Asian Urban Information Center of Kobe

AUICK Action Plan Progress Report, 2010

The Context and Influence of the Asian Urban Information Center of Kobe

1. Kobe City and its relevance to AUICK

1.1. Population and Economy

1.2. Internationalization

1.3. Recovery from Disaster

1.4. Services to Citizens

1.1. Population and Econonmy

In 1868, the population of Kobe was around 20,000. This grew to 135,000 by 1889 (the year Kobe became a city), and a pre-World War II level of over one million. The destruction of the War drastically reduced the population to 380,000 by 1945, which grew back in parallel with post-war reconstruction and industrial development. As a port city, Kobe’s economy grew around its shipping, shipbuilding and steel industries. With intense economic growth in the 1960s, the city’s population grew by an average of 18,000 people per year, reaching 1.3 million by 1970. This created a need for more land, an issue addressed by the ‘Mountains to the Sea’ Port Island project, which reclaimed land by cutting mountain tops and transporting earth to the sea. The project, largely financed by the issuing of Kobe City Bonds, was completed in 1980, and repeated to build Rokko Island. Such projects characterized the success of the urbanization of Kobe, greatly attributed to the vision of Dr. Tatsuo Miyazaki, Mayor of Kobe for nearly twenty years until 1989. AUICK’s establishment support can also be attributed to his vision. 

Despite economic slowdown in the 1970s, a growing birthrate influenced population increases of around 8,000 per year, but in-migration and population growth slowed when the main industries, Kawasaki and Kobe Steel, were relocated away from the city, and the global oil crises of 1973 and 1978 prolonged economic slowdown into the early 1980s, when many young leaving to look for employment, and the effects of previous steep declines in the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), meant Kobe had the twin-challenge of a declining and increasingly ageing population. 

The greatest postwar impact on the population and economy of Kobe came in January 1995, when the Great Hanshi-Awaji Earthquake left over 6,000 people dead and thousands homeless. It reduced the population by over 100,000 to 1.4 million people. During reconstruction, damaged port facilities replaced by fashion houses, a university and an airport, reflected the city’s changing economy. Now, despite a high standard of living, policy makers face the economic implications and increased welfare needs of an ageing population. In 2008, people over 65 numbered 330,000 (21.3%), one in five of Kobe’s population of 1.55 million. They are increasing in number by 10,000 a year, set to reach one in four by 2014, and then one in three by 2050. 

The economy of Kobe City is relevant to AUICK, providing around two-thirds of its financial assistance, and facilities that workshop participants visit and learn from and try to replicate. Kobe’s population changes are important to AUICK, as they show the need for the formulation of population-based policies by city governments. Population and demographic transition is of cross-cutting relevance to all of Kobe’s welfare provision, which is the North-South element of AUICK’s programme of information dissemination and training. This enables AUICK’s associate cities to learn effective policies to counter-measure issues arising from their cities’ population changes.


1.2. Internationalization

Since Kobe Port, along with Yokohama, opened Japan up to the world around the time of Japanese rule by Emperor Meiji, foreign trade, settlers and influences have characterized the city, which has developed an international outlook toward cooperation and programmes for international development. Year round, the city organizes international events and fairs, and has wide-ranging associations for international educational and cultural exchange. The main body for such arrangements is the Kobe International Center for Cooperation and Communication (KIC), the international division of the Kobe City Government, which facilitated the establishment of AUICK, and has co-supported the organization for two decades. As well as the 1987 Asian Conference on Population and Development in Medium-sized Cities, which led to the formation of AUICK, Kobe has hosted such international events as the Portopia Expo in 1981, the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction, and the G-8 Environment Ministers Meeting, in 2008. From is history, Kobe’s international characteristics are inextricably linked to the mindset of its citizens, and their support for an organization which, rather than Kobe’s citizens, has international administrations and citizens as its stakeholders.


1.3. Recovery from Disaster

A unique feature of Kobe City’s development is its repeated recovery from massive devastation. During World War II, air raids destroyed much of the urban area, leaving virtually all residential housing destroyed. The city has also experienced flooding and landslides from its Rokko Mountain range onto the urban area. Most Recently, an earthquake of 7.2 on the Richter scale whose epicenter was on the nearby Awaji Island, struck on 17 January, 1995. The destruction to the city was catastrophic, with 67,000 buildings completely destroyed, and 55,000 partially destroyed, and more than 200,000 people evacuated in the immediate aftermath. During this time, the government had to maintain health care and sanitation services, and learned valuable lessons on community preparedness for disasters. After the earthquake, the city government set out ‘standards for a safe city’, a new culture of volunteerism took hold for citizens to assist one another, a Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Museum was established to inform on recovery process, and there was extensive re-building of the city’s infrastructure. Perhaps as it more recent than other disasters, Kobe’s recovery from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake has had great relevance to AUICK. As well as forming the backdrop of the AUICK Second 2007 Workshop on Maternal and Child health Care in Natural Disasters, recovery from the earthquake is another ‘cross-cutting’ issue, as it enhanced Kobe’s experience in health care provision, volunteerism, sanitation, demographic changes, emergency service organization and citizen information networks, all of which are covered by AUICK’s training workshops, technical support service, publications, and inform Action Plans formulated for implementation in AUICK Associate Cities.


1.4. Services to Citizens

A unique characteristic of Kobe City Government is the long tenure of its officials, who start in ward offices, where they get to know the needs of citizens at first hand. Officials in administrative positions are effectively employed for life to serve the city moving every three years between departments, to build up a broad knowledge of the workings of the city and its administration, and a commitment to the city and its citizens’ requirements. Kobe was the first city in Japan to have a sewage network, which stretches back to 1872, when it was initiated in the foreign settlement area, and has covered the whole city since 1985. Universal primary education has been achieved, and highly advanced health care facilities gave Kobe, with the rest of Japan, the lowest infant mortality rate in the world. For the elderly, silver colleges, employment and activity networks facilitate their active role in society, and the city is constantly looking for ways to expand the care provided to them and improve the increasingly burdened social security pensions system. Since the earthquake and its aftermath, a culture of volunteerism has sprung from the assistance given to victims in Kobe and spread throughout the country. The urban greening movement has also had its roots in the city, whose Rokko Mountain range was completely covered with greenery in the early 1900s. In the dissemination of these experiences to other Asian cities, the relevance of Kobe City to AUICK is apparent as a valuable backdrop for the studies, and more recently the workshops, which AUICK has conducted.



AUICK Action Plan Progress Report, 2010


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 3.1.

Chapter 3.2.

Chapter 3.3.

Chapter 3.4.

Chapter 3.5.

Chapter 3.6.

Chapter 3.7.

Chapter 3.8.

Chapter 3.9.

Chapter 4

Chapter 5



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