Ijinkangai in Kobe Kitano (Travel): A Mini Foreign Country in Japan
When you ascend Kitanozaka towards the mountain side from Kobe Sannomiya in Hyogo Prefecture, you come to an area called “Kitano Ijinkangai (town of foreign people’s buildings)”. This area is a renowned spot as one of popular sightseeing destinations in Kobe City. Let’s go to see what kind of charms this area has.
What Kind of Place Is Ijinkangai?
In Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, there is an area that has many foreign-style buildings. They were built by foreign people during the Meiji and Taisho Periods (1868~1912~1926), reflecting building styles of their homelands, and many of them still remain today. This area is Kitano Ijinkangai.
It is a popular tourist destination among Japanese people, as they can enjoy the exotic mood in a short distance away from the center of Kobe around Sannomiya Station. Many foreign people are still living in this area and there are also imported grocery stores or halal food specialty stores, and it is known as a sightseeing spot that foreign people can enjoy, too. You can see how foreign people have lived in Japan after they came to the country in the past.
There are many buildings in Kitano Ijinkangai, and I will introduce the best spots below.
Kazamidori no Yakata (House of Weathercock)
Kazamidori no Yakata was built as a German trader’s residence. This building is a symbolic existence of this area being a famous photo spot, and it is also an Important Cultural Property of Japan. Characterized by the elegant red-brick walls, this building is the only building in Kitano Ijinkangai that has brick exterior walls.
The first floor has the entrance hall, drawing room, living room, dining room and study, and the second floor has the master bedroom, children’s room and a guest bedroom. You can feel traditional German ambience.
Access: 15 minute walk to the north from Sannomiya Station on various lines. From Shin-Kobe Station, 15 minute walk to the west. City Loop Bus is also convenient, too.
Admission Fee: 500 yen (There is also a set ticket of 2 buildings available including “Moegi no Yakata” for 650 yen, too.)
Operating Hours: 9:00 AM ~ 6:00 PM
Closed on the first Tuesdays in February and June
Italiakan (Plato Museum of Decorative Arts)
Italiakan exhibits European antique furniture, pictures and sculptures focusing on Italy from the 18th to 19th centuries. This building was constructed in the early part of the Taisho Period and it is also called the White Mansion. Surprisingly, people are actually living in this building even now.
Real maids are working here, and you may be able to meet a veteran maid who has been serving here for 40 years.
The building has an underground wine cellar including a collection of wine from the 1800s, and you can look at them from the outside.
There is an outdoor café on the terrace in the south garden, and you can enjoy an elegant tea time here with beverage and cake while looking at a pool. I heard the pool water was offered for the people in the neighborhood at the time of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake so that they could use it freely for domestic use.
The menu of the café includes iced coffee (350 yen), lasagna (650 yen), spaghetti (680 yen), pizza (500 yen), and so on.
This is a great place to take a break when you are tired from walking on the slopes in Kitano.
Access: 20 minute walk from Sannomiya Station on various lines.
Admission Fee: 700 yen
Operating Hours: 9:30 AM ~ 5:00 PM
Closed between December 30 and January 2
Kitano Kobo no Machi (Kitano Meister Garden)
Kitano Kobo no Machi was created by renovating a closed elementary school located in the Ijinkangai area of Kitano. This is a popular spot that allows tourists to experience craft making.
About 20 stores have opened up by utilizing former classrooms, and the first floor has cafés and sweets shops, and the second floor includes general stores. Some products sold here are perfect for souvenirs including bread, sweets and sake, so it’s worthwhile dropping by and looking around.
Some general stores on the second floor allow you to enjoy a crafting experience to make glass ball decorations, candles or perfumes. As many stores don’t require booking in advance, please casually look in and see what you can do.
Access: 15 minute walk from Sannomiya Station on various lines, or 10 minutes from Motomachi Station.
Admission Fee: Free
Operating Hours: 10:00 AM ~ 6:00 PM
Closed on the third Tuesdays (open if it the Tuesday falls on a holiday and closed on the following day.), December 27 through January 2
Kobe City in Hyogo Prefecture is famous for the production of Kobe beef or sake and its gorgeous night view. When you come to Japan I am sure you are looking for tourist destinations that present most authentic Japanese culture first. But please don’t forget dropping by at Ijinkangai, the foreign area in Japan, while eating your Kobe beef.
As Japanese people get their interest piqued at the sight of sushi or ramen noodle shops while traveling abroad, you might find it interesting to look at your own culture and homeland-style buildings in a foreign land as Japan.