Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Kitano Ijinkan-gai and the Most Interesting Old Houses You Will Ever Find

If sightseeing is what you are after in Kobe, stopping by the Kitano Ijinkan-Gai (北野異人館街) is a must, even if you come from a European country with similar house features. The old houses open to the public have all been renovated into museums with different themes. From the ones where you get to peek into the lifestyles of those European aristocrats two centuries ago to the ones where you pose for hilarious photos, it is a spot in Kobe where you will have so much fun at!

Kobe Port, which is still one of Japan’s major international trading ports, was opened in 1868 after Hakodate, Nagasaki, and Yokohama. At that time, the Kitano-chō (北野町) area became the residential area for the foreigners during their time in Japan. Overlooking the Osaka Bay, this block of Kobe has many Western-style buildings built from the Meiji to the Taishō period (1868 – 1926), which the locals started to call the area “Kitano Ijinkan-gai”.

On a 15-minute walk towards Mt. Rokkō from JR Sannomiya Station (三ノ宮駅), you will find this district that luckily wasn’t impacted by the Kobe air raid in 1945 and wasn’t harmed by the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. Here, you can visit several buildings that retain the remnants of those days, which we will walk you through one by one below!

HERE is a map for the district that you can refer to for the attractions.

How to Get to Kitano Ijinkan-gai

Sannomiya Station is a big transport hub in Kobe, and multiple train companies have a station here. So depending on where you are coming from and where you are going, you can choose to take JR, Hankyū (阪急), subway (地下鉄), or a Hanshin (阪神) train to visit Kitano Ijinkan-gai.

Although the district is just a 10 to 15-minute walk away from the Sannomiya stations, it is located in a very hilly area, so it may be more comfortable to access this district by car.

The major problem with driving is finding a car space in the area. With other popular attractions close to the district, it can be difficult to park your car on weekends and public holidays.

This is why we created the map at the right that gives you the top 15 car parks for parking when you are in the area. They are usually cheaper, and some even allow you to book a spot in advance!

Kobe City Loop Bus

From Sannomiya Station, if you don’t want to walk uphill, then take the Kobe City Loop Bus departing from the station’s north exit.

There is also a 1-Day Pass that comes with various discounts that you can use in Kitano Ijikan-gai.

For more information, please refer to their website HERE.

Buy One of the Combo Tickets to Save!

Most historical buildings that are open to the public require an admission fee, so it is recommended that you narrow down the ones you are interested in beforehand and purchase one of the combo tickets to save.

For a list of available combo tickets, please refer to the official website HERE. You can get the combo tickets at the district facilities’ ticket office and visitor centers.

Also, if you have bought a Kobe City Loop Bus One-Day Pass for the day, you will get a discount on admission fees on many of the facilities. For more details, refer to HERE for a list of facilities that you can get a discount from with the ticket (click the “All coupons” button under Ticket benefits).

Kitanochō Square (北野町広場)

If you are planning to visit most of the attractions in Kitano Ijinkan-gai, head up the hill for those attractions close to Kitanochō Square (北野町広場) because the last thing you want to do is climb up the hill once you are tired!

Tip: If you are already tired by the time you reach the staircases, drop by Kobe Rokko Farm (神戸六甲牧場 北野本店) just diagonally opposite the staircases. You can reward yourself with the soft-serve ice cream made from the freshly squeezed milk from Rokkōsan Pasture (神戸市立 六甲山牧場) to get some energy back!

The Former Thomas House (風見鶏の館)

Coming from Sannomiya Station, you will see these shorter staircases, which will lead you to a square.

There are a couple of bronze music troupe statues in front of the symbol of Kita no Ijinkan-gai – The Former Thomas House, where many will take a selfie using the house as a backdrop with the happy troupe.

© photo-ac.com

The tourism boom in Kitano Ijikan-gai in Japan started with this building that appeared in the Japanese TV drama – The Weathercock (風見鶏). As a result, the building is now the emblem of the entire district.

The Former Thomas House was the residence of the German trader Godfried Thomas back in the early 1900s. As the only western building in the area that has a weathercock on the roof, its Japanese name is Weathercock Mansion.

© Kobe Tourism Bureau

Another main characteristic that sets the National Important Cultural Property apart from the others is the bright red brick appearance.

But if you ask us whether it is worthwhile to check out the interior, we would say it suits someone who holds an interest in the kind of lifestyle that foreigners at the time had in Japan. It is almost like a small museum with various photos and decorations placed across the building.

Tip: During the cherry blossom season, from late March to early April, you definitely will want to pay to get to the guestroom on the second floor. Because as you look out the window, it is like the area is flooded with pink flowers!

