...

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!

Kobe Port, still one of Japan’s major international trading ports, opened in 1868 after Hakodate, Nagasaki, and Yokohama. At that time, the Kitano-chō (北野町) area became the residential area for foreigners during their time in Japan. Overlooking 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!

Table of Contents

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

Tip: If you plan to explore Kitano Ijinkan-gai and other attractions in Kobe, consider getting a Kobe Travel Smart Passport. The passport gives you free entry to many of the city’s attractions and comes with special perks! Refer to HERE for more details!

Explore the Kitano Ijinkan-gai With a Guided Tour

If you prefer to be guided when you visit Kitano Ijinkan-gai, consider booking one of the below tours!

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 the 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 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. Parking your car on weekends and public holidays can be difficult because other popular attractions are close to the district. 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; some even allow you to book a spot in advance!

Kobe City Loop Bus

  • If you don’t want to walk uphill from Sannomiya Station, take the Kobe City Loop Bus departing from the station’s north exit.
  • There is also a 1-Day Pass with various discounts 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.

Please refer to the official website HERE for a list of available combo tickets. You can get 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 for many of the facilities. For more details, refer to HERE for a list of facilities where you can get a discount with the ticket.

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 them. To regain some energy, you can reward yourself with soft-serve ice cream made from freshly squeezed milk from Rokkōsan Pasture (神戸市立 六甲山牧場).

The Former Thomas House (風見鶏の館)

Coming from Sannomiya Station, you will see these shorter staircases leading 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. It is where many take a selfie using the house as a backdrop with the happy troupe.

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

© photo-ac.com

The Former Thomas House was the residence of German trader Godfried Thomas in the early 1900s. As the only western building in the area with 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 is interested 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 the building.

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

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

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

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

Kitano Tenman Shrine (北野天満神社)

Kitano Tenman Shrine is the reason that the area was named Kitano. Not only does the shrine have a long history, but it is also the best spot in the area to overlook Kobe’s cityscape. In addition, it is where you can adore the gorgeous plum and cherry blossoms in spring!

So, refer to our Kitano Tenman Shrine article for more information!

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

Moegi House (萌黄の館)

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

© Kobe Tourism Bureau

Originally the residence of the U.S. Consul General 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 designed to keep the cold air out. However, 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 Fee, and Access Information

  • The house is open from 9:30 am to 6 pm daily.
    • 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)

In 1982, the west half of the Uroko House was renovated into an Observation Gallery that exhibited a wide range of masterpieces of contemporary European paintings.

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 who are highly recognized in Japan.

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

  • The facilities are open from
    • 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays
    • 10 am to 6 pm on weekends and public holidays
  • The admission fee is
    • 1,100 yen for adults
    • 220 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 the Kobe City Loop Bus, it is an 8-minute walk from Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop.

Click HERE to return 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 afterwards (like getting the job they wanted or getting married)!

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

The chairs 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. Some find them creepy as many 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 you 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 Fee, and Access Information

  • Yamate 8-Bankan is open from
    • 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays
    • 10 am to 6 pm on weekends and public holidays
  • 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 the Kobe City Loop Bus, it is an 8-minute walk from Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop.

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

Kitano Gaikokujin Club (北野外国人倶楽部)

After seeing the photo in the Instagram post, you must be wondering if this club specializes 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 staircases used by the owner’s families and friends and those for the servants gives 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? At Kitano Gaikokujin Club, you can dress up and enjoy the photo shoot at the special photo studio. 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 (^_-)-☆.

  • The cost is
    • 5,500 yen for female guests
    • 1,100 yen for male guests and children
  • You can choose from four sessions each day (12 pm, 1:10 pm, 2:20 pm, and 3:30 pm). Each session lasts 45 minutes.
    • Note that the 45 minutes are the time you can spend in Kitano Gaikokujin Club, not just the photography session.

For more information, refer to the official website HERE and translate it using Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

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

  • Kitano Gaikokujin Club is open from
    • 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays
    • 10 am to 6 pm on weekends and public holidays
  • 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 the Kobe City Loop Bus, it is an 8-minute walk from the Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop.

Click HERE to return 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 to 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 Fee, and Access Information

  • Hilltop House is open from
    • 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays
    • 10 am to 6 pm on weekends and public holidays
  • 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 the Kobe City Loop Bus, it is an 8-minute walk from the Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop.

Click HERE to return 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 100 years ago if you were visiting a wealthy friend (´▽`*).

Besides the expensive artwork on display, there is a cafe on the house’s terrace where you can enjoy afternoon tea. For more information, refer to our Platon Decorative Arts Museum article!

Click HERE to return 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 art 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 displayed in cabinets. But the experience will always be different from being in a house decorated with all these valuable antiques!

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

  • Yōkan Nagaya is open from
    • 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays
    • 10 am to 6 pm on weekends and public holidays
  • 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 the Kobe City Loop Bus, it is really close to Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop.

Click HERE to return 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 fun house to visit (≧▽≦).

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!

The rental of the items is free as long as you pay the admission fee. 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 (^_-)-☆.

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

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 counter on the ground floor. The spot used to take in customers until 2023 after the English House closed!

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

  • English House is open from
    • 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays
    • 10 am to 6 pm on weekends and public holidays
  • The bar is open from 5 pm to 1 am daily except Sundays and public holidays.
  • The admission fee is
    • 800 yen for adults
    • 220 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 the Kobe City Loop Bus, it is really close to the Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop.

Click HERE to return 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.

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 Neptune’s carriage 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 Fee, and Access Information

  • Kobe Trick Art Museum is open from
    • 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays
    • 10 am to 6 pm on weekends and public holidays
  • The admission fee is
    • 880 yen for adults
    • 220 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 the Kobe City Loop Bus, it is really close to the Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop.

Click HERE to return 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, 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 the Kobe City Loop Bus, it is really close to Kitano Ijinkan (北野異人館) stop.

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

Explore Other Places to Go and Hidden Gems in Kobe

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

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

The Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge in the photo to the right has bridge climbing tours for those who are looking for some magnificent views and thrill!

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

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *