|A Traditional European Town Overlooking
One of Japan's Major International Ports
Following the end of Japan's policy of national seclusion,
which continued for over 200 years in the Edo
period (1603-1868) and under which trade, traffic and exchange with
most foreign countries were prohibited, Kobe became the third port, after
Nagasaki and Yokohama,
to be opened to foreign trade in 1867. Approximately 30 Western-style buildings
constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries and used as residences
for foreign consuls or trading company officials remain standing to this
day in the so-called Ijinkan Street in the Kitanomachi district
near the center of Kobe. Towards the south these houses overlook the harbor
and to the north they offer a view of the Rokko mountains, creating a European-style
street scene surrounded by the majesty of nature.
This entire neighborhood is designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings, and in fact, several of the buildings themselves are protected as Important Cultural Properties. While many of these foreigners' residences are open to the public as art museums or sightseeing attractions, a few are still actually occupied by people living there. Although rarely seen in Japan, an Islamic mosque and a Jainist temple co-exist nearby and contribute to the cultural kaleidoscope.
Although most of these foreigners' residences were severely damaged in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of January 1995, they have all been restored and reopened to the public.
Photos: (From top) The weathercock on the roof of the former Thomas Residence is a symbol of Kitano-cho; the Jainist temple in Kitano-cho; The gable end of this still-resided house displays a trait of Scandinavian houses. (JCIC)
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