Okayama brings with it the fragrance of ripe grapes and peaches, the sparkle of hot springs, the magic of castles, and the distinct taste of Japan’s antiquity. Blending the old and the new beautifully is this prefecture wrapped in gardens, malls, shrines, and canals. With its idyllic climate, picture-perfect landscapes, diverse activities, and gourmet delights, Okayama is an ideal destination for the enterprising traveller.
It is time to break free from the mundane and add a novel page to your travel diaries.
Reasons to visit Okayama
The first thing that strikes you when you enter Okayama Prefecture is the friendliness of the locals. The warm feeling emanating from those kind smiles will be something you will fondly remember, long after you head back. The following are worth noting:
- The land of Momotarō (Peach boy) is famous for its juicy grapes and peaches, unmatchable sakura, and impeccably manicured gardens.
- It is famously known as the Denim Capital for being the main source of the famous Japanese blue denim.
- Bizen, known for Bizen-yaki (a unique, ancient Japanese pottery style) that is over 1,000-year-old, is in Okayama Prefecture.
- If you find yourself in this part of the world, don’t forget to try the enticing Okayama Bara-zushi (a type of sushi) and Takomeshi (rice with octopus).
- Also, before leaving, make sure you buy some Momotarō merchandise for folks back home.
Things to do at Okayama
1.Kōraku-en Garden, Okayama
Want a taste of the perfect cocktail of nature’s bounties? Head straight to Kōraku-en – one of the Three Great Gardens of the country. Built over 300 years ago, this unending lush green park is the perfect place to take a serene walk.
Welcoming you at various turns are majestic trees, streams and ponds, attractive flowers, a modest hill, and more. During spring, the garden breeze is filled with the fragrance of the pristine sakura (cherry blossoms), which blooms in abundance. Don’t be surprised if you come across newly-wed locals capturing their memorable day with this postcard-come-alive garden as the backdrop.
The garden is easily accessible through public transport. The entry fee is 400 yen.
Hours: 7:30am to 6.00pm (20 March-September) and 8:00am to 5.00pm (October-19 March).
2. Okayama Castle, Okayama
Step into this splendid building and watch Japan’s history come alive. Dressed in black, this building is fondly called the ‘Crow Castle’. It was built in 1597 and had sparkly gilded roof tiles. In 1945, this masterpiece was burnt down completely; and what you see today is the original’s concrete replica.
The new six-floored building has all the modern amenities such as escalators and air conditioners. Along with viewing interesting exhibits, one can dress up like a lord or a princess and click photos too! The best part? This royalty comes free!
If you are feeling creative, why not try a hand at making Bizen-yaki, a traditional Japanese ceramic ware (at an additional cost)! They say the view from the top of the castle is magnificent with the neighbouring Kōraku-en gardens and mountains.
The entrance fee is 300 yen for the castle alone and 560 yen for the castle as well as the Kōraku-en gardens.
3. Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, Kurashiki
Visiting Bikan Historical Quarter is like stepping into a fairytale. With its canals laced with weeping willows, tiny boats floating in the water, stone bridges connecting ends and the surrounding ancient warehouses, this place is a photographer’s heaven. Once you have soaked in the magical atmosphere and clicked your heart out, don’t forget to grab a bite at one of the many pretty cafes along the canal.
4. Hiruzen Jerseyland, Maniwa
Wondering what will keep your kids entertained in Okayama Prefecture? Here is an option. If you are in Maniwa, make sure Hiruzen Jerseyland is on your itinerary. It is the perfect place to let your kids get a glimpse of farm/rural life.
It will sure be a delight to watch them break free from their urban self and pet/feed jersey cows and horses with the gorgeous rural scenery as the backdrop. Make sure you buy some delicious ice-cream, made from fresh milk, on your way out.
5. Kanba Fall, Maniwa
If you are feeling adventurous and want to do something different, this waterfall should definitely be on your ‘to-do’ list. Part of the top 100 waterfalls in Japan, the beauty of this natural wonder will surely impress you.
To view it, however, you have to take a bit of an uphill walk; so make sure you are wearing comfortable footwear. Also, there is a patch on the way up where you can come across monkeys. While these cute animals generally mind their own business, they can get a bit playful and grab am item or two from you. So be alert.
The entry fee is 300 yen.
Interesting facts about Okayama
- Kōraku-en, located in Okayama, the capital of Okayama Prefecture, is one of the three most famous gardens in Japan. It was built in 1700. It suffered severe damage by bombing during the World War II in 1945 and was later restored.
- Okayama is known as the ‘Land of Sunshine’ as it receives more sunshine than any other prefecture in the country.
- Seedless New Pione grapes were genetically created first in Okayama.
- It is in the capital city of Okayama that you can witness the interesting Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri festival. Participating men wear only bare minimum clothing and celebrate the blessings of bountiful harvest and receive purification by water. Around 9,000 men participate each year!
- Seto Ohashi Bridge (13.1 km), the train bridge over water connecting Okayama Prefecture to Kagawa Prefecture is the longest two-tiered bridge system not only in Japan but in the world!
- Momotarō (Peach boy), a famous Japanese folk hero, has his roots in Okayama. It is believed that he conquered demons and became famous. Check out his statue along with his friends – a talking dog, a monkey and a pheasant – outside Okayama Rail Station.
- 11% of the total land area of Okayama Prefecture is designated as national parks.
Staying in Okayama
Okayama offers diverse accommodation options but if you want a truly memorable stay, you must select an accommodation that has a bit of Japan’s soul in it. To make that happen, HomeAway has partnered with the Destination Management Organization (DMO) to refurnish old historic houses and convert them to holiday homes, which can be rented on HomeAway. Check out these two options:
1.Countryside Japanese traditional house
If you are yearning to understand the culture, ethos and history of Japan, book a stay at this antique HomeAway. Built over 100 years ago, this house oozes Japanese charm like no other. Consisting of a bedroom and a living room, it is ideal for a couple.
It is close to a train station, convenience stores, Japanese restaurants, and supermarkets. After a long and fulfilling day of sightseeing, you can relax in the beautiful Japanese garden outside the house. There is also a hot spring in the vicinity. The property also has a shop selling local handmade products and a restaurant serving delicious Japanese food.
Average price per night: SGD 121
2. Beautiful countryside artist house
This house looks like it has been pulled straight out of a Japanese picture book. Set in a picture-perfect countryside, this cosy HomeAway gives you the rare opportunity to acquaint with rural Japan. The spacious, three-bedroom house with a kitchen is perfect for a family. The surrounding trees, rice fields, and mountains will ensure you have a tranquil stay.
Every season brings a different flavour to this place – fireflies in summer, cherry blossoms in spring, red leaves in fall, and snow in winter. Along with enjoying the beauty of nature, your kids can experience the joys of swimming in a river, rice planting and reaping, growing organic vegetables, and wearing a kimono to participate in a Japanese tea party! The best part? The hosts are said to be extremely kind and welcoming.
Average price per night: SGD 178
HomeAway is the world leader in vacation rentals. The HomeAway network of sites represent more than 1.2 million listings of vacation rental homes in 190 countries and is part of the Expedia group family of brands. Visit www.homeaway.asia or download the HomeAway app to choose the ideal holiday homes and homestays for your next holiday.