Kobe–A City Where Western-Style and Local Culture Are Mixed Up
interview, May. 2019
Two friends of mine from high school brought me to this bakery before. We have celebrated each of our birthdays by having lunch and giving presents for more than ten years.
I usually don’t visit restaurants again where I have been before, so I’m always looking for new restaurants, bakeries, and cafes.
My friends are really good at finding new good ones…especially bakeries.
Here in Kobe, there are many good bakeries with delicious and various kinds of bread, and maybe that’s why many of my friends are fond of them.
I also know a cafe that brings around about ten kinds of bread to the table for us to see and we can choose from them!
I guess…people in Kobe (in Hyogo prefecture) feel satisfied living here. It’s not like we are proud of Kobe, but just like we are comfortable here.
We can go shopping around a train station, take a rest in a cafe and refresh by the sea and in the mountain like Rokkosan. All of these we can do in Kobe.
Even though it’s about 30 min. by train from here to Osaka, which is bigger than Kobe, I don’t feel like going there.
Many of my friends around me, who grew up in Kobe, still live here. When I was in high school, a transfer student came and she said, “people in Kobe don’t leave here.”
This was when I first realized that Kobe was a good place to live.
My parents also grew up in Hyogo, and all my relatives live around Kobe. So, I was surprised when I knew that one of my friends had relatives in Tokyo, haha.
Kobe is known as a fashionable, stylish city influenced by western culture.
At the end of the 19th century, Japan finally opened its ports to foreign countries for 200 years, and Kobe was one of the five ports. Since then, westerners living here greatly influenced Kobe.
But I don’t really feel like it’s a stylish city in everyday life. When I read a magazine that features cafes in Kobe (There are many magazines doing so!), I think “yeah maybe it’s right,” but that’s it.
Many tourists visit Kobe’s Former Foreign Settlement, which is known for western-style traditional buildings and shopping, but I just go for shopping around the station.
What I think (as a Kobe citizen) is that Kobe is special for people outside of Kobe, and things outside of Kobe are special for me.
For example, “Ikanago no Kugini.” It’s little fish boiled with sugar, soy sauce, Japanese sweet sake, and ginger. Every spring these fish, called Ikanago, are caught in the sea by Kobe.
Every family has its own recipe. When I walk in a residential area, I smell “Ikanago no Kugini”!
I see many colleagues who put “Ikanago no Kugini” in their lunch boxes. It’s a spring feature here.
People in Kobe cook “Ikanago no Kugini” a lot, and send them to their friends and relatives. My family also cooks about two kg!
So, supermarkets sell plastic containers specially designed for “Ikanago no Kunigi,” and post offices make advertisements for it!
I didn’t know that “Ikanago no Kugini” was a local soul food here in and around Kobe before I watched a TV show featuring it.
When I went to the supermarket last year, so many “Ikanago no Kugini” were piled up, and there were many people around, talking each other like “it’s ~Yen per kg this year.”
The scenery was not “stylish” or “chic,” which was totally different from what people thought about Kobe.
Here, the stylish cafes and bakeries influenced by western culture and local culture are mixed up, and I think that’s why Kobe is so comfortable to live for us citizens and attractive for visitors.
Interviewee: Oz (nickname), librarian.
fiction, Apr. 2019
essay, Apr. 2019