The Former Thomas House’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The house is open from 9 am to 6 pm daily except the 1st Tuesday of February unless it is a public holiday
    • If Tuesday is a public holiday, the house will close on the next weekday
    • The last admission is at 5:45 pm
  • The house is just a 5-minute walk away from City Loop Bus’s bus stop – Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館)
  • The admission fee is 500 yen for high school students and above
  • From Sannomiya Station and JR Shin-Kobe Station, it is around a 15-minute walk

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

Kitano Tenman Shrine (北野天満神社)

If you have been to Kyoto, you might have heard of or been to Kitano Tanmangū Shrine. So when you hear of the shrine named Kitano Tenman, you might be wondering if they are related. And you are right. The Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto is the origin of the Kitano Tenman Shrine in Kobe!

When Taira no Kiyomori (平 清盛) moved the capital from Kyoto to Kobe, Kitano Tenman Shrine was built, and the god of Kitano Tenmangū Shrine is also enshrined here. Because of the shrine’s name, the area around the shrine was subsequently called Kitano.

Taira no Kiyomori was a military leader of the late 12th century who established the first samurai-dominated administrative government in the history of Japan.

Kitano Tenman Shrine also has a Koi fish statue that is said to influence the love life of those who pray there.

Sugawara no Michizane (菅原 道真), a famous scholar in the Heian period (794 – 1185), enshrines here too. It is thus a famous place to pray for students who want to achieve academic excellence.

Locating on top of the hill, you will get a wide Kobe city view. And because it overlooks the port of Kobe, it is also known as the Shrine in the Sky (天空の神社).

From late March to early April, the shrine is extra crowded with people gathering here for the beautiful cherry blossoms covering one side of the shrine.

How to Get to Kitano Tanman Shrine

  • It is around a 15-minute walk from Sannomiya Station (三宮駅). You can also refer to Kitano Ijikan-gai’s access information as the shrine is just at the far back of the Former Thomas House (風見鶏の館)
  • The shrine’s office’s opening hours are between 9 am and 5 pm
  • The shrine’s gate is open from 7:30 am to 5 pm.

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

Moegi House (萌黄の館)

© Kobe Tourism Bureau

Just a few houses away, opposite the Former Thomas House, this yellow-greenish house looks like a villa from a Hollywood movie.

Originally the residence of the U.S. Consul General back in the early 1900s, this National Important Cultural Property nicely combines two different architectural styles into one building.

From the window in the middle to the right of the house, you will find the kind of style in the colder states in North America. The exterior wall is of a design that keeps the cold air out. Whereas if you look at the veranda on the left on the second floor, it is a Southeast Asian kind of design (although they later sealed that balcony area to cope with the chilly Kobe weather).

The view of Osaka Bay and Kobe cityscape from the veranda is another selling point of Moegi House.

Moegi House’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The house is open from 9:30 am to 6 pm daily except the 3rd Wednesday and Thursday in February
    • The last admission is at 5:45 pm
  • The admission fee is 400 yen for high school students and above
  • The house is a 15-minute walk from JR and Kobe City Subway’s Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅)

Uroko House (うろこの家)

Instead of a “house”, the Uroko House looks more like a smaller version of a castle to us. Originally built as a luxurious rented house for foreigners, the house got its current name from the outer wall, which looks like fish scales.

Instead of the statues of other sorts of animals or cherubs that are more common in western-style gardens, the previous owner of Uroko House chose to have a wild boar to greet anyone entering the residence. And we trust the intention was good. Because from Greek mythology, good luck will come when you touch the boar’s nose. No wonder the nose is shiny!

The house, the first foreign residence in Kitano Ijinkai-kan opened to the public, has a splendid interior that makes you feel like you have time traveled 200 years back into some lord’s mansion.

Numerous antiques were gathered and placed in the house. This helps us understand what it was like to be rich back then (≧▽≦).

The Observation Gallery (展望ギャラリー)

The west half of the Uroko House was renovated into an Observation Gallery exhibiting a wide range of masterpieces of contemporary European paintings in 1982.

If you are a big fan of painting, you will be having a heavenly time in the gallery, surrounded by artwork from famous artists such as Constant Troyon, Henri Matisse, and Maurice Utrillo. On the third floor, you will also find artwork painted by local artists that are highly recognized in Japan.

And just to be clear, the reason why it is called “Observation Gallery” isn’t because you will be observed by others or the other way around. It is because the top floor serves the same function as an observation deck (´▽`*).

