Not far from Osaka, Kobe is a city of approximately 1.5 million inhabitants and it is said to be one of the most attractive cities in Japan. I thought it was a very “cute” and quaint city especially if you go walk around the neighbourhood of Kitano where there is a uniquely European-American atmosphere. Very different from all the shrines, castles and small wooden houses found elsewhere.
On this hillside, away from the hustle and bustle of centre city where all the shopping and businesses are located, I feel like I have just travelled to a little hillside town in the US or somewhere in Europe. I walk up some steps and find myself in a little plaza where ice-cream shops and cake shops adorn the place. I could be in Germany, I remember seeing a small area like this when I was last in Frankfurt, the only difference is that the ice-cream is all Japanese style, soft served in a cone and green-tea flavored and the people eating it are japanese.
I walk further up the hill, passing little alleys along the way and up an extremely high flight of steps I suddenly find myself in a round plaza surrounded by an American styled house and another German styled house. There are wooden seats and gardens that bring me back to the western world. For awhile I forget that I’m in Japan. There are bronze statues of jazz musicans, and sounds of water splashing around from the fountains. It’s a beautiful and calm place. Perfect for weddings and wedding pictures.
Apparently this place is very popular among the Japanese for foreign-style weddings and photo-taking. I even spot a couple making a video while I’m there.
I go to the tourist information, where I’m greeted with much ado by the staff there. They give me maps, guidebooks and even free postcards! I’m touched and try to practice a bit of Japanese, but all I end up saying is “Arigato gozaimasu.” (Thank you very much) I must learn more japanese.
These houses I discover, were previously homes of the American Consulate, a German businessmen, and other expatriates who lived here when Kobe was first open for trade with the western world. Kobe is a busy port town and this was where trade flourished 200 years ago. It’s amazing this hillside area survived the 1995 Hanshin earthquake where so much was destroyed. I’m happy it did.
If you are fit and healthy, there are quite a few houses to see up a very steep alley such as the Austrian, Holland house where they even sell some Viennese torte and play mozart. It makes me nostalgic for Vienna. In summer, you can sit and have some drinks, but now its quiet and there are only a few elderly japanese walking the route.
The main road in this hillside town is so quaint. American styled houses with large terraces and gardens are now converted into cute cafes and others have found new life as a wedding spot. It’s perfect, as long as you don’t invite hundreds and hundreds of guests. However, if you live in the US and Europe, this hillside might not be so attractive, but rather a nice place for a stroll.
I find my way back to Osaka and realize that Kobe isn’t just about the Kobe Beef. It has evolved so much and still today many expatriates still live there and work in Osaka. It’s that close. I want to trek up to see the picturesque waterfall of Nunobiki Falls which apparently has been in many japanese literature but that will have to wait for another trip.