※When travel resumes after Covid-19, be sure to visit Okayama.
More and more international visitors are flocking to Japan for their vacation thanks to the country’s many attractions—delectable food and drink, unique history, distinctive culture, and renowned omotenashi (Japan’s signature hospitality). On top of that, many first-time visitors are venturing off the beaten path, and repeat visitors are searching for new regional gems.
Okayama Prefecture (including Okayama City) in the Chugoku region of western Japan is one such area seeing a surge in popularity among international visitors in recent years. The reason: it is overflowing with charm as a signature Japan destination. Okayama Prefecture has lots of tourist spots that have abundant nature and deep history. It also has plenty of reasonably priced accommodation.
Okayama is lies on the Shinkansen route connecting the two iconic tourist centers of Osaka and Hiroshima that are popular among many tourists to Japan. Its accessibility is yet another part of its appeal.
For travelers wanting to explore historic spots, experience cultural activities, soak up stunning scenery, or savor fine cuisine—Okayama is ideal!
- Table of Contents
- What Kind of Place is Okayama City? And How Can I Get There?
- Okayama Korakuen Garden – a Reminder of Japan in Days Gone By
- Okayama Castle –The Great Crow Castle
- The Masterpieces of Yumeji Takehisa at the Yumeji Art Museum
- Embrace the Tranquility of Kibitsu Jinja Shrine
- Be Inspired at Inujima
- Something for Everyone!
What Kind of Place is Okayama City? And How Can I Get There?
Okayama City in Okayama Prefecture can be reached by travelling west by Shinkansen from Osaka in 40 minutes and by travelling east from Hiroshima in 35 minutes. Once there, there is a convenient city bus and tram network to help you get around. The city’s main tourist spots are concentrated around Okayama Station, making them easy to fit in to your schedule. Okayama is a great place to spend a night or two, thanks to the diverse range of accommodations, from budget to luxury options in both hotels and ryokan guest houses.
Okayama offers so many attractions and activities, just some of which are highlighted here. Read on to find out why this coastal city is a must-visit!
Okayama Korakuen Garden – a Reminder of Japan in Days Gone By
Holding a three-star ranking in the Michelin Green Guide for Japan, Korakuen is designated as one of the three most famous of Japan and a cultural-heritage sight, making it a must-see on any trip to Japan.
This exquisite garden was constructed between 1687 and 1700 for the local feudal lord Ikeda Tsunamasa and remains fairly unchanged to this day. At Korakuen, visitors will see what a late seventeenth-century garden really looked like. What’s more, Korakuen is one of the few gardens created by feudal lords where visitors can see illustrations and plans of its changes throughout history. Check out these plans, which date from the Edo period (1603–1868), at the entrance to the garden. You will see that over time, the space for lawns and flowers was increased to offer more opportunities for leisure and relaxation.
In 1884 ownership of the garden passed to Okayama Prefecture for the general public to enjoy, and in 1952 it was named a Special Place of Scenic Beauty in Japan.
Enyo-tei House is the main structure in the garden, offering a magnificent vista of the pond, the hill, and the islands. The Crane Aviary near the main gate is a nod to the garden’s history—cranes have been bred in the garden for centuries.
With beautiful landscaped lawns, topiary and water features, Korakuen is a delight to stroll around. When you fancy a break, why not sit down on Fukuda Tea House’s red cushion and enjoy a hot green tea along with sweet red bean and mochi rice cake soup while taking in the view?
Okayama Castle –The Great Crow Castle
Known as the Crow Castle for its majestic black walls, Okayama Castle is a stunning example of Japan’s sixteenth-century architecture. Although the structure was partially damaged during World War II, it’s appearance was faithfully reproduced in 1966 and is an almost perfect replica of the original. Sitting on the banks of the Asahi River, the castle enjoys a strategic location that proved to be a great asset throughout its history, and fourteen successive generations of lords thrived there.
From the top of the Castle Tower, visitors have breathtaking views of Okayama Korakuen, which is just across the river, as well as the city skyline. The tower also affords visitors a rare close-up sight of the castle’s architectural features, such as its kin no shachihoko (a mythical creature with the head of a tiger and body of a carp).
As well as displaying hundreds of historic artefacts, including Japanese swords and other materials such as furnishings, the castle offers visitors the chance to try a Bizen ware (local pottery) clay twist experience. By patting, crimping, and stamping the clay, you can create a plate, a bowl, a cup, or other item of your choice, which will then be fired for you. Staff are on hand to explain the steps in English, and the castle will ship your creation anywhere in the world.
The replica of a palanquin, a historical mode of transportation for one person that consisted of a box carried on long poles by several people, is available for those who want to step inside and back into history.
