My friends in Kobe kept on saying "You have to check out the Starbucks in the Kitano area when you're here. It's really unique." I wondered what could be so unique about a Starbucks store, so I thought I should find out.
The Kitano area in Kobe is famous for its old western style residences, which were built before the war and were later converted into consulate staff residences. Until today the preserved entities are called Ijinkan in Japanese, which means 'foreign residences'.
Approaching the Starbucks in Kitano, one can immediately sense the uniqueness of this store. Simply said, it's an extremely beautiful and elegant western style old wooden home. It's called Kitano Monogatari-kan and was apparently built in 1907 for an American resident named M.J. Shay. It's said to have been passed on to a German baker, before the ownership was finally transferred to the City of Kobe after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. The house was moved to its current location in 2001, and in 2009 Starbucks was allowed to open a coffee shop on the premises.
It doesn't really feel like a store, but a house, a home setup with a lounge, a dining room and a guest room, which gives your coffee experience a different flavor. The quiet and hilly location, surrounded by more architecture from the 19th century, is just what you need after walking up the slope from Sannomiya station. As you can imagine it's quite hard to find a table on weekends; however, make sure you visit the second floor, from where you can enjoy the street view, browse the library and the typewriter room.
The location looks particularly great when the Christmas lights add further beauty to the ambience. The winter light-up in the Kitano area starts in early December and continues until March.
To tell you the truth, this specific location in Kitano fascinated me so much, that I moved to the area in 2009. I stayed there for about two years, so that I was able to experience the Kitano cafe life every weekend. I used to sit by the typewriter room and felt like being in a different world. Kitano Starbucks should be a must for anyone touring around Kobe. The jazz street, the Kitano hills and the coffee will certainly not disappoint.
One more interesting spot for coffee in the vicinity is Nishimura Coffee, a cafe with a history.