Mapping Japanese City Spaces: Kobe
Kobe, the third of the Big Cities of Kansai! Kobe, then called Hyogo, was a modestly sized port town under Shogunate control in the feudal era, but it was in the early 20th century that it grew into one of Japan’s largest cities as a global port of call. It’s taken a serious beating in its modern history, but continues to be a vigorous urban center.
You can click on any map to enlarge it.
In 1960 Metropolitan Kobe consisted only of Kobe City and the old castle town of Akashi to the west. A heavily built-up belt of urban space already connected the city to Osaka, but it belonged to Greater Osaka all the way up to the eastern border of Kobe. More than other major cities, the city of Kobe was defined by its geography, a saturated strip sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. The densest part by far was Nagata-ku on the west side. With almost 28,000 people per square kilometer, only Osaka and Tokyo could boast denser wards.
Kobe Metro Area 1,086,469 5th
Takasago Micro Area 35,150
Kakogawa Micro Area 18,378
Miki Micro Area 14,230
Nishiwaki Micro Area 12,098
Kobe City 1,005,961 6th
92.6% of metro area
The Kobe metro area expanded westward and inland in the 1960s. Akashi grew rapidly along the coast, as did the still-independent cities of Kakogawa and Takasago. Most of the old urban strip of Kobe City dropped in population, especially Nagata which was quickly losing its prominence as a residential core. At the same time, the western ward of Tarumi grew explosively, and new suburban developments began to emerge in the rural inlands north of the old city.
Kobe Metro Area 1,351,582 5th + 24.4%
Kakogawa Micro Area 48,635 + 164.6%
Takasago Micro Area 46,990 + 33.7%
Nishiwaki Micro Area 13,635 + 12.7%
Ono 6,007 [new DID]
Kobe City 1,155,727 6th + 14.9%
85.5% of metro area – 7.1% of metro area
During the 1970s, Kobe was the world busiest shipping port by some metrics. Greater Kobe’s growth and decentralization accelerated as the western cities of Kakogawa and Takasago joined the employment area. The urban area continued generally sprawling inland, and major new port developments expanded the coastline and cut population density in Kobe and Kakogawa. As the Kobe urban strip lost population and diffused in density, the inland suburban neighborhoods rapidly developed into a parallel belt to the north that was already as dense as the old city.
Kobe Metro Area 1,755,100 5th + 29.9%
Nishiwaki Micro Area 14,151 + 3.8%
Ono 6,772 + 12.7%
Kobe City 1,240,452 7th + 7.3% – 1 rank
70.7% of metro area – 14.8% of metro area
As with most of Japan in the 1980s, expansion slowed down to a smaller scale, with the gaps and edges of urban districts mostly filling in. Interestingly, Kobe City actually accelerated in growth during this time. Even though the old city continued to slowly empty and Nagata had entirely lost its distinctive density, the dense suburban inlands grew even more, especially the western area north of Akashi.
Fukiai and Ikuta wards in the central business district of Kobe merged at this time to create Chuo-ku, evening out the old city’s density even more.
Kobe Metro Area 1,949,004 5th + 11.0%
Nishiwaki Micro Area 13,554 – 4.2%
Ono 9,353 + 38.1%
Kobe City 1,356,779 7th + 9.4%
69.6% of metro area – 1.1% of metro area
The Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 was devastating but very contained, affecting downtown Kobe and its eastern neighbors specifically. The port lost a lot of its traffic and dropped in global significance. The old city center dramatically lost population, especially the formerly superdense west side. At the same time, the inlands and coastline west of Suma-ku were mostly spared and continued to grow, still sprawling out and now decreasing in density.
Metropolitan Kobe lost a rank at this time to faster-growing Sapporo, dropping out of the top five urban areas.
Kobe Metro Area 2,027,201 6th + 4.0% – 1 rank
Nishiwaki Micro Area 14,016 + 3.4%
Ono Micro Area 11,673 + 24.8%
Kobe City 1,375,306 7th + 1.4%
67.8% of metro area – 1.8% of metro area
Greater Kobe has accelerated in growth, with the old city now benefiting in addition to the suburbs. The city center now seems to be gaining density over the inland residential belt, which is still growing but losing density. Whether this is part of the recent trend of urban re-centralization has yet to be seen, as the old city has yet to regain its pre-earthquake population, so it may be simple recovery rather than a new phase of growth. At the same time, the employment area has significantly expanded again, taking in the relatively rural cities of Ono and even Nishiwaki far to the northwest.
Outpaced by Sapporo, Metropolitan Kobe has now been passed by Fukuoka too, but this is not a sign of actual decline so much as the rapid growth of the other two cities. Kobe seems diminished in rank, but it remains very close in population to the Sapporo and Fukuoka urban areas, so that even a small fluctuation in growth may result in Greater Kobe ascending in rank again.
Kobe Metro Area 2,129,951 7th + 5.1% – 1 rank
Kobe City 1,440,411 6th + 4.7% + 1 rank
67.6% of metro area – 0.2% of metro area
If there’s any city or region of Japan you’d like to see, just ask me in the comments! Really, I do requests!
National land numerical information (densely inhabited district data)
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
Processed and edited in ArcGIS Explorer
Microsoft Bing Maps used as basemap