I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for nice workshops or Maker spaces.
Especially if they have a story behind them, like this one in the Kitano district of Kobe* Japan, called Kitano Koubou no Machi.
Brett, my husband, found this place recently when visiting and it’s well worth putting on your “crafty things to do in Japan” list.
First, a bit about Kobe and Kitano.
Kobe has a strong tradition of leatherwork, because as a city they had an abundance of leather. If you’re familiar with the taste and texture Japanese wagyu beef, Kobe is the city that has the reputation of producing the country’s best wagyu – “Kobe beef” – from a particular strain of cattle farmed in a prefecture in Kobe. The hides left from beef production spawned a leather industry.
As a port city, Kobe was one of the cities to open for trade with the West following the end of Japan’s policy of seclusion. In 1868 the city was opened to foreign trade by the government of the time just before the Meiji Restoration, which swept away Japan’s feudal system and modernised the country in an astonishingly short period of time.
Kobe is known for its cosmopolitan nature. The region has long been identified with the West and many foreign residences from the early trading period remain in Kobe’s Kitano area.
The Kitano area
Kitano is a historical district on the north side of Kobe, containing a number of foreign residences from the late Meiji era. These were set up for foreign merchants on the slopes of Mt. Rokko by the provisions of a treaty signed between Japan and a number of Western governments. Of the thousand or so original foreigners’ residences only about 30 have survived, but 20 are open to the public, making the area one of the principal tourist attractions in Kobe.
Kitano Koubou no Machi (loosely translated: Kitano workshops town), or Kitano Meister Garden is a craft retailing centre set in the old Kitano Junior School, built in 1931 (on the site of the original school, which started in 1908). As student numbers dwindled the school was shut down, but was refurbished and reopened in 1998 for its current purpose. The classrooms of this beautiful old building now serve as craft workshops and retail outlets for unique and traditional crafts. There are regular classes for adults and children in crafts and skills as varied as traditional Japanese art techniques, leatherwork, jewellery making, candle making and making Japanese pork buns.
On the top floor the impressive school auditorium is the perfect venue for events and craft making sessions. Just like the ones we saw on the day of this visit.
If you’re ever visiting Kobe it would be well worth booking ahead to attend a workshop.
* Kobe is located on the southern side of the main island of Honshu, about 30km west of Osaka. The population is around 1.5 million.