I live in Kumamoto City now and while Suizenji Garden is exquisitely landscaped, I could finish touring it within 15 to 20 minutes. It's akin to the feeling of eating something delicious but not feeling full at the end of the meal. Which is a sentiment that would not apply to Korakuen Garden because wow, was it big. Well, It is not rated as one of Japan's top three landscaped gardens for nothing. Apparently, it took Lord Tsunamasa of the Ikeda Clan more than a decade to construct this garden. I'll say this is a noteworthy feat in itself; I'm not sure how many of us can conceive a vision and stay determined to follow it through for such a long time.
You will most likely see the Japanese flocking to some artificial hill at the park, a signal for you to follow suit because as my first photo testifies, this is a good place to get a good aerial view of the park. My pictures are not the greatest though because I visited it during winter on 1st January. I could only imagine for myself how these grassy open areas would look like in summer.
Still, I had fun though because I am always amused by how trees in landscaped gardens were bent over the pond to evoke some kind of poetic mood. Not to mention large carps swimming without a care in the world--in my country of origin, they would have been stolen and eaten as dinner by not-so-honest countrymen. LOL. Or how Okayama Castle nicely served as the backdrop for one's viewing pleasure.
A good read for those who are interested to understand more about Japanese gardens:
It's rather easy to suffer from castle fatigue in Japan, for it seems like there is a must-go castle in just about every prefecture. I reckon though that Okayama Castle will surprise you in a novel way as its exterior is black unlike its many white counterparts elsewhere. In fact, I think it is only when you visit several of these white castles that you appreciate Okayama Castle's unique beauty. For its black exterior, it is affectionately known as the "Crow Castle" too.
While the exterior delighted me, I am not so sure about its interior. For starters, an escalator brings you up to the fourth floor. It didn't bother me since most castles are reconstructions of the originals in any case. So why begrudge the inclusion of this feature that will make life easier for visitors? LOL. However, if you are into authentic reconstruction, then this escalator may irk you. Also, a factor that may make you feel like you're not getting as much out of the castle as you want to is that the exhibits--mostly documenting the glories of the Ikeda era--were in Japanese. So that left me with only the view from the top since I was not into posing for a photo in a sedan, which seemed like the major thing to do there. Thankfully for me, the view of the Korakuen Garden was intriguing enough and I actually thought that seeing the lucky-fish gargoyle up close was reward enough. Therefore, if you are to visit this castle, do visit it after adjusting your expectations.
Or if you are lucky enough, you can just visit it on 1st January. This was what I did and guess what? Free entrance! Hehe
Also, if you arrive during the day, it will be worth the while to hang around Korakuen Garden until the evening. Okayama Castle seemed to glow green as the sun set and trust me, it is not as creepy as it sounds;)
Yubara Hot Springs was a little out of the way since I had to make two bus trips before I arrived at the place. But I can assure you, my reader that your time and effort spent will be 100% worth it if you visit there in winter.
Why do I recommend winter? Well, I visited Yubara Hot Springs in early January 2012 and it was snowing pretty heavily. What better way to get some respite from a hectic backpacking trip by relaxing in a free open-air hot spring?
Yes, FREE, you read it right. It's an onsen village at Yubara, so I can't figure out why the tourist authorities at Maniwa City (that's where Yubara Hot Springs is located) would be so generous as to allow free usage of this hot spring. Won't this deter people from supporting the local ryokans? But hey, lucky us poor backpackers for having the privilege! Soaking in the hot waters while just watching snow fall was one of the best experiences I have ever had in Japan thus far. And it was so fun to do this with the locals. Hopping from bath to bath (there were three baths altogether). Striking random conversations with random people. Watching in slight disbelief how some Japanese brought books to read.
But oh wait, there's more! After using this hot spring to my heart's content, I found a FREE hand and foot bath. Oh, a second round of bliss!
Kurashiki is the home to Japan's first Western art museum, the Ohara Museum of Art. Established in 1930 by Magosaburo Ohara, it contains masterpieces by EI Greco, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin, and Renoir. The collection also has fine examples of Asian and contemporary art. The museum itself is housed in a neo-Classical building.
Tsuyama is a city in Okayama-ken that is often referred to as "Little Kyoto" because of all of its historical sites. Walking down Joto Street, you will find many old samurai residences. The Shurakuen Gardens is a lovely stroll, and entry is free. Tsuyama's Kakuzan Park is very beautiful in the spring when the cherry blossoms bloom. In fact, Tsuyama is one of the best places in all of Japan to view the cherry blossoms!
(See the Tsuyama pages on VT for more information)
The Kibiji District spans from Okayama City to Soja City and is marked by a variety of shrines, temples, tombs, samurai homes, and other sites that relate to the ancient kingdom of Kibi that once flourished in Okayama prefecture.
A bike path now exists to allow people easy access to all of the sites in the region. It is suggest you rent a bike to travel on the trail. The trail is 15 kilometers long and estimated to take two hours to complete, but if you stop at the many sights along the way, (which you should) it may take more time.
If you don't want to bike (or can't) it IS possible to walk however, you'll need to start in the morning and make sure to wear the proper footwear. Walking takes about 7 hours, if you stop along the way to see the sights. I actually chose to walk the trail, and it was a great experience, but my feet were hurting by the end of it!
