Tuesday, March 5, 2013

北野 Kitano, the town that swings with jazz and exotic flavor

Port of Kobe is the largest in Japan next to Yokohama.  It's importance as a port goes back to the Nara period (710-794) when it was known as Hyogo. In 15th and 16th century, it prospered in the tally trade (勘合貿易) with China (宋、明.) 

Since Kobe Port was opened to international trade according to Ansei Commercial Treaties of 1858, Kobe has been leading the way towards international exchange, and many foreigners came to live in Kobe. Older than 100-year-old Western-style residences in which wealthy foreign traders and diplomats used to live are located in Kitano-cho at the foot of Rokko Mountains.

"Uroko no Ie" (Scale House) is named after its distinctive feature, the overlapping shingled siding, which look like scales, "uroko" in Japanese. This mansion was originally built as a luxurious rental residence for foreigners and  Wenceslau Jose de Sousa de Moraes (1854-1929) became the first resident of this mansion as a Portuguese consul at Kobe in 1899.


Kobe City holds Japan's oldest golf course at Mt. Rokko. 
An Englishman, Arthur H. Gloom, opened it in 1903. 

Another popular residence is Weathercock House. This house was constructed as the house of a German trader in the early 1900s, and its distinctive weather-vane has been a symbol of Kitano-cho. 

At the square next to Weathercock House, musicians are playing jazz. 

Kobe is the birthplace of Japanese Jazz as the first Japanese jazz band was formed in Kobe in 1923.   After the WWII, many great jazz musicians, like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, George Louis, to name a few, came to tour throughout Japan.  Kobe Jazz Street is held  annually in October. It is one of the biggest traditional and mainstream jazz festivals in Japan.  I’ve heard there is no such concentration of jazz clubs like Kitano except the 52nd Street of New York. (Incidentally my history of Billy Joel fan started with my favorite album “52nd Street”. )

Long stairs lead you to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.  It is one of several hundred shrines across Japan that are dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar and politician who was unfairly exiled by his political rivals.  A number of disasters were attributed to Michizane’s vengeful spirit after his death in exile, and these shrines were built to appease his spirit. Michizane is associated with Tenjin, Shinto god of education. When Taira-no-Kiyomori moved the capital to Fukuhara Kobe from Kyoto in 1180, he invited Kitano Tenjin of Kyoto as the patron god of Fukuhara.  Villagers living near the shrine named their village after it, and deeply worshiped their god, Tenjin.  It was the beginning of the district name Kitano.

All the Temmangu shrines are noted for Ume, or Japanese apricot trees, which were planted in the precinct in association with Michinaga's famous tanka poem:

Whenever the east wind blows,my dear ume blossoms remember spring,even if your master won't be here.
("East wind" blows from the Pacific to Japanese island, which signifies the arrival of spring.)

Most of the buds of the Ume trees were still tight on February 23rd.

Ume garden of Kitano Tenmangu overlooks the city of Kobe.

- A glimpse into a few of other mansions -

 Moegi House built in 1903

Kitano Foreigners Association
(Members only social club)

members' bar

kitchen with wood burning hearth

England House
A bar is open for business on Sundays and holidays from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Guess whose room.

Former Chinese Consulate

Old-fashioned buses of City Group take you to Kitano from downtown Kobe.

Old history, foreign cultures, tourists, and local people swing in good vibration at Kitano.

- This post is linked to Our World. -


  1. Wow. I'm out of breath reading this post and absorbing your incredibly beautiful photographs. And what a tale you tell. I had no idea that one would find such western style mansions in Japan. They are anachronistic and just don't fit with my mind's image of what Japanese houses look like.

    That doesn't mean much because my knowledge of Japan is limited. But you have opened my eyes and mind to so many wonderful things. I never realized that Japan held so much beauty!

    Speaking of foreign houses, I like the Moegi house a lot. I'll bet there are many nooks and crannies to explore. It's architecture is very impressive.

    And jazz! I'd never think that Japan cared for jazz music. I love it, though, so I'm happy to hear it is such a big deal in your area.

    And I enjoy playing golf. I wonder if that 1903 course is still in existence. I've heard that golf is incredibly expensive in Japan. But Japan has produced some excellent golfers who are now on the PGA Tour in the US.