Uroko House and Observation Gallery’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The facilities are open from 9:30 am to 6 pm daily from April to September and close early at 5 pm from October to March
  • The admission fee is
    • 1,050 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for elementary school students
    • The price gives you access to both Uroko House and Gallery
  • The house is a 10-minute walk from JR and Kobe City Subway’s Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅)
  • If you are taking Kobe City Loop Bus, it is an 8-minute walk from Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

Yamate 8-Bankan (山手八番館)

Next to the Uroko House, the Yamate 8-Bankan is probably one of the Western-style houses that receive the most attention and visitors.

The reason? The pair of magical red chairs in the house. It is said if you sit on these chairs, a wish may be granted. The myth actually created such a massive queue to get into the house that the waiting time was 2 hours at one point.

While it might sound unreal, there were numerous reports that the wishes they made while sitting on the “Saturn’s Chair” came true afterward (like got the job they wanted or got married)!

Saturn, short for Saturnus in this case, is the god of seed and sowing in Roman religion that the locals have taken in a way that the god brings prosperity and later becomes a god who grants your wishes.

The chairs that were made in the 19th century were originally in a church in Italy. Whether it is the fabric or the design of the chairs, you will naturally feel solemn when you sit on them. Those who have sat on them also said that if you use the photo of yourself sitting in this chair as a home screen for your mobile phone, your luck will increase!

One thing to note is, don’t sit on the wrong chair. The chair on the left is for gentlemen, and the one on the right is for all the ladies (^_-)-☆.

Those Statues at Yamate 8-Bankan

Apart from the famous chairs, the house is a museum of various types of statues which we found kind of creepy as a lot of them are statues of demons (´▽`*).

The categories of the exhibits on display in Yamate 8-Bankan are truly random. But we did find one consistent thing. They all seem to possess some mysterious strength or power that you simply can’t ignore. The power of Saturn’s Chairs might be strengthened just by being surrounded by them!

Yamate 8-Bankan’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The house is open from
    • 9:30 am to 6 pm daily from April to September
    • 9:30 am to 5 pm from October to March
  • The admission fee is
    • 550 yen for adults
    • 100 yen for elementary school students
  • The house is a-15 minute walk from JR and Kobe City Subway’s Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅)
  • If you are taking Kobe City Loop Bus, it is an 8-minute walk from Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

Kitano Gaikokujin Club (北野外国人倶楽部)

After seeing the photo below, you must be thinking, is this club specializing in wedding photoshoots? While you can choose to do so, this definitely isn’t what the facility is about!

When Kobe was opened for international trading, this house was built as a social gathering place for foreigners. The majority of furniture and fixtures here were used by aristocrats in the Bourbon and Victoria dynasties. Nowadays, it is a place to discover the life of European aristocrats back then. At the same time, the club is also a place that reinforces the clear class society at the time. It totally makes us recall various scenes in Downton Abbey (´▽`*).

The big difference between the rooms, pathways, and the staircases used by the owner’s families and friends versus those for the servants, you can get a vibe of how things used to be in a class society.

Dressing and Photoshooting at Kitano Gaikokujin Club

So back to photoshopping, what does that have to do with this estate? Good news – to those who are thinking about getting an Ijinkan Premium Pass (異人館巡りプレミアムパス), you get to try on one of the beautiful dresses in the wardrobe and pose at different corners of the house for free.

They might also still allow you to take photos at the little chapel in the European garden! So remember to bring a good camera with you.

Don’t worry if you are particularly picky. There are more than 50 dresses for you to choose from. Suits are also available for guys to suit up to escort the ladies (^_-)-☆.

Kitano Gaikokujin Club’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The club is open from
    • 9:30 am to 6 pm daily from April to September
    • 9:30 am to 5 pm from October to March
  • The admission fee is
    • 550 yen for adults
    • 100 yen for elementary school students
  • The house is a 15-minute walk from JR and Kobe City Subway’s Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅)
  • If you are taking Kobe City Loop Bus, it is an 8-minute walk from the Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

Hilltop House (坂の上の異人館)

The term foreigners, of course, isn’t limited to Westerners. The Hilltop House, once occupied by the Chinese Consulate, is where you can closely examine the antiques and furniture from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1615) to the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911).

Once you have admired all the valuable Chinese artworks and paintings, drop by the courtyard before you leave the house. The pair of stone guardian dog statues, or some might call them lion statues, is another spot that is said will give you some blessings. Instead of granting you any of your wishes like the chairs in Yamate 8-Bankan, as you walk in between the pair, it is said you will be blessed with luck in finding love!

