Oct 2016

Life on Mt. Rokko

A Mountain Where One Can Really Feel at Home

In Kobe, the mountains are part of everyday life. During the Meiji era, Arthur Hesketh Groom, a British businessman who lived in Kobe, built his leisure home on Rokkosan (Mt. Rokko). It is said to be the first house built on top of the mountain. Groom contributed to the development and conservation of the mountain range so that people could continue to come up and enjoy the natural environment, laying the foundation for the concept of “Kobe’s Backyard Mt. Rokko”. (To commemorate the deeds of Mr. Groom for developing Mt. Rokko for public leisure, there is an event called the “Groom Festival” in June every year to celebrate the start of the climbing and hiking season.)

At the beginning of the Meiji era, mountain climbing as a leisure activity was started in Japan by foreigners, and Mt. Rokko became the place where “modern climbing” began. The very first golf course in Japan was also built on Mt. Rokko. As more people began to enjoy various mountain leisure activities such as climbing, hiking, golf, camping, skiing, and ice skating, more private summer homes and company recreation facilities were built up on the mountain. Soon, more and more Japanese also built mountain villas and spent recreational time there.

However, after the bubble economy collapse in the ‘90s, many companies have given up their corporate facilities on Mt. Rokko and left them unused. But recently, joint efforts between the public and private sectors have started to try to revitalize mountain recreation. With its precious natural surroundings protected as a national park, and its proximity to both the city center and the sea, Mt. Rokko has the potential to provide many ways to enjoy nature, including sightseeing and leisure.

There are other reasons why Mt. Rokko has long been favored by foreigners as a place for living and recreation. There are countless and varied hiking trails, as well as plenty of spring water from underground water channels. The Arima hot springs, with excellent hot water that is good for one’s health, are also close by…

And not to mention, a stunning view that is one of the three major nightscapes in Japan.

Now we will introduce a family currently living up on Mt. Rokko. Mr. Bryan’s family bought a solitary house on Mt. Rokko in 2004 that used to be a company retreat.

The Decision to Live on the Mountain

— What was the catalyst?


I had been living in Osaka for many years before moving to Nishinomiya City in Hyogo Prefecture. One day, we found a newspaper ad for properties on Mt. Rokko, and it caught our interest. We contacted the realtor and saw several properties. It took about a year to prepare money and to purchase the house.

— What was the deciding factor?


Even before buying it, we knew it would be a lot of work to fix up the house. But we could really envision our life here, which gave us the drive to try. We dreamed of eating while surrounded by this amazing scenery.

— Did you have any qualms about living so far away from the city?


Almost all the people around us told us not to buy it. They all told us to buy an apartment near a station so that we could resell easier. But we thought the mountain property would be much more interesting and fun.


For me, as a foreigner, a house with this kind of view is very valuable. Moreover, it is so close to the city and rich with nature… If this were in Hong Kong or the West Coast [of the United States], a location like this would cost a fortune.

Flexible Life and Work Style

— Is it normal for you to fix up your house on your own?


I am from Colorado. In the States, many people do some carpentry or other DIY work. My father and I built a tree house together when I was a kid. He gave my sister and me each a toolbox with a full range of tools when we grew up and left our parents’ house to go out into the world.


The house’s foundation is concrete, but fortunately the rest is made of wood. We thought that would make it easy to understand the house’s construction and allow us to fix it on our own to some extent.


We made the deck by ourselves. With this view and a spacious deck, it is so much fun to have parties.

— How do you do your business here?


My main work is all done via computer, so basically I can work from home. I have many meetings in Osaka, but I can get to Umeda in about an hour by cable car, bus, and train.


I used to commute to Sannomiya, but it only took about an hour door-to-door by public transportation. By car it does not even take 40 minutes.

— Do you have any inconveniences working here?


If I had one thing to criticize, it would be the slow internet connection. We only have access to ADSL, not fiber-optic lines. Actually, it seems there are fiber-optic lines up in the mountain but not to our house yet. (laugh) More people these days have the flexibility to choose where and how they work. For those people, the most important thing is a stable and fast internet environment.


Other than that, it is not too inconvenient to live up here. Delivery services are available here so we can order things online. A milkman even delivers here. We can buy anything else we need with a 20- to 30-minute drive.

Dependable Children

— You have 2 sons, a 4th grader and 1st grader. How is the school environment?


Rokkosan Elementary School is just a 10 minute walk away. There are approximately 50 children in the whole school. The children and teachers are very close, like a family, and we have a positive image about the school. The more motivated the teachers are, the more they are able to do with these small classes. Another good thing is that they study outdoors a lot and go on field trips often, like fishing and bug catching.


It’s a small school, so the older children naturally take care of the smaller children. The entire school goes camping in the spring every year. Older kids help little ones climb up the mountain. It’s good that the children are brought up to naturally and spontaneously help each other.


There is also a kindergarten on the same premises. The elementary school and kindergarten do activities together, such as the annual school sports day, school music programs, and camping. Through these joint activities, the kindergarteners learn from watching the older children, and the elementary school children develop caring and attention for the little ones.

— Since the school is up on the mountain, is there a ski field trip in the winter?


Yes, in winter, the 1st to 4th graders go to Mt. Rokko Snow Park for ski lessons instead of gym class. The 5th and 6th graders go on a ski trip to northern Hyogo Prefecture. All the kids learn to ski.

Clouds are the Enemy?

— Is there anything you dislike about living on the mountain?


Rainy season! We love everything here except the rainy season.

— What do you mean?


The high altitude of Mt. Rokko makes the climate the same as the cold climate zones of Hokkaido and Tohoku. So it is much cooler and more comfortable in the summer. For example, when downtown Kobe is 35 degrees Celsius, it is 26 or 27 degrees here. We like the cool climate, but the annual precipitation is a lot more than downtown. The average for Japan is approximately 1700mm, downtown Kobe receives about 1300mm, but near the summit of Mt. Rokko it is about 1900mm.


Even if it is not raining, clouds are trouble when they come into the house.

— What do you mean, clouds come in?


Sometimes clouds flow at the same height as our house, and if we leave the windows open, the white clouds roll right inside. Clouds are essentially water, so the floor and everything gets wet just as if you had sprayed it with water.


Even when we take the dogs for a walk, if we leave the windows open on a sunny day thinking it will be fine and all of a sudden we see a cloud floating in, we yell, “Oh, no! Let’s hurry home!” and run back home to close the windows. (laugh)

— Looking around the house, there doesn’t seem to be much sign of humidity on the books or anything...


That’s something we have learned to do from living here for a long time. We installed dehumidifiers in almost each and every room. We also have fans/circulators in the rooms where we haven’t installed dehumidifiers yet. In total we have 19 dehumidifiers and fans! They run day and night during the rainy season.

— I had thought you were going to say that snow would be the biggest trouble.


Snow is beautiful. The kids love it, I love it. We have a wood stove that keeps us warm too. The kids can also have fun sledding on the path in front of our house.

— It’s great that you can enjoy mountain life and still have easy access to downtown, isn’t it?


We actually take the kids down the mountain for lessons. And friends of our sons often come to play. Children living in the city don’t usually get to play outside being surrounded by nature, so they find it fun and interesting. Please come visit us again, and bring your kids with you!

Interviewer/Writer: Yohei Yasuda

Photography: Anzu Kataoka

Location: the Bryan family residence

Date of Interview: July 26, 2016

Translations by: Nathan and Kayo Bryan, Gaijins