When touring Kobe, visiting the Kitano-cho Ijinkan, or old foreign settlement quarter, is a must. But as there are around 20 old Western-style buildings open to the public, seeing them all would be a daunting task.
So, for those who have a limited amount of time for visiting Kobe Kitano-cho, we have put together a two-hour course that will enable you to get the most out of a visit to the Kitano Ijinkan!
- Table of Contents
- What kind of place is Kitano-cho Ijinkan-gai?
- 1. Kitano-cho Plaza
- 2. Uroko no Ie
- 3. Uroko Museum
- 4. Yamate 8-Bankan
- 5. Take a break in the Old World atmosphere of Starbucks
- 6. Don a cape and cap at English House and imagine yourself as a famous detective
- 8. Kobe Kitano Ijinkan: There are still many more things to see!
- 9. Kobe Kitano Ijinkan Photo Gallery
- Enjoy Local Kobe Dining - Book a Restaurant Now!
What kind of place is Kitano-cho Ijinkan-gai?
Its history dates back to the opening of Kobe Port just prior to the start of the Meiji Era. Today Kobe Port is one of the most important ports in Japan for foreign trade and it, along with Hakodate, Nagasaki, and Yokohama, was opened to foreign commerce in 1868. Since then Kobe has served as the gateway for many foreigners involved in international trade.
At the time foreigners could only live in designated areas where they could rent houses and property from Japanese and in Kobe that area was Kitano-cho in Kobe’s Chuo Ward. During the Meiji and Taisho eras foreigners who lived there at that time built many Western-style homes and thus this area came to be called the Kitano Ijinkan-gai. ”Ijin” was the word first used to mean ”foreigner” and “gai” means “area”.
There used to be many old Western-style buildings in Nagasaki and Yokohama, too, but sadly almost all of them have disappeared. The old Western-style buildings in Kobe’s Kitano, fortunately, were not damaged during the 1945 air raids on Kobe and they also survived the Awaji Earthquake that damaged Kobe and Osaka in 1995 making them especially valuable today.
There are several of these valuable old buildings scattered throughout the Kitano Ijinkan-gai that have preserved the vestiges of the older eras.
The Uroko no Ie, House of Scales, was the first to be opened to the public in Kobe and is one of eight such buildings managed by the Uroko no Ie Group.
To begin with you first need to go to the Visitors Center to purchase an Uroko no Ie Group ticket.
The 8-kan Premium Pass is a bargain that enables you to enter all of the old buildings managed by the Group and there are other passes, too, such as the Kitano-dori 3-kan Pass and the Yamanote 4-kan Pass (allows you to visit 4 old buildings and the observation gallery), but first let’s decide on the path we will take.
I bought the 8-kan Premium Pass because i was told that it would be possible to see all eight buildings in about two hours.
Incidentally, in addition to the Visitors Center, you can also purchase pass tickets here at the Kobe Trick Art Mysterious Consulate. It is called the Consulate because at one point it was the Consulate of Panama.
Uroko no Ie Groupうろこの家グループ
- Address 2-3-18 Kitano-cho, Chuo-ku, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture (Office inside the Western-style row-houses)
Open: 9:30 a.m. ~ 5:00 p.m. (October ~ March); 9:30 a.m. ~ 6:00 p.m. (April ~ September) * Same for all 8 buildings
Closed: always open
Admission: 8-kan Premium Pass: adults 3,000 yen, children 800 yen
5-kan Happy Pass: adults 2,100 yen, children 500 yen
3-kan Smile Pass: adults 1,400 yen, children 300 yen (all fees include tax) * for more details please visit the website
0120-888581 (Uroko no Ie Group)
1. Kitano-cho Plaza
Now let’s begin our visit. We’ll start by just going straight to the north.
Very shortly you will see the stairs leading to the Kitano-cho Plaza.
At the top of the stairs is the Kitano-cho Plaza public rest area. Here there is a bronze statue of a musician and in the background is the Kazamidori no Yakata [Weathercock Hall] making this a good spot for taking a photo.
The Kazamidori no Yakata rises above at the back of the plaza. It features a bright red brick exterior, a raised second floor with exposed pillars and beams, and a weathercock on the roof, and it has a solid atmosphere different from the other old Western-style buildings.
It was built in 1904 by the German trader Godfried Thomas for his residence and today it is designated as an important cultural property.
This can be seen in many guidebooks. It stands out beautifully under the blue sky. Of course it serves as a weather vane showing the direction of the wind, but because the cock is noted for its strong vigilance, it also has the meaning of warding off evil.
Before we view the inside, let’s first take a closer look at the exterior.
The Moegi no Yakata is on the west side of the Kazamidori no Yakata. It was built in 1903 as the residence of the American Consul General Hunter Sharp. Today it is listed as an important cultural property.
