Kobe, 30km west of Osaka, with a population of 1,477,000, is the capital of Hyogo Prefecture. It is situated about halfway along the Japanese archipelago facing the Inland Sea, with the scenic backdrop of the Rokkyo Mountains. The city has thrived as an international trade centre since the Meiji Period, and still retains the exotic atmosphere of an international port city. Kobe has a different face from Osaka, Kyoto or Tokyo. The appearance of the city, sophisticated shopping streets, foreign style architectures preserved from the Meiji Period and the romantic natural setting of the city accentuate Kobe's unique atmosphere.
Kobe Port is one of Japan's most representative trading ports, and has prospered from a good natural harbour. The port is often visited by luxurious passenger liners on round-the-world voyages as well as merchant ships. Because of Kobe's importance as an international seaport, the city has long been inhabited by a large number of foreign residents. Many foreigner-owned shops and restaurants are located in the city, adding to the cosmopolitan flavour.
Kobe, particularly the Hanshin Awaji area, was seriously damaged by a devastating earthquake in 1995. However, most of the sightseeing spots have already been restored, with marvellous views of the city and port again being possible from the top of Mt. Rokko, spreading from east to west at the back of the city. Additionally, Peal Bridge (Akashi Kaikyo Ohashi), newly completed in 1998 and the world's longest single-span bridge, makes it closer and easier to travel to Shikoku Island from Kobe.