Exploring Kobe: Nankinmachi Chinatown

In one of my previous articles I already had the chance to explore Kobe’s stunning atmosphere, vast heritage and endless natural beauty with our readers, and now the time has come for one of Kobe’s neighbourhoods which I felt deserved attention on its own right. Chinatown, many of our readers may be familiar with Yokohama’s Chinatown just south of Tokyo and although many similar neighbourhoods are sprawling around Japan’s major cities Kobe’s Chinatown completes the port city’s metropolitan feeling.

Nankinmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown

Before Western merchants settled in Kobe, the port already attracted quite a few Chinese merchants. The district they settled in soon became known as Nankinmachi, named after the Chinese capital of the time Nanjing. Although the district is quite small, being about two main streets and a central plaza, it is packed with countless shops, restaurants and food stalls selling typical Chinese goods and dishes.

Let the festivities begin!

For the Chinese the Lunar New Year in January or February is the biggest festival and it is duing this time that Chinatowns around the world are crowded with people trying to catch a glimpse of the celebrations. With lion dances, firecrackers and performances throughout the days before and after New Year’s day Nankinmachi truly become spectacular during this time of the year. The festivities tend to continue until the Lantern Festival on the 15th when the neighbourhood is engulfed in the lights of countless red lanterns while many households enjoy yuanxiao, a dumpling ball made of sticky rice flour stuffed with different fillings.

Chinese food with a Japanese twist

As the only Chinatown in Kansai, although there is another slowly developing in Osaka, this is the place to go to enjoy amazing steamed buns and ramen. However, truth be told they are not genuinely Chinese dishes as they have often been adapted to the taste of the Japanese to a certain extend.

Let’s starting with tasting some street food. My personal favorite is nikuman, also known as baozi in Chinese or meat buns in English, these delicious steamed buns filled with minced pork or beef meat and various other tasty ingredients can be found in supermarkets and konbini’s throughout Japan but tasting the genuine product is always better. Shumai, or pork dumplings, is a typical Chinese dim sum you will see in street stalls and as a side dish in many of the restaurants in the neighbourhood.

This brings us to the restaurants, as you can expect there are a lot of them offering a vast range of dishes for different price ranges. Traditional Chinese ramen are the cheapest option as you can have a big bowl of delicious ramen for under 1.000 yen, since I already ate some street food I myself choose for a nice big bowl of seafood ramen. If you are however are able to fight off the urge to try the street food and are willing to pay just a little bit more you can also order set menu’s which do not unlike include ramen or rice but also several fried side dishes and soup.

Getting to Nankinmachi

From Osaka, Kobe itself is easily accessed by taking the JR Special Rapid bound for Himeji to Sannomiya Station for just under 410 yen in about 20 minutes. Another option is to take the Hankyu Kobe Line’s limited express trains from Osaka’s Umeda Station to Kobe-Sannomiya Station for 320 yen in 25 minutes or Hanshin operated direct trains from Osaka-Namba Station for 410 yen in 45 minutes. Nankinmachi itself is located near Motomachi Station,which is the next stop from Kobe-Sannomiya Station.

Although it may be an option for those with a JR Pass, it is not very advisable to take the shinkansen if you are coming to Kobe for Nankinmachi as Shin-Kobe is on the far northern side of the city which is about a 30 minute walk away from Nankinmachi. if you, however, are also visiting Kobe’s foreigner district and the Rokko mountain range it is of course a good option.