Celebrate Kobe’s Cultural Diversity at India Mela Kobe
Autumn in Japan brings wonderful unique festivals. On a beautiful sunny day after a big storm, an annual festival took place in the recently renovated Meriken Park in Kobe city.
It was not a traditional Japanese “matsuri” though. People gathered in the waterfront park to eat spicy food, dance, and celebrate “India Mela Kobe”.
“Mela” means a fair or a Hindu festival. Since 2010, the biggest Indian cultural festival in the western part of Japan has introduced quite a few delicious foods to Japanese festival goers and celebrated the unique diversity of Indian folk traditions and cultures.
The 3-day event adds a splash of colors to the park as many performers and visitors dress in traditional Indian clothes. If you stay at a hotel in or near the park during India Mela Kobe, the rhythm of Indian music might inspire you to start shaking your body as if you were starring in a Bollywood movie. The park gets crowded with people trying new foods offered by popular local restaurants and enjoying shopping for Indian dresses, suits, accessories, and spices.
If you haven’t been to Kobe yet, you might be wondering why Kobe was chosen as a city to host such an event in the first place. Visiting the Kitano-cho area may solve this mystery though, because there’s a high chance you will spot an Indian restaurant or two and pass Indian residents on the road.
After Japan opened its ports to trade in the 19th century, Indian merchants moved to Yokohama and Kobe. Both were flourishing port cities but the destruction caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 forced many Indians in Yokohama to relocate to the western part of Japan, which made Kobe the center of Japan’s Indian community.
However, the Indian population in Kobe has shrunk since the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake in 1995. With the rise of IT engineers from India living in the Tokyo metropolitan area, Kobe no longer has the largest Indian population in Japan. And yet, it is still considered “the most liveable city for Indians” with great international school options and places for worship for Jains, Sikhs, and Muslims. There are many second generation and third generation Indians living in Kobe.
Purvi Jhaveri who performed a Bollywood dance in the center of the stage of India Mela Kobe is one of those Kobekko (Kobe-ites). Born in Mumbai and raised in Kobe as a second generation Indian, she’s been a bridge between two cultures as a yogini and a Bollywood dance instructor.
Relax with a Local Yoga Instructor While Traveling Japan
While in Kobe for sightseeing or business, it is a wonderful idea to book Purvi’s classes in your free time to unwind. Lessons are taught in two languages, English and Japanese, so you might be able to pick up a few Japanese words, too!
Purvi opened up her own studio Abundance Yoga Studio in Kitano-cho in 2015 with 20+ years of teaching and training experience. At Abundance, she makes sure you become healthy both physically and mentally with services covering yoga, dance, detox, and healing. Not only does she offer classes, but she also tries her best to provide wellbeing for the community.
“When you are healthy in wholeness, connected to yourself, and grounded, you can give and share a lot with everyone,” Purvi says. And she offers training programs for children in the community through yoga in nature, meditation, farming experiences, and volunteering.
Once every few months, Abundance collaborates with the NPO Peace and Nature and co-organizes Cheerful Retreat where kids stay overnight in the countryside of Ozo–nature-rich northern Kobe–and spend some time away from games, gadgets, and their busy but convenient life in the city. Families are welcome as well, so if you’d like to have a memorable experience in the countryside of Kobe, you should check their upcoming programs.
In the morning walk, all those sleepy kids hiked on the mountain path to Kosanji Temple where they watched the beautiful sunrise, enjoyed a famous panoramic view of rice terraces, and did some yoga to wake up their body.
Find Your Favorite Indian Dish in Kobe
Outdoor cooking is also a part of the program. While Indian food is found all across Japan, most of the time, it’s thick chicken curry, naan, and tandoori chicken which are traditional cuisine of Punjab, a northern region of the Indian subcontinent. Japanese locals usually don’t even notice how diverse Indian cuisine actually is.
At the retreat, however, we cooked spicy vegetarian curry with rice as Purvi is from Mumbai, a city on India’s west coast, and she’s a vegetarian. The curry was rich with flavors and the Indian fresh cheese in it added the perfect saltiness and also a nice texture. For Jains who have dietary restrictions including a no root vegetable rule, corn and bean curry was prepared. The retreat was also a place for kids to learn about and respect each other’s cultures. And Kobe is one of the best cities to do that in Japan.
To experience even more Indian culinary diversity, you should try one of my favorite Indian restaurants in Sannomiya called Madras Kitchen, which focuses on providing Kobekko with an authentic Southern Indian food and experiences.
Their specialty dish is dosa, a thin pancake or a crepe type of food made from fermented rice and urad dal batter.
Look at this beautiful paper thin dosa rolled into a golden cone shape! If you or your friends have never had it before, you should definitely have your first dosa party in the center of Kobe, Japan.
The addictive sourish dosa comes with varieties of chutney sauce, and spicy vegetable stew called sambar so you can tear dosa into a bite-size and use each chutney as a condiment or dunk it straight into the sambar. I think the best combo is the white one in the middle and the red one on the bottom because the thick coconut paste reduces the hotness of the chili chutney and creates a rich yet mild flavor.
If you are a meat lover, trust me and get Hyderabadi mutton biryani. Even if you are full from the dosa, you can order it for takeout, which is great. Biryani is a dish prepared with marinated meat sandwiched between layers of fragrant basmati rice and then slow-cooked. This is also a popular dish at Madras Kitchen and I think it’s partly because the cooking method is similar to how you cook Takikomi-Gohan, a Japanese rice dish. Madras Kitchen’s biryani smells so good that you’ll have to stop yourself from taking a bite before you get home (or your hotel room) and once you know how soft and tasty the mutton is, it will be very hard to stop digging into this delicious dish.
If you are looking for something unusual and perhaps unexpected about Japan, such as cultural diversity, a relaxing yoga lesson, and the great international food, Kobe is your answer. You might even want to start calling it home once you get here.
India Mela Kobe
Schedule／3 Days during the month of October
Nearest Stations／JR Motomachi Station, Hanshin Railway Motomachi Station, Kobe Municipal Subway Minato Motomachi Station, Hankyu Railway Hanakuma Station
Abundance Studio Kobe
Address／Mon-chateau Kita 3F-3B, 4 Chome-7-20 Kitano-cho, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Parking／None. Use nearby public parking lots
Nearest Stations／JR Sannomiya Station, JR Shin-Kobe Station, Kobe Municipal Subway Sannomiya Station, Hankyu Railway Sannomiya Station, Hanshin Railway Sannomiya Station
Address／Kawamoto Bldg. 1F, 2 Chome-20-9 Nakayamatedori, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi, Hyogo
Parking／None. Use nearby public parking lots
Nearest Stations／JR Sannomiya Station, Kobe Municipal Subway Sannomiya Station, Hankyu Railway Sannomiya Station, Hanshin Railway Sannomiya
Photographs & Text by Madoka Hori
Madoka Hori / Photo-writer Entrepreneurial translator/writer living in Hyogo. As a licensed English tour guide, she occasionally takes tourists to beautiful destinations such as Kobe, Himeji, Okayama, Kyoto, and Osaka and her clients have never got lost so far. On Setouchi Finder, as one of the original team members, she enjoys taking photos and sharing her favorite hidden gems. Private Photo Blog http://riderv328.tumblr.com Twitter https://twitter.com/Riderv328
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