Former Foreign Settlement in Kobe

Uploaded on 18 Feb 2011 by 神戸旧居留地

<Free translation of the commentary>

The Kobe Port was opened on January 1, 1868.  Along with the opening, the Foreign Settlement was established for residences and businesses of foreigners.  The basic plan was commissioned to the British civil engineer, J.W.Hart.  The settlement was highly regarded by the contemporary periodical, The Far East, describing it as the “best-planned foreign settlement in the Orient”.  The district consisted of the 126 blocks which mostly remain the same today.

Image: Wikipedia “Townscape of the Kobe foreign settlement around 1885, on the coastal road Kaigan-dōri”

At the ceremony held on July 17, 1899, the settlement was officially transferred to the city of Kobe.  The East Play Ground, fire extinguish equipment, a cemetery and street gaslights were handed over and some streets were renamed such as Kaigan-dori. Since the transfer up through the early 1930s, many Japanese settled in this district, developing it as a center of business. With the entry of Japanese shipping companies, trading firms and banks, mid-rise office buildings were built one after another in the historical western architectural style.

When the World War II began, the foreign residents fled to their native countries.  In 1945, the Kobe Air Raids seriously damaged the former settlement.  The recovery after the war was slow until the late 1950s when the district finally seemed to make a comeback; however, many office buildings emptied out as the population shifted to Tokyo.

In 1983, Kobe city designated the former foreign settlement as a cityscape preservation district, triggering a new movement.  The remaining modern western structures and historical mood were rediscovered and an increasing number of offices, boutiques and restaurants started their business, revitalizing the district with new charms.

On January 17, 1995, the Great Hanshin earthquake destroyed the town.  116 buildings suffered damage in greater or less degree, including 22 that had to be demolished.  Among this group included historical western structures such as the nationally important cultural properties, 15-bankan, Kaigan Building, Daiko Building and Meikai Building.

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15-bankan

After the quake, the residents acted to restore the town, agreeing to the urban plan based on the elegance of the once-great historical architecture.  After resotring the historical facade with a quake-absorbing structure, the district won the Urban Planning Month Architecture Minister Prize in June, 1998.  By July 1999, 16 buildings had been reconstructed.

In the 21st century, Kobe has developed the former foreign settlement into a popular sightseeing attraction for visitors from all over Japan.  The old settlement continues to grow as both a town of nostalgia and of new modern glamor.