As Japan was trying to be opened up to the world in the Meiji period, several ports were opened to provide international trading with other countries. Kobe was one of the port cities which included. The Port of Kobe was opened in 1868 and some areas around the port became designated housing areas for foreigners who lived and had business in Kobe. One of them is Kitano.
Nowadays, Kitano-cho or Kitano streets, usually called Kitano Ijinkan-gai (北野異人館街) is an area where several Western influences are left. Unlike many places in Japan, strolling around this area brings us to a different old-Western atmosphere. There were 300 homes of expats before, which were deteriorated by war and just 30 left with less than 20 houses open for the public. Not only did many of the houses become historical museums, there are also restaurants and cafes, meeting clubs and a trick art museum to enrich your touristic experience in this area.
England House or Eikokukan (英国館)
This two-story house was designed by a British architect with furniture and accessories dating back from the 17th century to the Victorian era in 19th century. Getting inside this museum brings the feeling of being at in Sherlock Holmes’ house, since at the second floor, there is a reconstruction of his house as appeared in Sherlock Holmes’ series. Visitors are even allowed to try Mr. Holmes’ coat and hat for free.
French House or Yokan nagaya (洋館長屋)
This unique wooden house, whose translation is the “Western-style building”, was built in 1908 as the residence of a foreigner in Kobe. Nowadays, this house, decorated with a French atmosphere, is mainly used to exhibit crafts of Art Noveau glass by Emile Galle and paintings from Paris by Tsuguharu Fujita.
Former Foreign Residence Hilltop House/Former Chinese Consulate or Saka no ue no Ijinkan/Kyu chugoku ryoujikan (坂の上の異人館・旧中国領事館)
This facility displays works of art made in China, from the ancient to modern period. Different from other places in Kitano, here you can feel an Asian atmosphere.
Uroko Museum or Uroko no ie (うろこの家)
The building was the first foreign residence built in Kobe formerly used as a luxurious rental house for foreigners. It is called uroko (うろこ) meaning “scale” as the exterior wall resembles fish scales. Many remarkable antiques and potteries can be found inside the house. And in the museum's west side, there are various European drawings and Japanese art from Yu Horie who is representative of Kobe’s painter. We can also see the beautiful Kobe port from the third floor of this building.
Admission fee: 1050 yen.
Yamate 8 Ban-kan (山手八番館)
This Western-style building has Tudor-style three steeples. Modern sculptures by Rodin and classical paintings by Rembrandt, among others are displayed in this facility.
Ben’s House or Ben no ie (ベンの家)
Even though this is also a house with English ambience, it is a little different from Eikokukan. Here, as the former owner was a hunter, this house displays rare animals he hunted.
Kobe Mysterious Consulate of Trick Art (神戸トリックアート不思議な領事館)
Former consulate of Panama turned into a trick art museum that is different from other trick art museums, you can feel the “Kobe ambience” while having fun with it.
Admission fee: 800 yen.
Weathercock House (風見鶏の館)
This building which is can be spotted on by its weathercock or kazamidori in Japanese, was constructed as the house of German trader, Gottfried Thomas, in 1909. This house is the only building with outer walls constructed by red-brick. The interior changes depending on the room, but incorporating the German traditional style. Certain events are also held in this building from time to time.
Opening hours: every day from 9.00-18.00 (except the first Tuesday of the February and June).
Admission fee: 500 yen (free entrance for high school students below and Kobe residents above 65 years old).
Kobe Kitano Art Museum (神戸北野美術館)
This museum was built as a hotel for foreigners in 1898. After WWII, it was used as the US consular office until 1978, was taken over and opened as a museum in 1996. It is mainly displaying the works of Moe Nagata, an illustrator and children's book writer. It also hosts certain events, such as photo exhibitions.
Opening hours: every day from 9.30-17.30 (except the third Tuesday of the month).
There are many others spots you can stop by when strolling around this area. At the hill side, you can find street performers and painters perform on weekends, and also see nice views of Kobe.
After walking around, you can take a rest and have a meal in cafes or restaurant in this area. One of the most famous resting place is Kobe-Kitano Starbucks which is claimed as one of most beautiful Starbucks cafes in Japan.
To get to this area, you can catch the city-loop bus at the north of JR Sannomiya Station, or simply walk about 15 minutes toward the mountains. Every house mentioned here are opened year-long, April to September 9.30-18.00, October to March 9.30-17.00 with admission fee about 550 yen, unless stated otherwise.