Traveling out west from Osaka and Kyoto in the direction of Hiroshima we find Okayama. The city is known chiefly for its elegant black castle which dominates the town, and for the Korakuen landscaped garden.
The castle is now a museum, full of tourists and history buffs rather than samurai. Meanwhile, Korakuen is considered one of the best landscaped gardens in Japan and rewards exploring. The garden with originally created in the 17th century but thanks to the careful records kept by its gardeners has been kept faithful to its original design, being restored after the calamities of flooding and the second world war.
But Okayama has long thrived as a hub and in this role it gives access to other nearby sites that demand a visit.
Top among these is probably the neighbouring town of Kurashiki, with its lovingly preserved old buildings and streets, its willow-lined waterway and the Ohara museum of art, which fans of culture will want to explore thoroughly.
On the theme of art, it’s a short hop to the islands of Naoshima and Inujima, which have been pretty well turned into big outdoor modern art galleries.
The area is also rich in opportunities for cycling, hiking, and camping. We visit Okayama on the Heartland Tour.
Okayama Castle is unfortunately a modern reconstruction. The original castle, dating back to 1597 had survived the years of turmoil during the civil wars and intermittent earthquakes and lightning strikes over the reach of time only to meet its fate during the bombings of WW2.
The castle has a museum in it and makes a great backdrop to the gardens across the river doubling as a defensive moat. The castle and gardens are around a 20 minute walk from Okayama Station.
Korakuen Garden, just across the river from the castle was built by the feudal lord of the domain in 1687. Despite a number of calamities including that of the bombings of WW2 its original appearance has been maintained due to the detailed record being kept.
Momotaro - Peach Boy
Okayama is also well known for the storey of Momotaro (Son of a Peach) which is set in the area. The storey follows the adventures of Momotaro with his fearless friends, a dog, a monkey and a pheasant as they go to battle with raiding ogres on a nearby island. This statue is at Okayama Station
Bizen Osafune Sword Museum
Not far from Okayama city is the area of Bizen famous historically for its sword making and pottery. The Bizen Osafune Sword museum has a large display of swords from throughout the ages and also a workshop. On some days you can also see craftsmen at work including the forging of swords. Take the train from Okayama to Osafune station on the Ako line (takes around 30mins), from here it’s a 7 minute taxi ride away.
Bizen Pottery Village – Imbe
Bizen is also famous for its unique pottery with over a 1000 years of history in its production; one of the oldest in Japan. There are many kilns and shop selling wares in the area; to see some, or even give it a go yourself, head for Imbe Station around 40 mins away from Okayama on the JR Ako line.