When the Japanese Port of Kobe opened in 1868, it attracted many foreigners including the Chinese who came from Fujian, Guangzhou and Sanjiang, (福建, 广州, 三江). The Chinese community settled at the western end of Kobe’s foreign settlement and the area soon became the focus point for subsequent Chinese migrants.
At that time, the Chinese were known to the Japanese as “people from Nanjing” and the area became know as Nankinmachi, 南京町or Nankin Street (Nanjing Street).
By the 1920s, Nankinmachi was a vibrant area with Chinese businesses, restaurants and homes. However, in a decade’s time, many Chinese had returned to China because of Chinese reaction against Japanese expansion in Northeastern China and later the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War Two. Towards the end of World War Two, Nankinmachi was destroyed by Allied bombings in Kobe.
After the war, the remaining Chinese community rebuilt the area. Like other Chinatowns in other parts of the world, Nankinmachi is not only an area for the Chinese community but is also a tourist attraction. It’s importance in the Kobe cultural landscape was demonstrated when an archway, the Changan Gate (长安门), was erected in 1985. Subsequent projects added a pair of lions and granite floors and many other initiatives. In 1985, Nankinmachi was damaged during the Kobe earthquake but was quickly rebuilt.
There are three archways in Nankinmachi; Changan Gate (长安门) in the east, Xian Gate in the west, and Nanluo Gate in the south. The northern entrance does not have an archway but is guarded by a pair of lions.
At the intersection of the north-south and east-west is a pavilion with stone carving of the 12 Chinese zodiacs. This is a popular resting area for visitors and also one of the favorite places to take a souvenir photo.
Although there are mahjong clubs and souvenir shops, the most prevalent business seem to be food businesses. Along the streets of Nankinmachi are restaurants and stalls offering different types of food, both Japanese and Chinese. Some examples include dim sum, dumplings, buns, and Chinese pastries. Most of the shops have a display stand showing potential customers their food.
During the Lunar New Year and the Mid Autumn season, 2 major festivals celebrated by Overseas Chinese in Japan, New Year delicacies and moon cakes appear creating a festive mood in Nankinmachi.
Despite the Nankinmachi being much smaller compared to Yokohama Chinatown, it is a charming place to visit and has all the typical characteristics of a Chinatown and is considered as a “must see” for tourists visiting Kobe.