Some of the highlights of the trail are:
-Bicchu Kokubunji Temple
-Ancient Kibi Cultural Center
-Kibi Culture Museum
On the other offset of the trail are:
-Ruins of Takamatsu Castle
-Ashimori Clan Samurai Residence
(For specific information about the sites, view my pages for Soja and Okayama)
Travel along the trail is really nice, as the surrounding area is quite beautiful, and the trail is well-marked; both the attractions and guides that keep you on the trail, so there's no stress. It's a beautiful area full of rich history that foreigners rarely ever go to see, but it's well worth the visit!
(If things look a little dead in the pictures, keep in mind I travelled here in the wintertime. If you come in the spring, summer, or fall, the nature around the trail is quite full of flowers and greenery!)
You can get maps of the region from Okayama Station.
For those who are interested in themed tours, particularly self-made tours, you may enjoy taking a Momotaro tour of Okayama prefecture!
The main sites lie in the Kibiji region, which spans from Soja City to Okayama City, because it was in this region where the story of Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-Mikoto, which the Momotaro tale developed from, occurred.
If you wish to do this, here are the sites you should visit:
-Kibitsu Shrine: The site where Momotaro fought the demon Ura.
-Kibitsuhiko Shrine: Dedicated to Prince Kibitsuhiko, also located in the area of Kibitsu Shrine where the battle took place
-Kinojo Castle: The site where the demon Ura was said to have lived
-Koikui Shrine: After the battle at Kibitsu Shrine, the demon turned into a carp and swam down the river. The prince turned into a cormorant and pursued him. Koikui Shrine is located on the site where the prince finally caught the demon and killed him.
-Megijima Island (Onigashima): This is actually in Kagawa Prefecture. Some people say that this is the actual island where the demons lived.
-Momotaro Museum: In Kurashiki, a cute museum dedicated to Momotaro, mostly for children
-Momotaro Statues: In the front of Okayama Station is a large statue of Momotaro with his animal companions (dog, pheasant, and monkey). alligning both sides of Momotaro-odori Street are statues of young Momotaro and each of his companions. The final stop is the "Riverside Peach Baby", which is a statue of little Momotaro holding a peach up towards the heavens.
If you are the sort of traveller who enjoys themed travels or you are simply a fan of Momotaro, a Momotaro trip is both unique and fun!
I think evening is the best time to see peacok, because in the evening most of peacocks spread their tails. In this park, peacock can go around freely. You can touch them. In middle of park there is house for some species of birds (e.g. white peacock).
The park is closed at 5 pm in summer.
Entrance fee is 300 yen for adult.
In japanese they said "saru no kuni".
The beautiful scenery of the island can be seen from this place. Just climb to the top of mountain, still in the park area (about 10-20 min walk).
Entrance fee is 370 yen for adult.
Last week I went to Shodoshima. It's a beatiful island between Okayama and Kagawa prefecture (one of the Seto island).
Shodoshima Town is famous as the birthplace of olive cultivation in Japan. There are several olive gardens here. In the island you also can visit monkey park and peacock park. It is different with zoo. In this park, monkey can go freely. You can touch or feed them. Similar with peacock (blue and green one), but special peacock (white) was put in the separate house.
The amusement park in on the village, so when you ride something, it looks like very-very high, looks more dangerous than reality.
You can enjoy several kinds of roller coaster as well as bungee jumping. In winter, there is ice skating rink, while in the summer swimming pool will open.
From this place, you can see the famous Seto ohashi (bridge that conncet Okayama and Shikoku).
Opening hours: 9.00-18.00 except weekend and holiday 9.00-20.00.
Entrance fee: 2500 yen (2004), bungee jumping has excluded.
The ancient merchant quarter, called the Bikan historical area.
This area of the city is surrounded by almost unique examples of 17th century wooden warehouses called kura painted white with traditional black tiles, along a canal framed with weeping willows and filled with koi.
The area is extraordinarily picturesque, and is a popular tourist destination.
One of the city's former town halls was located in the Kurashiki Kan, an impressive European style building constructed in 1917.
The Great Seto Bridge (SetoOhashi in Japanse), is a series of double deck bridges connecting Okayama and Kagawa prefectures in Japan across a series of five small islands in the Seto inland sea. Built over the period 1978 to 1988, it is one of the three routes of the Honsyu-Shikoku Bridge Project connecting Honsyu and Shikoku island. At 13.1 km long, it ranks as the world's longest two-tiered bridge system.
Crossing the bridge takes about 20 minutes by car or train. The ferry crossing before the bridge was built took about an hour.
The bridges carry two lanes of highway traffic in each direction on the upper deck and one railway track in each direction on the lower deck. The lower deck was designed to accommodate an additional Shinkansen rail line in each direction.
Okayama Castle, is located near Korakuen Garden in Okayama-city, was built in 1346, and is called Ujyo ( the crow castle) since the wall was painted black.
The castle tower of the Okayama castle was burned down by World War II.
And it was rebuilt in 1966 and has become one of the famous landmarks in Okayama-city.
The Tivoli theme park was built in 1998, based on the theme park of the same name in Copenhagen, and is popular with local Japanese.
There are two Toyoko Inns nearby one another in Okayama at the west exit of Okayama Station. This is...more
When my little team of backpackers arrived in Kurashiki, we were exhausted and not quite sure how to...more
2-2 Otemachi, Tsuyama, Okayama Prefecture, 708-0023, Japan
Good for: Families