Kobe, with 1.5 million residents, is Japan's 6th largest city.
Combined with nearby Osaka, the metropolitan area exceeds 4 million.
Kobe was wiped out by WW II firebomb raids, but was rebuilt into
Japan's second busiest seaport. In January 1995, Kobe was tragically
leveled by a 20 second earthquake of 7.2 magnitude that killed 5000
and left 300,000 homeless. (Sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire
is precarious!) Kobe's reconstruction cost $150 billion dollars,
ranking it as the most expensive natural disaster in modern times.
Now the restoration is so complete and the city is so immaculate
that it is difficult for a visitor to imagine that such a devastating
calamity was so recent. We toured an exquisite Japanese garden which
was an artistic display of carefully manicured shrubs and trees
in stunning simplicity, creating a peaceful setting of tranquil
repose. We visited a Shinto Temple where Japanese have been worshiping
for 2,800 years. Located in the middle of Kobe's downtown, this
ancient temple (reconstructed, of course) stands among gigantic
500 year old camphor trees. (Its Asian architecture of gently sloped
roofs and bright orange lacquer finish can best be seen in the accompanying
photo.) During the hour we attended, there was a steady stream of
well-dressed young businessmen and women coming from their workday
for a few moments of prayerful meditation. Japanese religion seems
to have a curious phenomenon of tolerance. 87% of Japanese are Shinto,
whereas 78 % are Buddhists! The explanation is that a high percentage
of Japanese practice both Shintoism and Buddhism throughout their
lives. They attend the Shinto Temple for happy occasions, such as
christenings, weddings and opening a business, whereas sad occasions,
such as funerals, are observed in the Buddhist Temple. What's more,
many contemporary young couples travel to Hawaii, Australia or even
Disney World, to marry a second time in a Christian Church, observing
such western customs as satin bridal gowns, tulle veils, organ strains
of Mendelssohn's Wedding March and limos. Such "wedding packages"
are big sellers in Japan's travel market today! About 1% of Japan
is Christian, with 9% practicing other religions, such as Islam.
The Japanese live longer than anyone else, with a life expectancy
of at least 80 years and many becoming centenarians. Last year,
only 35 Japanese were killed by guns, which is remarkable since
her population exceeds 120 million. Guns are absolutely forbidden
in Japan. Our guide, a believable middle-aged college graduate with
two children, explained that she had never seen a real gun until
she observed one in a museum. Might this be a thought worth pondering?