I never planned a dedicated visit to Okayama, as I never heard people speaking in particular about this city. However, if I wanted or not, I ended up in Okayama three times during my trips. And the reason is quite simple: it’s very well positioned and a great place to start your day trips from. For example, Kurashiki is only 20 minutes away by train, while Inujima or Naoshima, can be reached by a combination of train with ferry in aa bit over one hour. However, if you’d like to spend some time in Okayama city, there are plenty of nice places to see. As a local told me, you just need to know where to go.
Before exploring the town together, I’d like to mention that Okayama is the biggest city in the prefecture with the same name and the second biggest city in Chugoku region after Hiroshima. The city developed itself during the Edo period as a castle town, and today you can learn more about the town while exploring the Okayama Castle and its surroundings.
Statue of Momotaro
Before jumping to the main attractions of the town, check the Momotaro statue in front of the train station. And if you don’t know who is Momotaro, then definitely you’re not Japanese or you didn’t get the chance to read about the Japanese culture. Momotaro is basically the Peach Boy from a Japanese story, which originated from Okayama. So basically expect to meet this personage around the entire prefecture, not only in the city, as it’s a big personality. Kids love it and even I heard of him during my Japanese lessons.
This is the most famous spot of the city. It was one of the most famous gardens in Japan since the Edo period and today is considered one of the three great gardens of Japan. It’s considered a heritage site for the world to treasure and a historical cultural asset to be passed to future generations.
Ikeda Tsunamasa, a daimyo of the time (a Japanese feudal lord) ordered in 1687 the construction of the garden. Completed in 1700, it kept its original appearance until today, excepting a few changes done by other damyos among the years. The garden has been severally affected by a flood in 1934 and by the bombing in the WW2, but thanks to the drawings and documents, it has been restored. It is under the Okayama Prefecture ownership since 1884 and open to the large public.
The garden is not very big, however you still need like 1.5 hours to make a complete tour. There are many things to see, from ponds, to a bamboo forest, dock remains, a temple, rest houses, tea houses, different kind of gardens, a tea plantation, rice fields, hundreds of koi fish and much more. So, you’d better take your time and spend at least half a day there if you can’t afford the full day.
I went during spring and it was superb. There is a cherry blossom garden where everybody takes pictures and seasonal desserts. The views from the garden are speechless, as you can see the castle in front of you, plus the mountains and the surroundings.
If you’re also planning to visit the castle, buy a combo ticket for 580¥. You can add Hayashibara museum of art on top, for a total of 980¥. And if you’re at the second visit, maybe you want to combine it with the Prefectural museum for 520¥. Whatever you choice, a visit to Okayama wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the garden.
The only original part of the castle is the Tsukimi Yagura, a turret for moon viewing. The rest of the castle has been rebuild, including the main tower in 1966. But this doesn’t mean is not worth in a visit! It is very beautiful from the outside and because of its black lacquered appearance is often called the Crow castle. On the inside it won’t disappoint either, because compared to other castles (including the most famous of all, Himeji castle) has something on display! There are many objects to see, artefacts, documents, costumes and a very well done video explaining the history of the castle step by step, with English subtitle. And it may sound weird, but I enjoyed more this castle than Himeji castle, as I could see and learn a lot more, not just seeing a big empty structure.
You won’t need much time here, only about 1-1.5 hours. But you can extend it with a stop to the restaurant located at the 1st floor. It serves local sweets and food and it’s quite popular!
Not a touristic attraction by itself, but Asahi river is beautiful especially during the cherry blossom season. There is an small alley near Korakuen garden, which shouldn’t be missed during the season. And with so many people walking around, having picnics and cars heading to that direction, it’s hard to miss it. Outside the cherry blossom season you can still rent a boat and enjoy some nice views with the castle. If you decide to walk, you can easily spend 2 hours around the river area.
Nishigawa Canal Walk Avenue
Same as above, the spring is the best season to admire this canal because of the cherry blossoms. For the rest of the days, it still provides enough shadow and greenery to have a break and relax. The fact that is very close to the train station can be an advantage in case you’re looking for some quality time around the area.
Hayashibara Museum of Art
You can easily visit this museum if you bought the combo ticket with the garden and the castle. If not, there is a white & black brochure that provides an entry ticket discount from 500¥ to 400¥ for adults. But apart from the fact that is not a hole in your pocket to visit this museum, it is actually worth in the time.
