stadium Kobe, the home field of the Vissel Kobe soccer team, will be among the venues for the Rugby World Cup, which takes place at the same time as TRANS- .
Shin-Nagata is the birthplace of the Asics brand and widely known as a center for production of “chemical shoes” (shoes made with synthetic materials). It suffered tremendous damage in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995, but it is in the midst of an ongoing revival through the devoted efforts of local residents. Here you can savor folksy cuisine such as okonomiyaki (savory griddle cakes with various toppings) and bokkake yakisoba (grilled noodles with spicy-sweet stewed beef sinew and konnyaku yam cake), and recently the number of Vietnamese restaurants has been growing and the district is taking on a more international flavor. Cultural facilities such as the contemporary dance venue ArtTheater dB, and the Kobe Planet Film Archive are within walking distance, and it’s a great neighborhood for strolling around.