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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

The best color in Japan: Kobe's Chinatown

The March blooming of Sakura trees in Japan are an annual wonder, and while there we marveled at their beauty.

But in going over the more than 5,000 images and hours of video footage compiled over 10 days in Japan recently for PhotowalksTV episodes, what really jumped out at me was the color RED from the Chinatown district in Kobe, a large city near Osaka.

The colors there are just so bright, and in your face.

Kobe’s Chinatown, the second largest in the country, attracts tourists of all stripe, mostly excited about the street food. My feast was photographic. The colors of the Kobe Chinatown, especially during and after a rain, are magnificent.

Take a look at the these smartphone images snapped in Chinatown on the video above and in the gallery below, and see if they don’t inspire you to check it out on your next visit to Japan.

Kobe’s Chinatown, known as Nankin-Machi in Japanese, dates back to 1868 and the opening of the port, which brought in immigrants. It was destroyed in World War II, rebuilt, and then severaly damaged again in the 1995 Jobe earthquake.

Today, it’s one of the most thriving tourist locations in Kobe, attracting thousands on a busy weekend day, and the most popular items are the street food and knick knacks.

Photo Tips

If you’re lucky enough to be near the Kobe Chinatown (or any, for that matter) during or after a rain, open your camera and pounce. Remember that smartphones are water resistant. You can photograph while it’s raining without any worry about ruining your investment. And if you follow my advice and wait for early evening, when the neon signs are turned on, you’ll likely see splashes of color that will make your photos pop.

This episode was filmed, primarily on an iPhone 13 Pro Max, along with the crazy Insta360 X3 camera. I also brought along a Samsung Galaxy S21 phone so I could be better versed with how they operate and differ from iPhones, and found myself reaching for it more often than I thought I would.

Top of the line Galaxy phones have a longer zoom than iPhones, 5X vs. 3X, which in photography terms is 77mm vs. 200mm equivalent. It sure is a cool thing to have for street photography.

Apple is expected to offer similar tools in the next iPhone. I can’t wait.

Chinatown Tips

The two-block long Chinatown attracts multiple tour buses full of people most days. If you time your visit accordingly, you can ditch them. For instance, I was there one day at 11:45 a.m., and it was fine. But after 12, it was a madhouse.

As always, I recommend getting there as early as possible, and if you can, arrange to be there during the two hour period as the sun sets and the night kicks in. That's when you'll get your best colors and hopefully see fewer people. Tour buses don't tend to drop people off in the evening.


Chinatown is in the heart of Kobe, in the Motomachi district, which is just a few blocks up the road from the waterfront, and basically two blocks from the JR Motomachi train station.

Beyond photos, I have a pro tip on eating street food, as you'll see in the video. A: let it cool off before you take one giant, stupid bite. B. If you’re ordering soup dumplings and you forgot your bib at home, eat it accordingly, over the plate, because the odds are that it’s going to squirt all over you.

Have fun in Kobe on your next Japan visit. I'll be back in this space to tell you all about photographing Osaka next week.

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