From the entrance you’ll be surprised to receive a very distinctive entry ticket, with two masks – a nice touch! Then, the exposition is not big (only 41 exponents), but every piece of art is beautiful and are well placed. I loved the space inside the museum, as I could focus on each piece of art without having many things all around, and miss the details. Among others you will be able to see some very beautiful folding screens with Japanese art, several hanging scrolls and my favourite piece, a world map.
Prefectural Art Museum
First of all, if you want to visit only the museum, you need to make this clear. When I went there was also a temporary exhibition and as I asked in English for a ticket, I ended up paying a combo ticket – this means 1200¥ instead of 350¥.
The permanent collection has only a few rooms on the second floor and can be easily visit in about 40 minutes. You’ll be able to see Asian and Japanese paintings, calligraphy, western-style Japanese paintings, Japanese decorative art and sculptures. It is not something impressive, but it promotes local artists so you get closer to the culture.
On the ground floor you will normally find a temporary exhibition. When I went it was an exhibition by Keiko Sena, a picture book author. She mainly draw children books from what I could see. However, it was something I never seen before, which made the experience really interesting in the end. Basically, I could see many sketches she worked on, before ending with the printed versions. The exhibition was quite rich in terms of number of exponents and at the end I could also see the real books, how everything came to life. Pretty interesting even for a foreigner!
Opened since 15th of April 2021, this soy sauce storehouse should be on your list for the next visit to Okayama. In partnership with teamlab, you’ll get an unique tea time experience that cannot be missed. The former Fukuoka soy sauce building was built in the Meiji era to serve for the soy sauce production. You will be able to go in the basement, where once the sauce was stored, to enjoy the experience.
Take into consideration from the beginning that you have only 20 minutes to enjoy your tea (included in the 1000¥ entry ticket) and the overall experience, so absorb as much as you can. It is amazing to see how the work of artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects come together into an immersive experience. You will see how your own tea is interacting with the lamps in the room, creating a spontaneous order phenomenon. As everything is dark around you excepting the light from the lamps and tea, you will real feel part of the experience and not just an observer. Expensive, but is worth in for once!
If you’re not new to Japan, you already know that are many covered galleries. Honestly, I don’t know who came with this brilliant idea, but in every city you’ll find one. It’s great cause you don’t care about the weather, as you’re always protected. However, the Omotecho Arcade is really worth in a visit and not specifically for the restaurants or for the shops inside. The ceiling is made of small windows, with different decorations, which makes it an attraction by itself. To walk from an end to another it takes like 15 minutes, but you won’t get bored. Of course, not a must for a first visit in Okayama.
Food & Drink
One of the reasons I would visit Okayama again, it would be for the nice cafeterias. Cafe Moyau is located near the Asahi river, exactly near the bridge taking you to the Korakuen gardens. It offers not only great views, but also good breakfast and coffee. The atmosphere is very Japanese, so you will sit on tatami floors at small tables.
Another cafeteria I love is Onsaya Cafe. This is basically a local chain, but I highly recommend the one inside the galleries, near the train station. Apart from the high quality coffee, it has a wall related to music, a small library and a cool background music. If you want more coffee and even a cheese cake, make a stop at the prefectural art museum restaurant. Great value for money, good service and a nice view over the river! And last but not least, no visit to Okayama is complete without a Doppo, the local drink! Look for the sparkling rose limited edition during spring.
I spent several nights at Kamp Houkan-cho Backpacker’s Inn for only 2500¥ per night. If you don’t book in advance it costs about 4500¥, so book it via Agoda to pay almost half the price. Apart from the rooms which are nice and tidy as everywhere in Japan, they have a cool bar-restaurant. I went during “covid season” and I was amazed seeing a DJ there playing music while people were dancing and having fun. Good or bad, I really appreciated that moment of freedom and I would go back to party anytime.
A great choice would be to spend your nights in Hotel Abest Grande Okayama. I got a private cabin with 6036¥ for 2 nights thanks to Agoda . The hotel has an onsen with sauna open until 1am, which is absolutely gorgeous by the way. A place I would recommend with all my heart to any visit to Okayama.
Well, that’s it from my side. I trully hope you enjoyed the article and you will visit Okayama one day. Meanwhile, get inspired from more articles across Japan and not only, here.
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