Every year since December 1995, Kobe Luminarie lights up the city for about ten days. A night and sparkling commemoration of the deadly Great Hanshin earthquake which occurred in Kobe in January of the same year, and left the city in the darkness for several week. The memorial event became very famous in Japan and, as a result, many visitors are coming to Kobe at that time. On weekends, lines are long before having the chance to get through the corridors of lights. A glistening landscape which is officially one of the 100 of Heisei Era.
For us at Nippon100, Kobe Luminarie was the last seasonal man-made landscape of the list, after Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori or Chichibu Night Festival, for example. Stressful moments, as missing one of them would have meant being unable to see the 100 landscapes this year. But we have now seen them and are somehow relieved.
And more than that, we were glad to have the chance to visit Kobe again, which is a great city, really easy to reach, world famous thanks to its beef – and yet so often skipped by travelers on their way to Hiroshima. As a result, the elegant city is the less visited of the famous Japanese city. Which is definitely a pity. We have always found the city fascinating with long-term Western influences and deep ties with these faraway cultures. Kobe was the first in Japan to enjoy coffee, bread or golf for example. And the city is the world capital of pearls.
But the annual event Kobe Luminarie is related to another part of the city’s history, and a more dramatic one. The illumination, set up every year in the Former foreign settlement, is a commemoration of the Grant Hanshin earthquake, with occurred on January the 17th at 5:46am. Until the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011, it was the biggest disaster that Japan faced after WW2, with more than 6000 deaths, 40.000 wounded and an estimated 10.000 billions yen of damages.
The first edition, held in December the same year, was a symbol of the Kobe’s reconstruction and had a strong significance for the inhabitants – as the whole city was left without electricity for a long winter week after the earthquake. Kobe Luminarie, which was first meant to be organised once, is now one of the oldest illumination event existing in Japan.
This year, Kobe Luminarie was held from the 8th to the 17th of December. As usual, the beautiful illuminated corridor was in the Former foreign settlement of Kobe, towards the Higashi Yuenchi Park. For several hours every evening, from 6pm to 9:30 or 10pm, the streets are only for pedestrians – more than 3 millions of them each year – and the traffic is interrupted.
Kobe Luminarie is literally a long and glistening corridor of lights, everyone walking in the same direction to enjoy the high range of colored lights. The waiting line begins right out of Motomachi station on the JR Kobe Line, and meanders in the area until it reaches the entrance of the corridor. Many people are coming every day, specially on weekends, but yet the event definitely remains enjoyable.
The first 200.000 individual hand-painted lights were donated by the Italian government. And the installation was imagined by a team of Italians and Japaneses, lead by Valerio Festi and Hirokazu Imaoka.
How to get there?
Kobe Luminarie is to be explored from Motomachi station on the JR Kobe Line. But the event is easily reached from Sannomiya or Meriken area. Expect a long waiting line on weekend, and a far more reasonable one during the week and especially after 8:30pm. Walking through the whole light up takes not more than one hour, with many food stalls to get warm !