The exterior in light green siding has a lighter and softer exterior compared to the heaviness of the Kazamidori no Yakata. One of its most noticeable features is the oddly shaped bay windows (designed so as to provide a pleasant view of the bay).
As we walk in the area of the Kitano-cho Plaza let’s continue moving to the east. Let’s head towards the Uroko no Ie.
2. Uroko no Ie
Be sure to check out the Calydonian Boar at Uroko no Ie!
Among the old buildings in Kitano Ijinkan-gai, Uroko no Ie, which is located on a nicely elevated hillside, is a representative Ijinkan and the first to be opened to the public in Kobe.
It was built as a luxurious rental house for foreigners in 1905 and then it became the residence of Mr. R. Harrier, the son of the German teacher E. Harrier. It is designated as a National Tangible Cultural Property.
Its most outstanding feature is its beautiful natural slate exterior that resembles the scales of a fish. Slate is a type of natural stone that has been used since olden times in Japan for tiles and inkstones. It is estimated that about 3,000 slates were used for the building’s exterior. The building projects a strong image of an old European castle.
There is a bronze statue in the spacious garden at the front of the building called the Calydonian Boar and nicknamed Porcellino.
The Calydonian Boar appears in Greek mythology and it is said that if you rub its snout it will bring good luck.
Its shiny snout is testament to the popularity of that belief! Be sure to give it a rub yourself when you visit the Uroko no Ie.
Now let’s take a look inside the house.
Light from the stained glass windows adds color to the room. The table is set beautifully and decorated with seasonal flowers.
Several generations of the family deepened their bonds through gatherings in this living room. One can only imagine the conversations held around the table. I imagined that the room rang with joyous laughter.
A beautiful chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Aside from this chandelier, various lighting fixtures are installed in each room and all are worth seeing.
In addition there are many kinds of antique furnishings from the era which visitors are welcome to photograph.
Could this be an old music box? It looks very much like an antique Western jewelry box. It reminds me of a fairy tale.
The carpet in this lovely drawing room gift shop is of a different pattern than those in other rooms. This is a good place to look for souvenirs like one of the Calydonian Boar.
Next let’s go to the Uroko Museum.
3. Uroko Museum
The Uroko Museum is actually the western half of Uroko no Ie.
It was opened in 1982. Here there is a collection of modern and contemporary European paintings in one room.
The room is lined with a large number of landscape paintings by Troyon (Barbizon School), works by Matisse, Utrillo, Dubuffet, and other popular painters of that period. Moreover, it is possible to photograph everything.
Uroko no Ie and Uroko Museumうろこの家・うろこ美術館
- Address 2-20-4 Kitano-cho, Chuo-ku, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture
Admission to one site: adults 1,050 yen, children 200 yen (tax included in both)
0120-888581 (Uroko no Ie Group)
4. Yamate 8-Bankan
Next we will visit the Yamate 8-Bankan. This was built as the residence for Mr. Sansen during the late Meiji period.
The Tudor style architecture has a solid, stylish, and nostalgic feel that reminds one of the English countryside.
Actually, ever since the Yamate 8-Bankan was featured on a television program it has drawn visitors from all across the country.
It has gained much attention as a power spot because the wishes of those who sit in the Saturn Chairs are said to come true. Things have calmed down a bit, but at one point the popularity of the chairs was such that you had to wait two hours in line to sit in one of them.
Incidentally, many associate Saturn with something evil, but this refers to the Roman god Saturnus. It was the guardian deity of agriculture. Being the god of fruitfulness, by association the legend came about that sitting in the chair would make wishes come true.
When you sit on it, the chair has a natural and awe-inspiring feel about it. Rumor has it that the longer you sit in the chair waiting to have your photo taken, the greater the chances of your wish being granted.
Rumor also has it that a high degree of the wishes for finding a lover, getting married, curing an illness, finding a good job, passing an entrance exam, and many more have been granted which is quite amazing!
There are also many other attractions to be seen in the Yamate 8-Bankan in addition to the Saturn Chairs. These include a substantial art collection of various sculptures, paintings, and Buddhist images.
One gets a strong feeling of mystical power from all the various works of art on display. Perhaps being surrounded by these adds to the mysterious power attributed to the Saturn Chairs!
You can make as many wishes as you like when you sit in a Saturn Chair. So don’t be shy about wishing for as many things as you like. Maybe your wishes will come true.
- Address 2-20-7 Kitano-cho, Chuo-ku, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture
Admission to one site: adults 550 yen, children 100 yen (tax included in both)
0120-888581 (Uroko no Ie Group)
5. Take a break in the Old World atmosphere of Starbucks
The walk up from the Kazamidori no Yakata was not that difficult, but there are many steep hills in Kitano Ijinkan-gai. The area we will visit next that includes the English House has quite a few differences in elevation.