    I must also thank you for your very kind comments on Creative Confections. You are very sweet and I appreciate very much that you have taken the time to read through some of those poems. Creative Confections is an eclectic blog...some serious posts, some whimsical and some silly. But I hope they are fun.

    My best wishes to you and I hope that all is well with you and your family. We are OK. My wife has completed four rounds of chemo and we are now headed to surgery at the end of the month. We are hopeful that she will be found to be cancer free.

    1. Kobe Golf Club is still actively used. According to Wikipedia, the club began as a nine-hole course on May 24, 1903, but quickly expanded to eighteen the following year. I hear it is an exceptionally hilly playing environment but view of Kobe City and the sea is spectacular.

      I believe in the power of positive thinking and I’m sure your wife will overcome cancer. After the surgery, it is real spring. I keep my fingers crossed.

  2. What a lovely combination of Western and Japanese architecture. And your shots are, as always, just stunning.

  3. What an enjoyable virtual tour, it has been just like stepping back in time - those lovely old buildings are so well-preserved. I had no idea about the development of jazz in Japan - I have learnt so much about such diverse subjects from this post - thank you! The Ume blossom is beautiful.

  4. W tym mieście z pewnością nie wszędzie jest jak w japońskich, ale też jak w innych kulturach. To jest ciekawa mieszanka. Bardzo pięknie to pokazałaś na zdjeciach. Pozdrawiam ciepło.
    In this city certainly not everywhere is like in Japan, but also to other cultures. This is an interesting mix. Very beautiful are the pictures you showed. I greet warmly.

  5. Yokoさん
     これぞ 神戸 !
     東洋、西洋の豆を 実に絶妙にブレンドされた 北野コーヒーのようですね。
     街の風景、インテリから 街が持つ独特の深みが 香り立つように感じられました。

     冬枯れの蔦がからまる窓。 北野天満宮の梅文様。 髪に差し込まれたコイン!?
     実に楽しめました! ありがとうございます。o(*^▽^*)o

  6. What a diversity of architecture there is in Kobe representing different cultures. Looks like you had a nice holiday visiting museums. Some of the artifacts are impressively ornate and some loaded with old-world charm. I also didn’t realize Jazz was so popular … the statues appear very playful. :)

  7. Trust an Englishman to build a golf course there. I wondered what the ??? meant under the statue until I clicked to enlarge the photo.
    Lovely trip around Kitano - it looks an interesting and eclectic place to visit.
    I do love the third image of the grey shuttered window with the dried creeper growing over it.

  8. Thanks for the Tour ! It was amazing...
    Have a great day !

  9. Yoko San

    1. 神戸は私のふるさとです。神戸は外国の方も自然に溶け込める歴史と風土がありますね。大規模なインド人コミュニティもあります。Ruchiraさんも日本語上手ですよ。

  10. Son unas fotografías preciosas, con unos detalles muy hermosos.
    Un abrazo.

  11. Another fascinating series!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  12. I would never have imagined that buildings such as those exist in Japan. Thanks for the interesting post.

  13. おお、北野! 雰囲気が良く写真から伝わってきます。震災当時は閑散としていましたが、観光客ももどってきて嬉しいですね。ここ、けっこう楽しいですよね。別に地元民の身びいきで言っているのではなく。ただ、神戸市はPRが下手。もっと上手にPRせよ、と言いたい!関西へのツアーの場合、もっと神戸で宿泊してほしいですよね。ちょっとだけ神戸観光で、あとは京都がほんとんどから。あのグリーンのバスは中々いい感じだと思っています。

  14. outstanding post. i love the different types of architecture you showed.

  15. Such interesting mansions and interiors! I really didn't expect to see a Sherlock Holmes room in Japan!

    We had a blizzard here, but I hope you have wonderful weather in your town :)

    1. You guessed right. It is a replica of Sherlock Holmes’ room. The second floor of The England House houses a collection of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia.

  16. Interesting views, love the weather vane and statues.

  17. Thank you Yoko for this fascinating and enjoyable tour! I always like to wander around with you!
    I love that German house influenced by a bit of Japanese architecture! :-)
    And surely soon all the gardens and parks will be overflowing with spring blossom!

