The port city of Kobe which lies near the eastern end of the Inland Sea was one of the first ports in Japan opened to Western countries at the start of the Meiji Era in 1868 after more than 250 years of isolation from the outside world.

As a result, quite a number of people from countries around the world moved to Kobe to establish trading companies and it soon became one of Japan’s most cosmopolitan cities. The expatriates associated with these trading companies soon built very impressive western style homes in which to live and entertain. Many of the homes built on the lower slopes of the Rokko Mountains are still there and are open for tours for a small fee.

The city is the capital of Hyogo Prefecture and is considered by many to be among Japan’s most beautiful cities, enhanced by its unique geographical location between the Inland Sea and the Rokko Mountains.

With a population of about 1.5 million, it’s Japan’s sixth largest city and along with Osaka and Kyoto, forms the Keihanshin metropolitan area. The city is home to one of Japan’s most famous hot springs resorts Arima Onsen, a tramway to the summit of Mt. Rokko, Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge from Kobe to Awaji Island, a large and vibrant Chinatown, beautiful Kobe Port Tower and Kobe beef, perhaps the world’s most famous beef.

While at OSU-K in Kameoka in the early 1990s, my wife Kayo and I were invited to spend a day in Kobe with friends from Kameoka, the Sekimoto and Heki families. After a great day exploring the city we had dinner in Chinatown, then went to the top of Kobe Port Tower for dessert and a beautiful night view of Kobe and the Inland Sea.

There’s a lot of really good things to be said about Kobe, but any mention of the city must include mention of the powerful earthquake that struck the city on Jan. 17, 1995. More than 6,000 people were killed, 200,000 were left homeless, 100,000 structures were destroyed and the port area and other parts of the city heavily damaged.

There was some minor damage in Kameoka, some 40 miles away. My wife Kayo was visiting friends in Kameoka at that time. She said it was really frightening when the Hitomi’s house began to shake, things began to fall and a large stone lantern in the yard toppled over. Kobe has rebuilt and is thriving with its cosmopolitan flavor.

There’s a saying in Japan among those who like high fashion – if you can’t go to Paris, then go to Kobe.

Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.