Chang An Gate in Kobe's Nankin Machi

A stroll through Kobe's gated Chinatown gives the visitor not so much a glimpse of China as it gives a glimpse of a Japan-imagined China, replete with red lanterns, pigtailed dolls, kungfu heroes and panda bears. The proprietors range from ethnic Chinese long resident in Japan  --so effortlessly acculturated in things Japanese as to know what works best with Japanese customers-- to newer "Asian" style vendors whose eateries are promoted by loud street side touts. Most restaurants are staffed by workers and students from the bustling cities of Hong Kong, Taipei and Shanghai. Nankin Machi is neutral territory, where the Sino-Japanese tensions that one learns about in the news are non-issues. It's a people-to-people apolitical culture zone, a culinary Disneyland, high on affect, low on authenticity. The menus present much that is so familiar --jiaozi, mantou, noodles-- as to be a kind of local comfort food. Despite the diverse and exotic exteriors, the shop menus tend to repeat themselves,  variations on the theme of Chinese-style food that Japanese like to eat when they go out for "Chinese" food.

Nankin Machi embraces both classical Chinese cultural tropes and light-hearted media-driven cliches, with emphasis on the feminine side of things. The very name, Nanking, summons up the China of an earlier day, when Nanking was the capital. It turns its back on the march of history, and the terrible intersection of Japan in China that culminated in the Nanking Massacre of 1937.  It predates all that, and in effect, pretends it never happened, making for an easy, innocuous  journey into an imaginary Middle Kingdom with a Japanese accent, a nice place for a night out.

Chinese food outside Nankin Machi  - -Xiao Fei Niu across from Sanomiya Station