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70330-0022 - Steam launches at American Hatoba in Kobe, 1910s

Kobe 1910s
Steam Launches

Artist Unknown
Publisher Ueda
Medium Postcard
Period Meiji
Location Kobe
Image No. 70330-0022
Purchase Digital File

Harbor launches at the Meriken (American) Hatoba, for many years the main pier in Kobe.

Until 1922 (Taisho 11), large ships couldn’t dock in the harbor, so the hooting launches maneuvered continuously through the multitudes of junks and other small vessels to shuttle passengers and their luggage between anchored ships and the pier.

As the harbor developed, Meriken Hatoba lost its importance as place of entry and in 1987 (Showa 62) the pier finally vanished as it was incorporated into Meriken Park.

At the time that this photo was shot, Kobe Port had already transformed into one of Japan’s main ports with lots of traffic. An Official Guide to Eastern Asia, published in 1914 (Taisho 3), gives an impression of the port at that time1:

The merchant vessels of all kinds in both home and foreign trade, which entered and cleared the harbour of Kōbe during 1909 amounted to 15,327, of which those engaged in foreign trade numbered 2,418.

During 1909 passengers by sea landing at Kōbe numbered 213,405 from ships coasting in home waters and 19,407 from ocean-going steamers. The total was 232,802, of which 6,183 were foreigners. Among these latter Chinese numbered 2,476, Britons 1,493, Americans 1,090, Germans 320, Russians 308, and French 146.

To simplify management and development, the harbor was divided into two areas:

  1. Wakinohama (#9 on map below) to the Kawasaki promontory (#3) for merchant ships and junks.
  2. Kawasaki promontory (#3) to Wadanomisaki (#1) used especially for vessels of the Japanese navy.

Passengers landed at the Meriken Hatoba (#5) and the nearby Daisan Hatoba (#4, Third Wharf), located about where Kobe Port Tower is now.

1914 Map of Kobe Port
1914 (Taisho 3) Map of Kobe: 1. Wadamisaki; 2. Kobe Station; 3. Kawasaki Dockyard; 4. Daisan Hatoba (Third Wharf); 5. American Hatoba; 6. Former Foreign Settlement; 7. Kaigandori; 8. Planned Harbor Development; 9. Wakinohama.
80125-0002 - Port of Hiogo, L'Univers Illustré, 1868
The port of Hiogo (later known as Kobe), just before it opened to foreign trade. British and American fleets are at anchor. A graphic from the French newspaper L'Univers Illustré, 1868 (Keio 4).

Kobe Port was first opened to foreign trade in 1868 (Keio 4). At that time it had no wharfs to serve large vessels so loading and offloading had to take place offshore. This situation persisted for a long time.

Finally in 1907 (Meiji 40), due to dramatic increases in trade, plans were made for extensive new port facilities (#7 on the above map). During the so-called First Stage Kobe Port Development Plan (1907-1922), four new piers were constructed (Shinko piers No. 1 through No. 4).

In 1919 (Taisho 8), work began on the Second Stage, which included the construction of six new piers (Shinko piers No. 4 East through No. 6, Naka Pier, and Hyogo Piers No. 1 and 2). This was completed in 1939 (Showa 14).

Kobe now had the largest berth in Japan, with a depth of 12m.

After the end of WWII, construction continued to make Kobe one of the world’s busiest ports. The tops of the mountains to the northwest of the city were even sliced off to construct the artificial islands Port Island (ポートアイランド) and Rokko Island (六甲アイランド).

This clip shows some of this massive construction work in 1969 (Showa 44), as well as the enormous environmental destruction it caused.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 (Heisei 7) put an end to Kobe’s growth. The damage that it caused to the port facilities amounted to 2.5% of Japan’s GDP.

Despite immense investments and the addition of an airport (also built on an artificial island), Kobe Port has not managed to regain its former status as Japan’s principal shipping port. It now ranks fourth after Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya.2

Kobe Port in 2009
Kobe Port in 2009 (Heisei 21). In the center, Meriken Park (the location of the vintage photo) with Kobe Port Tower, the Maritime Museum and the cruise ship terminal. In the front, the Mosaic shopping center at Harborland can be seen. 663highland, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
80724-0040 - Port of Kobe Earthquake Memorial
The Port of Kobe Earthquake Memorial at Meriken Park (神戸港震災メモリアルパーク), 2008 (Heisei 20). Coincidentally, this is around the location where the top photograph was taken in the 1910s…

Timeline of Kobe Port

1868 Hyogo Port is opened
1892 The harbor is officially named Port of Kobe
1907–1922 Construction of Shinko Piers No. 1-4 (West)
1919–1939 Construction of Shinko Piers No. 4 (East)-No. 6, Naka Pier, Hyogo Piers (No. 1 & 2)
1923 Kobe is designated a national principal port
1951–1956 Construction of Shinko Piers No. 7 West & East
1958–1967 Construction of Hyogo No. 3 Pier, Maya Piers, Shinko No. 8 Pier (East)
1963 Kobe Port Tower completed
1966–1981 and 1987–2010 Reclamation of Port Island
1972–1992 Reclamation of Rokko Island
1992–1987 Construction of Meriken Park
1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake causes great damage to Kobe Port
1999–2006 Construction of Kobe Airport

Source: Port & Urban Projects Bureau Kobe City Government. Port of Kobe. Retrieved on 2008-07-21.

211206-0043 - 1998 Map of Kobe Port Development
This map shows the development of Kobe Port as of 1998 (Heisei 10): 1. Hyogo Wharf; 2. Naka Pier; 3. Meriken Park; 4. Shinko Piers; 5. Shinko Higashi Wharf; 6. Port Island; 7. Maya Wharf; 8. Rokko Island; 9. Rokko Island South (expected completion: 2030). Courtesy of Kobe City Port Development Bureau (神戸市港湾整備局, Kobeshi Kowan Seibi Kyoku).

see current map


1 Imperial Japanese Government Railways. (1914). An Official Guide to Eastern Asia Vol. II: South Western Japan. Imperial Japanese Government Railways.

2 American Association of Port Authorities. World Port Rankings. Retrieved on 2021-08-23.


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Reference for Citations

Duits, Kjeld (). Kobe 1910s: Steam Launches, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on March 22, 2023 (GMT) from

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