Kobe’s International District
Kitano is the foreigners’ district in Kobe, at the foot of Rokko Mountain range. It spreads around Kitano street and Yamamoto and Oranda-zaka avenues. About twenty former diplomatic residences of western-style architecture were converted in museums and opened to the public. Some of the houses are even registered as Japan’s Important Cultural Properties.
Kobe opened to the world at the end of the 19th century and naturally became a home port for foreigners. At the times, they were mainly Chinese, American and European, who settled comfortably on the heights of the city, with a view on the bay and the mountains in the background. The residences they built are imbued by the nostalgia of their countries of origin that shows in the architectural styles. Thus was born the picturesque district of Kitano Ijinkan.
The international district of Kobe
The first residence dates back to early Meiji era (1868 – 1912), but it was not before 1887 that the number of constructions increased significantly. Until World War II, there were about two hundred houses. Most of them were destroyed by fire during the war and later in the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995. Nowadays, twenty one houses are preserved and opened to the visit.
The historical and entertaining features of Kitano Ijinkan have made it the main touristic attraction of the city. The well-defined path brings visitors to one museum after another, dispersed among souvenir shops and houses turned into restaurants or cafes. Starbucks and Tully's even have outlets camouflaged in the local architecture, and some might be disappointed to find such big fast food chains in the heart of the Japanese heritage. Lastly, a tribute is payed to jazz music, one of Kobe’s iconic features, through the statues of musicians that can be encountered here and there in the vicinity.
An attraction in each residence
A fee is collected at each house opened to the public. The lovely colored facades first attract the view and the high fences hiding some of the houses are intended to encourage people to come inside and discover more. Therefore, visiting Kitano Ijinkan can quickly become expensive, even if some combine tickets are available to enter several houses at a lower price. We selected below the residences that appeared the most appealing to us:
- Kazamidori no Yakata, Kitano’s symbol, this beautiful house is topped by a weathercock,
- Uroko-no-ie, whose architecture pertains strong western style accents,
- Yokan Nagaya, the French residency,
- Sakanoue-no-Ijinkan, the former Chinese consulate,
- The English House, with a room themed on Sherlock Homes.
Asian tourists, and especially young Japanese, love Kitano Ijikan for its exotic and unusual atmosphere; Western tourists, however, might not be impressed by the change of scenery. We therefore advise to climb up to Kitano Tenman shrine, the Japanese touch of the place, from which the bird’s eyes view on Kobe and Osaka bay comes as a great reward after the steep stairway.
The district is quite hilly and we recommend wearing comfortable shoes to walk in the area, which is also a nice course to connect Kobe downtown to Nunobiki Park’s ropeway.