Sannomiya Shrine is a small shrine in central Kobe. Although it is not a major tourist attraction, it is a site of historical importance and is easy enough to visit when in the area. Kobe’s Sannomiya district, a major transport hub and commercial center is actually named after this little shrine.
Nobody knows exactly how old Sannomiya Shrine is, but it is safe to say it is very ancient. A goddess called Takitsuhime-no-Mikoto is worshipped here and people pray to her for safe travel over the sea and success with business and trade.
It’s hard to believe now, but the area around this shrine was once open fields with a hill behind the shrine and trees growing thickly around it. Then in January 1868, Kobe Port was opened and a settlement was built for foreigners. Soil from the hill behind the shrine was used for construction, so the hill disappeared, and gradually the ancient rural landscape was replaced by houses and stores.
The Kobe Incident
In the 19th century this shrine was the scene of a serious diplomatic incident which is now known as the Kobe Incident.
On January 11th, 1868, a line of several hundred Japanese troops from Okayama were marching toward Nishinomiya with cannons. As they were passing Sannomiya Shrine several foreign sailors came out of a nearby building and tried to pass through the line of troops. For the Japanese this was extremely disrespectful, so a Japanese officer called Taki Zenzaburo attempted to stop them. Unfortunately, the sailors and the officer could not understand each other. The sailors tried to force their way through the line, and then Taki jabbed at them with his spear, inflicting slight wounds.
The sailors then went back inside a building, but soon returned with guns — and so a gunfight began between the sailors and the troops. Bullets flew over the heads of some European and American officials who were visiting the site of the planned foreign settlement nearby. American, British and French military were soon involved in the fight and the Japanese troops retreated. Amazingly, nobody was killed or seriously hurt in the shootout.
Foreign officials then took control of the center of Kobe and seized control of Japanese warships that were in Kobe Port. The foreign countries demanded that Taki Zenzaburo be punished for the incident, and as a result Taki was forced to commit seppuku — ritual suicide.
The Kobe Incident is commemorated at Sannomiya Shrine by a sign written in Japanese and English. There is also a cannon there that dates from the same period.
Because of this unfortunate history, visitors may like to take a moment and pray at the shrine for peace and understanding between nations.
Sannomiya Shrine is a 6-minute walk from Motomachi Station on the JR Kobe Line, the Hanshin Main Line and the Kobe Kosoku Line. It is 6 minutes from Hankyu Kobe-Sannomiya Station, 10 minutes from Hanshin Kobe Sannomiya Station and 10 minutes from JR Sannomiya Station. Here is a map showing its location.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.