Kurashiki (倉敷)  is one of Japan's great old merchant towns. Situated along a scenic canal at the foot of Mt. Tsurugata, Kurashiki's white-walled storehouses are beautifully preserved and open for exploration.
During the Edo period, Kurashiki did heavy trade with the capital in rice, sugar, and other goods. Later, during the Meiji Restoration, the city became known for textiles. Kurashiki escaped World War II largely unscathed, and as a result, many of the original storehouses, mills, and shops remain in beautiful condition, open to visitors in the Bikan Historic Area.
The effect is delightful — storehouses (倉 kura) with lattice windows share space with weeping willows along the banks of the old canal, which is illuminated at night. The canal has led some overly optimistic tourist associations to call Kurashiki "the Venice of Japan". If not that — the city surrounding the Bikan area is as much a concrete jumble as any other in the country — Kurashiki is still a rare piece of old Japan, one that gives a sense of where people lived and worked, not merely the temples at which they worshipped.
JR Kurashiki Station, ☎ +81 086-424-1220. 9AM-5PM. Exit the train station to the south (left from JR ticket collection), overlooking the bus depot. Stay on the upper level, and you'll find the office among the shops to the right (west).
A shuttle bus will take you from the Okayama airport to JR Kurashiki Station in approximately 45 minutes (¥1000). Tickets can be purchased from a vending machine outside of the airport. Large luggage is okay; the driver will stow it underneath the seats. Staff at the information booth just beyond baggage claim are very helpful, and will go outside with you to purchase the ticket and get you on the appropriate bus. Like most buses in Japan, the driver will collect the ticket when you disembark.
Connections can also be made with the Hiroshima airport, via shuttle bus to Okayama (2 hours, ¥2100).
Kurashiki is on the San'yo Main Line between Okayama and Fukuyama.
The best way to reach Kurashiki from the San'yo Shinkansen is to transfer to a local train at Okayama; the ride takes about 15 minutes (¥320). Note that the limited express trains between Okayama and Kurashiki are more than twice as expensive, and will only save you a couple of minutes. However, if you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can take either a local or a limited express; on the latter, hop onto any non-reserved car and simply flash your rail pass to the conductor, declaring Kurashiki as your destination.
The Shinkansen stops at Shin-Kurashiki Station (新倉敷), another 10 minutes down the San'yo Main Line, but only with the all-stops Kodama trains. It's about ten minutes on the local train from JR Kurashiki Station to Shin-Kurashiki Station.
Several companies run daytime and overnight bus routes from Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Matsuyama, Tokushima, Kochi, Fukuoka, and elsewhere. Operators include Chugoku JR Bus Company (+81 086-236-1123) and 123bus (050-5805-0383). Buses arrive and depart outside the north exit of JR Kurashiki Station.
Most of the sights in Kurashiki are in and around the aforementioned Bikan area, which is easily reached on foot from the south exit of JR Kurashiki Station — about a ten minute walk down Chuo-dori or the Ebisu-dori covered arcade.
Even if you're not interested in the subject of a certain museum, the chance to explore inside these old warehouses and mills might be worth the price of admission. Note that virtually all of the museums (and many of the stores) are closed on Mondays, which does at least mean fewer crowds and photo hounds competing for that perfect shot at the foot of a bridge.
For a terrific view of the entire Bikan area, head up the granite stairs on Mt. Tsurugata to the Achi Shrine, and have a wander around the park at the top.
Ohara Museum of Art, 1-1-15 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-422-0005, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. Houses a deservedly renowned collection of classic European and American art, including major works by Picasso, Renoir, Monet, Matisse, and many others. There's another building for exhibitions by modern Japanese artists, which tend to be very good. Set aside some time to wander the grounds as well, with Rodin statues out front, a small sculpture garden out back, and neoclassical columns beatifically out of character with the rest of the area.¥1000 adults, ¥600 students.
Kojima Torajiro Memorial Hall, 7-1 Hon-machi (Ivy Square), ☎ +81 086-422-0005, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. Dedicated to the work of the Japanese artist who directed the acquisition of most of the Ohara Museum's collection.¥500, ¥300 students; ¥1300 combined admission with the museum.
Archaeological Museum, 1-3-13 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-422-1542, . W-Su 9AM-4:30PM, to 4:30PM Dec-Feb. Housed in a particularly lovely old rice warehouse, this museum has Japanese, Chinese, and even Incan artifacts on display.¥400 adults, ¥250 students.