After walking in the northernmost area where Uroko no Ie and Yamate 8-Bankan are located, we’ll go down Oranda-zaka and take a break. The best place to do that is at the Starbucks Coffee Kobe Kitano Ijinkan Shop. This is slightly different than your typical Starbucks.
Some Starbucks stores are called concept stores, and set in buildings of a particular area, they have uniquely different atmospheres.
The Kobe Kitano Ijinkan Shop is one such concept store and very popular being located in a two-story wooden residential house that was built in 1907. The building is also a registered Tangible Cultural Property.
Originally the house stood 300 meters to the northeast from here and was owned by an American. It was dismantled after being damaged during the Hanshin Earthquake and donated to Kobe City for safe keeping. In 2001 a private concern rebuilt the house in its current location.
The interior has the same charming atmosphere as the old Western-style houses.
“In keeping with our concept stores, the interior was designed to blend in with the buildings of the area,” a PR person told us. The fixtures and flooring of the building were restored to their original state and attention was paid to the furnishings of the lounge, dining room, guest rooms, and all other rooms in the house.
Each room has a slightly different feel and of course it is OK to eat and drink in them! Deciding in which room to sit is part of the fun.
Each room has its own unique characteristics.
There is a large table that can seat 8 people in the center of the second floor living room and in the back there is a sofa and round tables. On the wall is a large horizontal painting (a map showing where coffee is produced around the world) and on each side of it there are stacks of old books which really give the room a foreign air! The red wall reminded me of the room of the protagonist in the movie “Amélie”.
Leisurely sitting here and reading makes it easy to forget the hustle and bustle of daily life.
The menu and hours are the same as all other Starbucks stores.
The rich cinnamon and butter flavor of the cinnamon roll and the bitter sweet flavor of the matcha cream Frappuccino go really well together.
These are Kobe-themed items. The tumbler and mug cup with these designs are only available at this Kobe Kitano Ijinkan Shop and nowhere else in Hyogo Prefecture. They make excellent souvenirs and gifts.
Starbucks Coffee Kobe Kitano Ijinkan Shopスターバックスコーヒー神戸北野異人館店
- Address Prefecture 3-1-31 Nakayamatedori, Chuo-ku, Kobe City, Kitano Monogatarikan
- Phone Number 078-230-6302
Open: 8:00 a.m. ~ 8:00 p.m.
6. Don a cape and cap at English House and imagine yourself as a famous detective
After recharging your batteries at Starbucks, it’s time to continue our visit of the Ijinkan.
The houses we will visit next, English House, Ben's House, and Yokan Nagaya, are all on Kitano-dori, the main street of the Ijinkan area.
English House is in a colonial style. It was designed by an English architect for a German doctor named Hudesek who lived there. The world of Sherlock Holmes has faithfully been recreated on the second floor.
These are the Inverness Cape and Deerstalker Hat which were Holmes’ trademarks.
There is no charge and you can wear them as you walk around the facility! Wearing these will definitely put you into the mood!
There are many types of furnishings from the 17th through 19th centuries inside the building that were used by the English aristocracy.
After the tour hours have ended, the first floor becomes the King of Kings Bar from 5:00 p.m. Here you can enjoy an evening of drinking.
The bar is open until 10:00 p.m. and is the perfect place to end a day of sightseeing in Kobe.
On the second floor there are all sorts of things certain to delight all Sherlockians (Sherlock Holmes fans)!
Holmes’ room has been recreated and contains displays of related items as well as recreations of items that appear in the Holmes series.
Fans who have read the Sherlock Holmes mysteries will certainly recognize many of the items here. This is a space Holmes fans will really love.
At the rear of the house there is a lovely English garden. A bronze statue commemorating the 160th Birthday of Holmes and here there is a wall imitating "Baker Street Station" on the London Underground, which is famous for having pictures of Holmes on the platforms, making this a perfect place for taking lots of photos.
English House with its British atmosphere is an Ijinkan especially recommended for Sherlock Holmes fans. It’s a space where you can feel like what it was like to be part of the English aristocracy.
- Address 2-3-16 Kitano-cho, Chuo-ku, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture
Admission to one site: adults 750 yen, children 100 yen (tax included in both)
0120-888581 (Uroko no Ie Group)
8. Kobe Kitano Ijinkan: There are still many more things to see!
There are many things to see walking along these streets lined with old Western-style buildings as well as the period items displayed in them. And if you get tired you can stop by Starbucks for a rest.
The Kobe Kitano Ijinkan-gai is a place in Japan where you can feel like you have traveled back in time to a foreign country. It is the perfect place for a leisurely walk and an especially excellent spot for a date. We recommend you begin with the course we described above and then if time permits also visit some of the other old buildings in the area.
9. Kobe Kitano Ijinkan Photo Gallery
Last of all here is a collection of photos of other places not mentioned in the article. an you identify these photos and guess where they were taken? Try to find them when you visit the area!
Enjoy Local Kobe Dining - Book a Restaurant Now!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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