The Port of Kobe lies on the northwestern shores of Osaka Bay in west-central Honshu, the main island of Japan. Capital of Hyogo prefecture, the Port of Kobe is about 10 nautical miles west-northwest of the Port of Osaka and some 140 kilometers southwest of the Port of Nagoya. The combined cities of Kobe and Osaka are Japan's second largest urban area, and the Port of Kobe is Japan's sixth largest city. In 2005, more than 1.5 million people lived in the Port of Kobe.
The Port of Kobe has been one of Japan's most important ports for many years. In addition to its role in maritime commerce, the Port of Kobe is home to major steel and shipbuilding industries. Other important industries in the Port of Kobe include the manufacture of small appliances, food products, and communications and transportation equipment. The city is linked with the rest of the nation by a complex network of rail lines, including those serving the famous Shinkansen bullet trains, and expressways. When it was opened in 1998, the Port of Kobe's Akashi Kaikyo Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world.
Archaeologists have discovered artifacts dating as far back as the Jomon period (14000 to 400 BC) that indicate people lived in the area of the Port of Kobe. A port grew up at the natural harbor that continued to be an important economic center through the ages.
The earliest written records talk about Empress Jingu's establishment of the Ikuta Shrine in 201 AD in the area of today's Port of Kobe. For most of its history, the Port of Kobe was not a distinct political entity. Even when the port was controlled directly by the Tokugawa Shogunate, it was not a separate entity. The modern Port of Kobe did not exist until it was founded in 1889.
By the 8th Century AD, the future Port of Kobe was called Owada Anchorage, and it was used by Imperial envoys traveling to China. For a time in the late 12th Century, the Port of Kobe was the capital of Japan, but the Emperor returned to Kyoto after a few months. The Port of Kobe grew in the Kamakura period from the late 12th Century to the early 14th Century, when it was called Hyogo Port.
Under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Port of Kobe was controlled directly by Japan's central government. The area finally became politically distinct when the han system was abolished in 1871 after the dissolution of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
In 1868, the Port of Kobe (Hyogo Port) was one of the first Japanese ports to open to trade with the West after the Meiji Restoration. It was therefore influenced by Western cultures, and many foreign residences and buildings were constructed there. Today, foreign residences remain from that era in the Port of Kobe's Kitano area. The Port of Kobe was officially founded in 1869, and it was designated a city by government ordinance in 1956.
During World War II, the Allies' B-29 bombers dropped many incendiary bombs on the Port of Kobe in 1945, killing almost nine thousand people and destroying a fifth of the urban area. In 1975, after continuous public pressure, the city council banned vessels carrying nuclear weapons through the Port of Kobe, effectively preventing warships from the United States from entering the port.
A serious 7.3 Richter magnitude earthquake struck near the Port of Kobe in 1995, killing almost 4600 people and making over 212 thousand people homeless. Much of the port facilities and the city were destroyed. Today, the quake is called the Great Hanshin Earthquake. The city now commemorates this terrible event each December by placing illuminated metal archways in the city center. Before the earthquake, the Port of Kobe was the busiest port in Japan. Since then, it has dropped to the fourth busiest port.