  18. 神戸はジャズとゆかりがある場所だったんですね。知らなかったです。お洒落なイメージのある神戸に似合いそうです。

  19. Wow! I never saw anything like this in Japan. This is so classic and vintage, so beautiful. I love these houses especially the second one looks so inviting. That woman seems to have coins embedded in her braids? Interesting but I like the expression on the face of the second musician, its priceless. Classic pictures all, thank you for the fascinating tour, Yoko.

  20. I started muttering, "This isn't Japan!" Then I saw your photos of Kitano Tenmangu and realized that yes, indeed, it is! :) This was a very, very interesting journey.

    PS: I'd visit Kobe just to listen to the jazz!

  21. こんばんは。北野ホテルへ妻と娘は行きましたが私は行きませんでした。とてもレトロな街ですね。またOur World でお見かけしました。

  22. 神戸は東西に伸びていて、どこからでも山も海も楽しめていいですね。館の主達もいい所に目をつけましたね。
    梅もこの間までかたい蕾だったのに今日の暖かさでいっきにさきました.(in my garden)お雛祭りも終わりもう春ですね。

  23. Greetings, Yoko! Thank you for the nice comment on "Growing Old." That was just a little fun poem but sometimes it's not so much fun getting old. I'm finding that many things I used to do with ease and a bit more difficult. And I'm also finding that it is most important to keep exercising 'cause what is not used tends to deteriorate.

    I know that you love your mother very much and have been very supportive of her. 92 is a nice age if one's health holds.

    Good to know, too, that the golf course is still in operation. I'd love to play it although from your description it might be a wee bit more difficult than our Stone Creek course. I played a heavily wooded course yesterday and spent a lot of time in the trees looking for errant golf balls! :)

    Lois is doing OK. We're done with chemo and will now try to recoup energy and strength for the surgery.

    Best wishes to you and yours, as always. I enjoy very much hearing from you!

  24. 北野は天神様から来た名なんですね。道真の怨念は怖いから神の待遇で祀られたとか。東北の逸話を集めた「遠野物語」も怖い話がいっぱい、、、神様もときどき悪さをなさいます。話が逸れましたが、神戸への愛情がいっぱいのポストですね。

  25. I welcome you very warmly!
    I admire all your beautiful pictures ..
    I send greetings from distant Polish.

  26. °º✿✿
    º° ✿✿ ♫° ·.


  27. Hello, stardust.

     Your heartwarming works fascinates my heart.

     Thank you for your kindness and support.
     And i pray for you and yours peace.

    Have a good week-end. From Japan, ruma❃

  28. へえ、あの部屋がシャーロック・ホームズのとわかるなんて、さすがエカテリーナさんは通ですね。それとも本が好きな人にはむずかしい問題でもないのでしょうか?

    1. 20数棟の異人館が一般公開されています。(何件も入館するとなると見学料金結構高いです。) 英国館は博物館として公開されながら週末、祭日の夜間はバーとして営業しています。 レストランやホテルとして利用されている洋館もあります。ちなみに北野のスターバックスも登録有形文化財の古い洋館で、休憩したかったのですが、満員でした

  29. beautiful statuary. i like the 'fish scales' shingles, too. and really like the weather vane!

  30. This post shows me a different perspective from what we normally envision of Japan, that of a homogenous society. We visited Japan about twenty years ago and arrived at Nagasaki around 7.00pm. We heard so much about Kobe steak and planned to take the bullet train to Kobe just for that purpose. Eventually the plan was scrapped and we settled for the version in Nagasaki itself.

  31. Yoko,I've really enjoyed reading this post.Your photos are lovely and so full of detail.I love weather cocks and horse sculptures,especially when they appear to be in motion. Good to see the ume blossom emerging......Spring is on it's way!

    Wishing you happy times with your granddaughter,

  32. Very interesting, I didn't know about the Jazz culture in Japan.

    The photos are very "un-Japanese", as if they were taken in some old European town.

    Also, your writing style is very good.

  33. I don't know much about architecture, but what I can say is that these westerner houses look very stylish and exotic, Yoko. I think they stress even better the beauty of traditional Japanese architecture.
    Japanese jazz? I would have never said it's a music genre one can find in your country. Though I'm not a big fan of jazz, I want to recommend you a great movie you might already have seen: "The legend of 1900". If you didn't, try and find it. I think you won't be disappointed. I particulary like these two parts:

    My best of wishes and enjoy the rest of the day!

  34. What a great tour of the city you have given. I love the jazz sculptures. I'm always a fan of public art.


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