Think Japan, and your mind will envision the glittering lights of Tokyo, the spiritual symbols of Kyoto, the ethereal beauty of Hakone or the powder slopes of Niseko. But Japan extends beyond these into its stunning, lesser-known towns, so the next time you travel there, stop at Okayama, the capital city of Okayama Prefecture and Kurashiki, a half hour’s drive away, to discover gems that you won’t find elsewhere.
Okayama, also called the Land of Sunshine due to its mild climate with minimal rain, beckons you with the promise of a historic richness, diverse natural landscapes that cast a different allure each season and the Okayama Korakuen Garden and Okayama Castle.
The Korakuen is one of Japan’s top three landscape gardens, along with Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen and Mito’s Kairakuen. This quintessential Japanese garden is centred around Enyo-tei House, and boasts winding pathways, ponds, hills and even a tea plantation. Don’t miss the Japanese cranes that are bred in the park or the plum grove with a hundred trees and seasonal flowers. For an authentic taste of Okayama’s seasonal produce, pay a visit to Shikisai, a washoku (Japanese cuisine) restaurant, and experience matcha at the teahouse within the park.
Overlooking the scenic park stands the Okayama Castle, also known as the ‘crow castle’, due to its black exteriors. While the original castle had been destroyed in WWII, it was reconstructed in 1966. Its 6 storeys offer varied experiences – on the first floor, you can try your hand at making a Bizen-yaki, traditional Japanese ceramic ware. Dress up like a lord or princess and wear a kimono on the second floor. The view from the upper floors is truly magnificent.
Okayama is also closely connected with Momotarō, the boy hero of Japan’s best-known folk tales, and you’ll find his face smiling back at you from all across town. Okayama is also the perfect place to set up base and make day trips to the neighbouring areas and attractions.
Kurashiki, an old merchant settlement that is a short drive away from Okayama, is a great place to unwind. You’ll love to wander along the canal path in the Bikan Quarter, in the warm glow of street lamps shining through the willow trees. You’ll find picturesque black and white museums that were once warehouses, and old wooden houses and shops along the canal. Ask for directions to the Ohashi House, a brilliant specimen of 18th century architecture and a samurai residence that has survived till date.
Visit Ivy Square for its cafes, restaurants and shops, and be surprised at the Ohara Art Museum when you come upon the works of Cézanne, Picasso, Monet and other masters.
The little insights into the fabric of Japan are best obtained in its small towns, which is why you should venture off the beaten paths ever so often. Visit Okayama and Kurashiki, and you’ll come closer to solving the mystery that is this great nation.
If you are planning day trips around Okayama and Kurashiki in Japan, do not hesitate to contact your luxury travel designer Mr. Isao Numano.