Hilltop House’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The house is open from
    • 9:30 am to 6 pm daily from April to September
    • 9:30 am to 5 pm from October to March
  • The admission fee is
    • 550 yen for adults
    • 100 yen for elementary school students
  • The house is a 15-minute walk from JR and Kobe City Subway’s Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅)
  • If you are taking Kobe City Loop Bus, it is an 8-minute walk from the Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

Platon Decorative Arts Museum (プラトン装飾美術館)

The fundamental difference between the Platon Decorative Arts Museum and the other Western-style houses in Kitano Ijikan-gai is that this one is privately owned. Probably because of this, the staff welcoming you at the door are all in butler/maid costumes! This is how it would be like 100 years ago if you were visiting a wealthy friend (´▽`*).

Why did we say rich? Aside from the staff, this is a house full of expensive Italian furniture, paintings, and sculptures from the 18th and 19th centuries!

Apparently, the owner gathered all the collections in the house based on his taste. To summarise the highlights of the house:

  • The paintings in the house are mainly artworks of the Impressionist and Barbizon schools’ painters such as Rousseau, Millet, Coro, and Bonnard
  • Renaissance style Furniture, fireplace, and sculptures by the Italian sculptor Victor Emone
  • Silverware, tableware, gold-plated glasses, and genuine antiques up close.

The glory of this house reminds us of how Toyotomi Hideyoshi decorated Osaka Castle in a way that is just so shiny with the building and the garden decorated with golden artworks. You will find golden artworks attached to the doorknobs and door panels as well (´▽`*)!

Platon Decorative Arts Museum’s Cafe

At the garden terrace facing the pool, there is a small cafe for you to spend some relaxing moments overlooking the equally lavish garden. They also serve light meals during lunchtime, but we haven’t been able to confirm if they have any vegetarian options. So when you get there, utilize the phrases in our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases for Vegetarians and Vegans article to check with the staff (^_-)-☆.

Platon Decorative Arts Museum’s Unusual Pathway to the Basement

Don’t forget to check out the basement as well. Because of the chill underground, it was previously the food storage of the house and is now another luxurious dining area as well as a wine cellar. But that isn’t the point. You have to check out the pathway leading to the basement because it is no ordinary path. It is actually a fictitious back alley with shop signs over your head!

Tip: Check with the staff to see if you can enjoy the cafe’s menu in the dining area in the basement for an even more luxurious experience!

Platon Decorative Arts Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily except on Tuesdays and from the 30th of December to the 2nd of January
  • The admission fee is
    • 700 yen for adults
    • 100 yen for elementary school students
  • The house is a 10-minute walk from JR and Kobe City Subway’s Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅)
  • If you are taking Kobe City Loop Bus, it is a 5-minute walk from the Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

Yōkan Nagaya (洋館長屋)

The duplex Yōkan Nagaya was originally built in 1908 for multi-generational foreign families. It has French flags at its entrance.

Because the house was built in apartment style, each small room now becomes a different exhibition area with numerous French artworks!

From glass arts by Emile Galle and the Daun Brothers to even an early Louis Vuitton trunk, all gathered in one of the rooms in Yōkan Nagaya.

It is a space for you to feel how people used to live in the 19th century, where candles needed to be placed around the piano, so close that the pianist might get some burns from the wax falling from the candle (´▽`*).

You can stroll around many museums where items are in display cabinets. But the experience will never be the same as being in a house decorated with all these valuable antiques!

Yōkan Nagaya’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The house is open from
    • 9:30 am to 6 pm daily from April to September
    • 9:30 am to 5 pm from October to March
  • The admission fee is
    • 550 yen for adults
    • 100 yen for elementary school students
  • The house is a 10-minute walk from JR and Kobe City Subway’s Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅)
  • If you are taking Kobe City Loop Bus, it is really close to Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

The English House (英国館)

The English House is another popular house because of its Sherlock Holmes theme. So unless you are from London, this might be a pretty fun house to come to (≧▽≦).

Before you get excited and open that Baker Street 221B door, don’t forget to put on one of the Inverness capes and hats on yourself so when you reach the 2nd floor, it feels as though you are now the famous detective Sherlock Holmes!

Rental of the items is free as long as you pay the admission fees. If it is a bit gross for you to wear a hat that strangers have worn, grab one of the shower caps from your hotel room to put underneath, and you should be fine (^_-)-☆.

The interior of the British-style English House is lined with furniture and items used by British aristocrats from the 17th to the 19th centuries. There is even a bar on the ground floor – King of Kings that will start serving drinks after the English House closes!

The bar is open until midnight making it the perfect place to end your sightseeing in Kobe after enjoying the city’s 10 million-dollar night view (and to know why it costs 10 million dollars, refer to our article on Mt. Rokkō and Mt. Maya).

