What was it like to be a foreigner in old-world Japan? Check out Japan's most well preserved 'foreign settlement quarter,' in Kobe.
Discover the picturesque cobbled streets of a quaint 19th-century neighborhood tucked away in Hyogo Prefecture.
Situated on the foothills of Kobe’s Rokko Mountains, Kitano Ijinkan (or foreign settlement quarter) provides a glimpse into a fascinating period of Japan’s history. It was here that foreign traders, diplomats and businessmen first set up home when overseas trade relations were restored in the Meiji Era. Kitano Ijinkan encapsulates the multicultural and elegant spirit of Kobe, a city with a diverse flare and lots to do for travelers.
Spend an afternoon strolling through courtyards and narrowly paved lanes lined with residences and consulates, built and fondly decorated with artifacts shipped in from home countries, as far away as France and China. These ‘Ijinkan,’ literally translated as “Western style residences built during the Shogun and Meiji Era,” numbered over 300 at one point in time. Today, about 20 of these well-maintained buildings are open to the public as museums.
Ornately carved bars, kitchen trolley butlers with pulleys – the architecture and features of these vintage homes speak of a lavish lifestyle. Tickets for these museum houses can be purchased individually or in a package. There’s the iconic Weathercock House, built by a German tradesman, where you could imagine his family standing on the wooden veranda overlooking the Kobe port, waiting for the hoot of merchant ships coming in to dock.
There are many houses to choose from:
Moegi House, the residence of the former U.S. Counsel Hunter Sharp, the Uroko House with a unique fish scale facade and former Dutch, American and Panama Consulates, to name a few. Select a handful and make a leisurely day trip of it, or make it a selective afternoon sojourn; either way, Kitano Ijinkan should definitely be a stop on your Kobe itinerary.
After you’ve had your fill of period architecture and antiquities, rest and recuperate at one of the many cafes in the area. In keeping with the European vibe of the neighborhood, the place is dotted with bakeries and patisseries. Kobe is believed to be the first place in Japan where bread was baked, so when you bite into that castella, cheesecake or shortcake, you will definitely understand that you’re eating a piece of history.
Dig Japanese history? Read more on where to find historic gems in Japan.