The Masterpieces of Yumeji Takehisa at the Yumeji Art Museum
This small, lovely museum is dedicated to Okayama-born Yumeji Takehisa (1884–1934), beloved in Japan and abroad as one of the leading lights of the Romantic movement in the early 1900s. Often referred to as Japan’s Toulouse-Lautrec or Edvard Munch, Takehisa was active in many art forms, including painting, design, illustration, printing, and poetry.
The Yumeji Art Museum has been awarded the Michelin Green Guide Japon since 2007 and boasts the best collection of Yumeji’s works. You can enjoy looking at more than 100 works at any one time from about 3,000 works in line with the theme of the exhibition, which changes about four times a year. Items on display include folding screens, hanging scrolls, Japanese paintings, oil paintings, watercolors, woodcuts, books and magazines and daily necessities.
Many of Takehisa’s works have women, often in kimono, as the subject. He liked to portray the changes Japanese society was undergoing during his lifetime, particularly the mix of Japanese and Western dress and culture in daily life. Some paintings show maiko (young geisha) wearing Western hairstyles or geisha playing cards while seated under a kotatsu (traditional heating table).
Adjacent to the museum is Art Café Yumeji and a shop filled with beautiful goods reflective of Yumeji’s works. Items featuring the image of the cute cat that Takehisa created are particularly popular as souvenirs.
Embrace the Tranquility of Kibitsu Jinja Shrine
With a long approach through trees and up steep stairs, Kibitsu Jinja Shrine is an impressive sight to visitors. Its architectural style is historically one of the most significant in Japan, making it a must-see shrine. When the shrine was rebuilt in 1425, the building at the heart of the shrine was designated a National Treasure.
As a large complex featuring many subordinate shrines as well as beautiful trees and plants, Kibitsu Jinja Shrine is relaxing to explore. A helpful electronic guide, offering explanations in English and Japanese about the shrine and Shintoism, is located near the main building. Touch the panels to learn how to wash your hands and pray in the traditional way.
Omikuji (sacred lots or fortunes written on strips of paper) are available in English. Simply put one hundred yen into the wooden container, and shake it until a numbered stick comes out. The number on the stick corresponds to the number on a drawer from which you pull a piece of paper with your fortune on it. Don’t worry. If your fortune is not so good, you can tie the paper to a post nearby to mitigate the chance of it coming true.
Another of the shrine’s highlights is a long corridor of about four hundred meters. It’s a popular spot for picture-taking. Take a stroll, and enjoy the peace and tranquility while looking at the many seasonal plants and flowers in bloom.
Kibitsu Jinja Shrine
931 Kibitsu, Kita Ward, Okayama City, Okayama
Be Inspired at Inujima
Just a ten-minute boat ride off the coast of Okayama lies Inujima, a beautiful island that is home to fascinating contemporary art and sandy beaches with crystal-clear water. Also, a former copper refinery that flourished in turn-of-the-century Meiji era has been preserved to be a reminder of Japan’s heritage of Industrial Modernization.
Literally meaning “Dog Island” in English due to the presence of a large rock resembling a sitting dog. Inujima is a small isle that blends history, modernity and the environment. The site that was a once a copper refinery that operated on the island some one hundred years ago is now part of the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum.
Inujima Seirensho Art Museum is a museum that preserved and reclaimed a copper smelter that was used about 100 years ago. This space is a fusion of art and architecture, modern industrial heritage, and the environment, visitors often react differently even to the same artwork based on their personal background.
The island’s art can also be enjoyed by strolling the narrow streets. Modern pieces sit alongside old and traditional Japanese architectures, proving an interesting contrast. The initiative is part of the Inujima “Art House Project”. In this project, artists renovated traditional old houses, displaying giant flower sculptures made of wood and other interesting art using mirrors and lenses. Contemporary artworks produced by Inujima are on display. The works are arranged like a series of stories on the theme of "earthly paradise" and you can enjoy art just by strolling in the narrow streets.
With a relaxed pace and beautiful scenery, Inujima is a great place for walking around. Enjoy a long lunch at one of the cafés, or treat yourself to a coffee break after taking a walk around all the exhibits. The beach is popular for swimming in the summer, and there is a campsite for overnight stays and sea kayaking that can be enjoyed.
Something for Everyone!
Okayama also boasts fascinating museums that exhibit local toys and crafts, art featuring the Maneki-neko (a beckoning cat that is believed to bring good luck), and items related to the railroad. It’s also well known for Kojima Jeans Street, the manufacturing home of Japan’s jeans industry and a must to visit if you are looking for the highest-quality denim.
The city is ideal to visit throughout the year with a calendar of festivals offering something for everyone, anytime. Come to cherish the spring flowers, pick the summer fruit, stroll through the autumn leaves, or play in the snow.
Whatever the season, you are guaranteed a great experience and a warm welcome in Okayama.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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