May 2016

The Lives of Foreigners Living Near Sannomiya Station

Places of work, international schools and preschools, various religious institutions, and international communities. All of these things can be found in Kobe.

The DeCandillo and Simha families live in a nice area within a walkable distance south (the ocean side) of Sannomiya Station, an area that is literally the downtown of Kobe. (Click here for the previous article.) In Kobe, this area in particular attracts many residents of different nationalities. Some foreign residents that originally came here for business liked it so much that they continued living here for generations. As a result, Kobe has become an area with a rather high percentage of foreign residents for Japan. Let’s take a closer look at their lives here through data:

As of the end of February 2016, a total of 43,722 foreigners were living in Kobe representing 131 countries and regions, including Asian countries, USA, India, Brazil, UK, and many others (see Chart 1).

(Chart 1) Number of foreign residents living in Kobe City (Source: “Population 6. Number of Foreigners” from the March issue of Data Kobe, 2016)

In Kobe City, the Japan head offices of major foreign companies such as Nestle, P&G, and Eli Lilly as well as the branch offices of other foreign companies, total more than 200. The reasons those foreign capital companies from the USA, China, Germany, France, Switzerland and many other countries have located their offices in Kobe vary, but one reason is believed to be due to the city’s favorable living conditions.

The Beginnings of a Multinational City

Kobe opened its port to the world for overseas trade and exchange in 1868. Since then, it has had a history of welcoming many foreign individuals as a port city, and thus has many foreign residents. According to the statistics, 10% of the entire population of Kobe’s Chuo Ward are foreigners. (Chart 2)

(Chart 2) Number of foreign residents out of the total population in Chuo Ward, Kobe City [unit: person] (Source: “Estimated Population” from the Kobe City website, February 2016 and “Population 6. Number of foreigners” from the March issue of Data Kobe, February 2016)

Not long after the opening of the port to international trade in the late 1800s, many foreign consulates were established in Kobe, and improvements to the residential environment were started through the development of the foreign settlement. “The Far East”, an English newspaper published in Japan at the time, praised it, stating, “The foreign settlement [in Kobe] is the most well-planned, beautiful town in the Orient.”

As a result, foreign architecture styles and lifestyles that had not yet existed in Japan were brought to Kobe, and that created an exotic townscape. In other words, foreigners customized the town the way that they wanted it to be. That’s why many second-, third-, and fourth-generation families have continued to live in Kobe to this day.

An Education Environment Where Children Can Learn Diverse Values

As for preschool, elementary, middle, and high schools, Kobe has a variety of international educational environments. In total, there are 6 educational corporations and 8 schools in Kobe including Canadian Academy on Rokko Island, as well as St. Michael International School and Kobe Chinese School in Nakayamate, Chuo Ward. The total number of students at those foreign schools (*) was 2,512 as of 2009. This accounts for 25% of students who go to foreign schools in all government-designated cities. (Chart 3)

(*) Foreign schools: Institutions including international schools and ethnic schools that offer primary and secondary education.

(Chart 3) Number of foreign students by government-designated city [unit: person] (Source: Comparison of foreign schools among government-designated cities in 2009)

Public elementary and middle schools in Kobe City also have many international students. As of May 1st, 2015, a total of 1077 foreign children from 38 countries were attending the local public schools. There are also many Japanese children who have grown up abroad, as well as Japanese children with foreign heritage. The Kobe city government sends multicultural supporters to schools to help children who have just arrived to Japan and do not speak Japanese. It also provides Japanese lessons for children who do not understand Japanese well.

The foreign schools offer an international education environment in Japan so that students will be able to adapt themselves to their environment when they go back to their home countries or start work in different countries in the future. At public schools, education based on the concept of multicultural coexistence is pursued so that students can put down roots in a Japanese environment. There are a variety of options for raising a child in Kobe.

Religious Facilities and Places of Community

When you walk around Kobe, you will notice that there are many religious facilities from around the world; shrines, temples, churches, a mosque, and other religious buildings are blended into the cityscape. Religious facilities for Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Jainism, and others are especially concentrated in the Kitano-cho area. There are churches from the 3 major Christian denominations: Catholic, Protestant, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

For couples and families who are moving to Kobe, it is often comforting to have a religious facility of their faith nearby. Kobe owes its religious diversity to the foreign residents living here over many generations, who have created these facilities and made them a part of their lives.

There are many foreigners’ communities as well. Kobe is said to be the birthplace of golf, soccer, the marathon, and other sports in Japan. These were achievements of the foreigners who gathered at the Kobe Club and the Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club (KR&AC), both social clubs that were established by foreigners. The culture to enjoy sports developed in Kobe, where many foreigners were often seen actively engaging in these sports and having a good time.

There are also communities formed by ethnicity, such as the Indian and Chinese communities. Those communities are useful for foreigners who have just moved to Japan, who can obtain any necessary information for living here as well as expand their social networks.

Kobe offers ample choices for places to work, educational facilities such as schools and preschools, religious facilities, and foreigners’ communities. That makes this city an easy choice for bicultural couples and families from other countries to relocate.

Interview/writer: Remi Hamabe

Photographer: Kyoko Kataoka