Kobe, the city famous for its very expensive, high-end beef, also has quite a few historical sights to see. Contrary to the Japanese aesthetic of Kyoto, Kobe has an entire neighborhood of preserved European-style homes from the 1800s-1900s. The mansions, known as Ijinkan (異人館), were home to many European businessmen and entrepenuers seeking to gain their fortune in the newly-opened land of Japan. I was able to visit two of the homes on a recent trip: Moegi House and Weathercock House.
Moegi House is named for the light-green color (Moegi in Japanese) that it is painted but it used to be white. I suppose naming it White House might cause a bit of confusion for visitors and make it harder to find in a Google search. It was referred to as White Mansion until the paint job in 1987.
The home was originally designed for Hunter Sharp, the former US General Consul to Japan back in 1903. In 1944, Hideo Kobayashi, former president of the Kobe Electric Railway company, set up residence in the house, and much of the home’s historic information is centered around Mr. Kobayashi and his family’s tenure in the home. The home became a museum on December 18, 1980. It has stunning views of the city and an interesting balcony layout on the second floor. It’s a bit modest compared to the other homes in the area, especially the impressive Weathercock House.
The main draw for many visiting Kitano Ijinkan is the Weathercock House. The rooster weather vane on top is a very popular symbol for Kobe. The house was built for German trader G. Thomas back in 1909. What really sets this building apart from the others are two-fold: The architecture, and the experience.
First, the architecture. This is the only home in Kitano Ijinkan that has those stunning red brick walls on its exterior. The building really pops as you approach it, drawing you in with its grand scale. It also was inspired by an Art Nouveau style popular around the time, with details in railings present in a few of the rooms.
Second, the experience. There is a ton of interesting information on banners scattered throughout the house, much more compared to the downright Spartan info plaques of Moegi House. When you enter, you can do a special trivia quiz, with answers hidden throughout the home. Upon completion, you are given a nice little prize for your efforts. They also have an Instagram offer, where if you post with one of their special hashtags and show it to staff, you can get a special Weathercock House postcard for your promotion.
To visit both, you can buy a special combination ticket at the small ticket office in front of Weathercock House. It’s worth the buy as you can spend a few hours looking around, hunting for clues, and generally soaking in a little piece of Europe in a seaside city in Japan.