Those who have read the novel, you will have nostalgic moments where you think, “oh this is the scene that appears in that story”! This is why this is an irresistible space for fans of Holmes.

The English House’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The facilities are open from
    • 9:30 am to 6 pm daily from April to September
    • 9:30 am to 5 pm from October to March
  • The bar is open from 5 pm to 1 am daily except Sundays and public holidays
  • The admission fee is
    • 750 yen for adults
    • 100 yen for elementary school students
  • The house is a 10-minute walk from JR and Kobe City Subway’s Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅)
  • If you are taking Kobe City Loop Bus, it is really close to the Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

Kobe Trick Art Museum (神戸トリックアート 不思議な領事館)

If you love posing for weird/funny photos, you will have so much fun at the Kobe Trick Art Museum!

Being the only museum in the district with an aim to amuse all the visitors, numerous illusions are placed throughout this early 1900s building. At Kobe Trick Art Museum, you can get photos of yourself almost being crushed by a Kobe Beefsteak, becoming the feed of marine life in the ocean, or even being captured in a wine glass by a demon! It is the perfect spot to take some photos to trick your friends and family (=゚ω゚)ノ.

The fun of trick arts starts from the outer wall of the museum. Understandably it is more exciting to check out the front of those arts, but remember to pay attention to the rather ordinary statue of the two horses dragging the carriage of Neptune close to the entrance. Not because they are two beautiful horses, but for some good luck to make your wishes come true after you pet their heads (^_-)-☆.

Tips for good photos in the museum:
☆ Although it may be dark in the museum, there are spotlights around, so it may be better to turn the flashlight off.
☆ To avoid your photos becoming blurry, instead of moving your camera straight after you press the shutter, try to leave it for one second.

Kobe Trick Art Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The museum is open from
    • 9:30 am to 6 pm daily from April to September
    • 9:30 am to 5 pm from October to March
  • The admission fee is
    • 800 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for elementary school students
  • The house is a 10-minute walk from JR and Kobe City Subway’s Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅)
  • If you are taking Kobe City Loop Bus, it is really close to the Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

Starbucks Kobe Kitano Ijinkan (スターバックス コーヒー 神戸北野異人館店)

You probably can’t be bothered to enter a Starbucks in Japan. After all, the coffee chain is everywhere in the world. But, how many of these coffee houses are in the building of a registered tangible cultural property?

For those who are tired of a day-long stroll in this hilly area or don’t feel like paying an admission fee to explore one of these historical houses, then how about heading to Starbucks Kobe Kitano Ijinkan? This coffee shop utilized the history of this two-story building to create a completely different experience for its customers!

Apparently, the 1907 building was located 300 meters from its current location. Being affected by the Hanshin Earthquake, the house wasn’t suitable for living anymore and was dismantled. Instead of eradicating the building, it was done in a way that allowed undamaged building materials to be taken apart gently, allowing them to be reused in the restoration of this building.

In 2001, restoration was completed in the current location!

The Starbucks for You to Travel Back 200 Years

Starting from the shop’s wooden Starbucks Logo, the coffee shop was decorated in a way that best uses the original fittings and flooring to create a similar atmosphere to the one the house used to have when the American owner resided there. Furniture is arranged according to each room type, and if you still can’t tell what the room was for previously, check out the plaque above your head at the entrance. You will find your answer there.

With so many different types of rooms to choose from, it might take you a while before you can find the perfect spot for the day to sit down! The only thing that pulls you back to reality is probably the standard Starbucks menu and the modern technology that is required to run the shop (´▽`*).

Starbucks Kobe Kitano Ijinkan’s Access Information and Business Hours

  • This Starbucks is open from 8 am to 10 pm daily
  • The house is a 10-minute walk from JR and Kobe City Subway’s Shin-Kobe Station (新神戸駅)
  • If you are taking Kobe City Loop Bus, it is really close to Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Kitano Gaijinkan-gai.

Explore Other Place to Go and Hidden Gems in Kobe

The port city of Kobe has many other popular attractions and hidden gems that are worthwhile exploring. For example, for those who love nature, the Nunobiki Falls ranked the same as the Kegon Falls (華厳滝) in Nikkō National Park, is probably the next spot you want to visit.

The Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge (明石海峡大橋) in the photo to the right has bridge climbing tours for those who are looking for some magnificent views and thrill!

Akashi-Kaikyo-Bridge-Kobe-Hyogo-Japan-
Click the photo to find out more about Kobe!

To find out more about this amazing city, please refer to our article on Kobe (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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