Japan Rural Toy Museum, 1-4-16 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-422-8058, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. Has a collection of over 40,000 toys, although only 5,000 or so are generally on display. Most are show-pieces (and occasionally eerie ones at that), but there are some that kids can play with hands-on.¥300 adults, ¥200 teenagers, ¥100 kids.
Bikan Historic Area
Museum of Folkcraft, 1-4-11 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-422-1542, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM, to 4:15PM Dec-Feb. Hosts excellent seasonal and permanent exhibitions of Japanese folk crafts. Even if you're not captivated by the subject matter, the space in which it's housed — three vintage structures connected by narrow corridors and old stairwells — is worth checking out. ¥700 adults, ¥400 students.
Sen'ichi Hoshino Museum, 1-10-11 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-430-0001, . 9:30AM-6PM April-Sept, to 5PM Oct-March. Kurashiki native Sen'ichi Hoshino was a long-time pitcher and manager for the Chunichi Dragons of Japanese pro baseball; now, as manager and director of the Hanshin Tigers, his open hatred of the Yomiuri Giants has renewed focus. This recently-opened museum collects some of his memorabilia and career highlights.Adults ¥500, students ¥200.
Shogi Master Oyama Memorial Museum, 1-18-1 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-434-0003, . Th-Tu 9AM-5:15PM, to 9PM F. Yasuharu Oyama (1923-1992), also a Kurashiki native, was an eighteen time world champion of shogi; upon his retirement, he was crowned the 15th Lifetime Meijin (Grand Master) of the game.Free.
Momotaro Museum (桃太郎のからくり博物館), 5-11 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-423-2008, . Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. With the figure of Momotaro outside and souvenirs sold inside, it is often mistaken by foreign tourists as just another shop and a cute photo-op, but this building is actually a "museum of mystery" dedicated to Momotaro, the Peach Boy. The museum features a variety of fun and interactive mind tricks that bear no real connection to the tale but are quite fun, especially for children. From there, prepare yourself for a walk through the dark lair of the ogres that Momotaro defeated before ascending the stairs to see some historical depictions of the tale and other items of nostalgia.Adults ¥600, young students ¥400, children ¥100.
Yumiko Igarashi Museum, 9-3 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-426-1919, . 9AM-6PM. Memorabilia and artwork from Candy Candy, one of the most popular manga among Japanese girls and a cult favorite overseas. (There is, however, no actual candy here.)¥600 adults, ¥400 students.
Copenhagen in Japan
For many years, the second most popular tourist attraction in Kurashiki (after the Bikan area) was Tivoli Park, a fanciful collection of trees, flowers, and rides intended to recreate Copenhagen, Denmark. It was shuttered at the end of 2008 under a pile of debt, but it's hard to miss right outside the north exit of JR Kurashiki Station.
City Art Museum, 2-6-1 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-425-6034, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. Exhibits of work by artists from Kurashiki, with a focus on the renowned painter Yoson Ikeda (1895-1988). The building, designed by Kenzo Tange, is an odd attempt to reinterpret warehouses of the Bikan area in concrete.¥200 adults, ¥100 students.
Insect Museum, 2-30 Saiwai-cho (Shigei Hospital, 8th floor), ☎ +81 086-422-3655. Tu-Sa 2-5PM. Local insects, pinned and displayed for your examination. It's about ten minutes north of the Bikan area, though, so it's only worth seeking out for serious entomology fans.Free.
Museum of Natural History, 2-6-1 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-425-6037, . Tu-Su 9AM-5:15PM. Local flora, fauna, insects, and geology; the star attraction is a Naumann's Elephant, a giant prehistoric mammal from southern Japan.¥150 adults, ¥100 students.
Ohashi House, 3-21-31 Achi-dori, ☎ +81 086-422-0007. Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. If you've had it with ordinary merchants, visit the home of this family of retired samurai who went into business in Kurashiki.¥500 adults, ¥300 kids.
Although the Bikan Historic District is the most popular area to visit in Kurashiki, the Tamashima area is the most easily accessible, with Shin-Kurashiki Station, accessible by Shinkansen, as the main station.
Entsuji Temple, ☎ +81 086-522-2444, . Entsuji Temple is famous as the site where the famous poet Priest Ryokan wrote many of his most famous poems. From the temple grounds, there is an impressive view of the factories in the Kojima area (which is quite beautiful, despite how it may sound), as well as the Seto Inland Sea. This temple is also the seventh temple along the Chugoku 33 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage route.
