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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK

Kobe - A vibrant return

Kobe, located just next to Osaka in the Kansai area of central island Honshu, demonstrates two key factors of life in Japan.

The first is that the country has had its fair share of natural disasters, which in Kobe's recent history was the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995.

The second factor is the Japanese ability to put a tragedy behind them and restore something to its former vitality, or even make it better - as seen in Kobe today.

The city has managed to recover from a disaster that levelled whole neighbourhoods and killed 6,000 people and remain a thriving hub of maritime activity.

Area facts

  • Population: 1.5m
  • Location: Just west of Osaka on Honshu island
  • Local team: Vissel Kobe
  • Sights: Setonaikai National Park and Arima Hot Spring
  • Top product: High quality beef
  • The third largest trading port in Japan has long been an international city.

    As far back as the eighth century, sea trade flourished and Kobe was one of Japan's first five major ports to open the economic gates to the west in 1868.

    The city still shows signs of those exotic bygone days in the downtown area known as the Old Foreign Settlement, which includes Nankin-machi and Kitano

    Nankin-machi is Kobe's own authentic Chinatown, while Kitano is famous for its old western-style houses built by early foreign residents and known as Ijinkan.

    Kobe is a pleasure to visit, with its backdrop of Mount Rokko and conveniently compact size.

    Most of its attractions can be reached on foot from the main train stations - a rare feat for a Japanese city.

    Further out, there is the natural beauty of the Setonaikai National Park and Arima Hot spring.

    Kobe is, no doubt, relishing the arrival of the World Cup this year.

    The last major event hosted by the city was the Universiade Athletic Games - a student Olympics - in 1985.

    It then declared itself an International Sport City.

    Now it has the chance to live up to its self-proclaimed status.

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