You may have seen the picture of the harbour, the one showing the typical scenery of Kobe; red port tower, Hotel Okura, Ferris wheel by the sea. This is “the scenery of Kobe”, that you can see when you walk from JR Kobe station towards seaside for about 10 minutes.
So, if you walk towards mountains for 10 minutes…did you know that there is an underground passage called “Metro Kobe”, and the great base of table tennis within the passage?
Since I was in my twenties working near Kobe station, I wondered why there was a table tennis spot in a dim underground passage. The area around Kobe has completely different atmosphere – seaside and mountain side – and I was attracted to the area.
Metro Kobe is an underground shopping street, which is on the mountain side of JR Kobe station and connects ““Kosoku Kobe” station and “Shinkaichi” station of Kobe Rapid Transit Railway. It takes only 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. The local town Shinkaichi, which everyone in Kobe knows, is within walking distance from Kobe station.
And now, in order to explore the mystery of the underground street, I decided to walk from Shinkaichi station toward “Metro Table tennis” established in 1971. I arrived at “Metro Table tennis”. I was curious to see inside of the table tennis place.
As I was talking with Mr. Sera and Mr. Hamai, Mr. Miyamura from Kobe Rapid Transit Railway arrived. A young, fine guy, who wasn’t born at the time this place opened in 1971.
I asked him why a table tennis place opened in this underground passage, which was my biggest mystery for this coverage. “I heard that it was because someone noticed that the table may fit between the pillars.”According to him, there is a theory in his work place, “Table fits perfectly”. I see, there are pillars at equal intervals to hold underground, so its use may be limited even though the place is spacious. Yes, this is the ideal space to put table tennis tables. “Mystery solved!” that was what I had in my mind at that point.
Several pairs were practicing in the place. As I gazed wondering what to write, the nice guy, Manager Hamai said “The lady over there is qualified to umpire national championship, she might have umpired games of Ms. Kasumi Ishikawa (Note: Olympian).”
A group of 5 women were practicing. He was talking about one of them who looked like a coach.
According to her, it was her own team that she was coaching just before, and the team mates were practicing for matches. Actually, they didn’t look like playing for fun, I told her so. “It’s my joy to see everyone improve gradually.” she looked happy.
As I listened to this umpire, she flipped pages of a small blue book that umpires have to show me the contents. The records of the games she umpired in Osaka, Tokyo, etc., were written down on it. “I’m an umpire for many years, since I’m old. I used up all the pages, so I added like this.” she smiled. It’s like what people would do with a passport when all the pages are filled with stamps. The book looked like a passport with added pages. She looked a little proud.
When the team of 5 changed clothes, “We are going to have lunch at Royal Host (casual restaurant), well, it would be longer than the practice!” she laughed. They walked the underground passage towards Shinkaichi, where the street piano was. She is qualified to umpire games at the level of national championship, happy to see her members improve, goes to eat with mates after practice. I thought she was a role model for those who enjoy lifelong sport.
Then, unexpectedly, I got new information. From the receptionist, Mr. Sera!
When I was having a chat with Mr. Sera, I asked unintentionally “Why they made a table tennis place here?”. He replied “Shinkaichi is a convenient station since the trains of multiple lines stop. Passengers use this underground passage to transfer, but it was dim. I heard that they made this place so that it would be brighter.”
That’s it, Mr. Sera! The first reason must be; let’s make a dim underground passage brighter for people’s safety. Yes, this must be the reason.
When I visited the place at a later date, high school boys in table tennis uniform were playing while a couple enjoy playing next to them. This place is loved this way by people in Kobe for decades.
Since it has been decided to postpone the World Masters Games for about one year due to Covid-19. In 2022, it would be nice if people from overseas visited Metro Kobe, and listened to the street piano with men dozing off, interacted with locals at the fried food shop, etc.
I imagine and can’t help smiling; the locals of Shinkaichi think “I see many holiday makers and people from overseas recently.” not knowing the World Masters Games is being held. And a drunk guy at the fried food shop ask the athlete sat next to him, “Where are you from?”.
P.S. Don’t miss seaside of JR Kobe station (10 minutes walking from Metro Kobe), my favourite Harbour Land! I guarantee you enjoy “KOBE as port town” there, so I hope you visit both.