Saisou-tei (Yunoki House), 3 Chome Tamashima (For those who do not know Japanese, a taxi is probably the best option for getting here), ☎ +81 086-522-0151. 9 AM to 5 PM. Closed Mondays. This is one of Kurashiki's true hidden gems. The Saisou-tei is where local clan leader, Kumata Ataka committed seppuku, which prevented a war from breaking out in the Tamashima area. What makes it so fascinating is that the building has been preserved so that the actual blood stains from the seppuku remain visible on the ceiling; a rare sight. When you enter, you will be given a short tour in Japanese only however, after reading this, you should be able to follow along and see what they are showing you when they point towards the ceiling.Entrance is free.
The Kojima area is located along the Seto Inland Sea, served by JR Kojima Station, and offers many great views of the Seto Ohashi Bridge. If you choose to travel from the Bikan area to the Kojima area by train, you can only reach it via Okayama. Take the Marine Liner from Okayama to Kojima Station. Bus #6 from JR Kurashiki Station runs to JR Kojima Station, if you prefer a street-level view while traveling between the two locations.
Jeans Factory, ☎ +81 086-473-4460. Hours: 11 AM to 5 PM. The Kojima area of Kurashiki is known throughout Japan for its high-quality jeans, and the museum displays items made in the factory and the history of Kojima jean production.
Yugasan Rendai-ji, ☎ +81 086-477-6222, . A unique complex composed of both a shrine and a temple. The torii gate is made of Bizen pottery. The shrine is a sister shrine to the famous Konpirasan in Kotohira. It is also the 6th temple along the Chugoku Pilgrimage Route.
Seto Ohashi Memorial Bridge Museum, ☎ +81 086-474-5111, . Known as the first museum in the world dedicated to a bridge, it offers information about the Seto Ohashi Bridge, along with general information about bridges and models of famous bridges throughout the world.
Tsusenen Garden (通仙園). A garden that features over 3000 azalea bushes that bloom during the spring. Like much of the area's attractions, there is also a great view of the Seto Inland Sea from the garden grounds.
Ogino Museum of Art.
Shimotsui Castle Ruins.
Washuzan Hill. A popular place for locals to picnic and relax while enjoying one of the best views of the Seto Ohashi Bridge and the Seto Inland Sea.
Washuzan Highland Park, 303-1 Shimotsui Fukiage (via JR Kojima Station), ☎ +81 086-473-5111, . Usually 10AM-6PM M-F, 9AM-7PM Sa-Su, but hours vary. A fun Brazil-themed amusement park, with a variety of rides (including the pedal-powered, electricity free SkyCycle), karaoke, roller skating, ice skating, a swimming pool, and live performances. There are two hotels attached: the Washu Highland and Washuzan Shimoden.¥2500 adults, ¥2000 children.
Kurashiki Sports Park, (From Okayama station, take a San'yo line train to Nakasho station (¥230 yen, 12 minutes) and walk 8 minutes.), ☎ +81 086-463-7070, . A large sports park with a variety of facilities for those interested in getting in shape (or just for fun), such as tennis courts, a fitness center, park, and more. Inside its precincts is Muscat Stadium, the biggest baseball stadium in Okayama, established in 1965. Entrance to the stadium is only permitted when events are being held there.Separate fees apply depending on which facility you intend to use. The park area is free.
If you have enough money to spend, you'll find some gorgeous traditional souvenirs to buy in Kurashiki. The city has been producing high-end textiles for more than two centuries, but locally-made blown-glass (ガラス) and the famed Bizen-yaki (備前焼) pottery are sold as well. Cheaper souvenirs and knick-knacks are available in the Ebisu-dori covered shopping arcade, which runs part of the route between the station and the Bikan area.
Heisuiken, 8-8 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-427-1147, . Tu-Sa 10AM-6PM. The Food of Life is stocked at this store of delicacies from all over Japan, sold in gift sets. The headquarters of the Morita Shuzosake brewery (森田酒造株式会社)  is on the premises as well.
Iseya, 4-5 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-426-1383, . Tu-Su 9AM-7PM. If you enjoyed the Toy Museum, stop here for a mix of wooden toys from the cheap & nifty to the expensive & hand-crafted.
Ivy Square, 7-1 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-422-0011. Most facilities 9AM-5PM. There is some historical charm in this old cotton mill, built of red bricks and covered in green ivy, but it's mainly here to sell high-end art, fabrics, and other traditional wares.
Koeido, 1-1-18 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-426-5888, . 9AM-6PM. The favorite sweet of Okayama (and Momotaro), kibi dango (吉備団子), is sold here.¥380 for a box of 10 pieces, or ask to sample a few with tea.
Tenmaya, 1-7-1 Achi-dori, ☎ +81 086-426-2111, . 10AM-7PM. Directly adjacent to JR Kurashiki Station, this branch of the department store chain has a fair amount of space set aside for local merchants.
Tokeido, 1-4-18 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-421-0845, . 9AM-5PM. Even if you're not planning to buy, you're welcome to visit for this store's regular exhibitions of bizen-yaki pottery by different sculptors, and looking is free. There are small pieces for sale as low as ¥630, though.
Bukkake udon, with tempura shrimp and a cup of sauce waiting to be poured on
Bukkake Udon (ぶっかけうどん), . The Kurashiki brand of udon carries influence from Edo-period Tokyo, courtesy of the local business magnates who did trade with the shogunate. Today, Kurashiki natives will tolerate no other noodles. The sauce is served separately, so customers can pour it (bukkakeru) onto the noodles themselves. This popular chain has eight locations in the city, including four surrounding JR Kurashiki Station; hours vary, but the HQ at 2-3-23 Achi-dori (7AM-9PM) is the easiest to find. Look for the distinctive yellow and black logo.¥600.
Higashi-da, 2-2-18 Achi-dori, ☎ +81 086-427-2248. M-Sa 5PM-11PM. Excellent seafood and other Japanese cuisine in an old, traditional restaurant. Let the chef decide (omakase) the sushi for ¥5000, although anago oshizushi (made with eel) is a specialty.
Kana Izumi, 8-33 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-421-7254, . Tu-Su 10AM-8:30PM. A noodle shop in the atmospheric surroundings of the Bikan area.Prices vary — bowls of udon or tempura start from ¥550, while sets are available from ¥3500.
La Cenetta (ラ・チェネッタ), 1700 Funagura-cho, ☎ +81 086-434-3069. Japanese pizzerias are famously creative (and sometimes bizarre) with their choice of pizza toppings, but La Cenetta is an exception; chef Sekizen Kohara serves authentic Neapolitan-style pies, made in a small wood oven.¥1000 and up.
Misokatsu Umenoki, 2-19-3 Achi-dori, ☎ +81 086-422-1282, . 11AM-10PM, closed second and fourth Thursdays of the month. Umenoki serves a Nagoya specialty: breaded, fried (without oil) pork cutlets with a thick, miso-based sauce, usually served over shredded cabbage or noodles.Dishes from ¥1000, with sets from ¥2500.
Sakura, 10-6 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-421-5888. Tu-Su 11AM-4PM. Tasty soba noodles and soup during lunch hours.Dishes from ¥750-¥1580.
Takadaya, 11-36 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-425-9262. 5-10PM daily. A smoky yet fantastic little yakitoriya (grilled chicken kebab joint) in the back alleys of the Bikan Area. Prices are reasonable and the food is fantastic. No English spoken.
Yae, 5-14 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-422-1626, . M-Sa 5PM-11PM. Always packed with locals, Yae serves good seafood and sake, and the talkative staff will be happy to make recommendations.Figure ¥5000 for a filling set and a drink.
Plenty of bars are clustered around the south exit of JR Kurashiki Station. In the Bikan area, Ivy Square (see Buy) has a nice beer garden.
Cafe El Greco, 1-1-11 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-422-0297, . Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. A nice coffee shop next to the Ohara Art Museum — look for the red awning, and the building covered in ivy. Coffee and blueberry pie is the house specialty. It's named for the Spanish artist, whose The Annunciation is among the major works in the Ohara's collection.
Chooya, 2-9-10 Achi-dori, ☎ +81 086-425-4159. M-Sa 5:30PM-11PM. Food, local microbrews and inventive food (very Japanese) at this friendly pub/drinking hole.¥3000 per person.
Coffee Kan, 4-1 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-424-5516, . Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. Get educated and caffeinated in this beautiful, atmospheric coffee shop, managed by people who are serious about their beans. Brewed by French press, the coffee is served straight or mixed with honey and liquers to make their house "Queen of Amber" concoction.
SWLABR, 2-18-2 Achi-dori, ☎ +81 086-434-3099. F-W 11:30AM-3AM. A cozy pub/coffee shop/clothing store (named for a Cream song) located two minutes south of JR Kurashiki Station — look for the green building. The friendly staff serves good food and desserts until 8PM and drinks until late.
Kurashiki Youth Hostel, 1537-1 Mukoyama, ☎ +81 086-422-7355, . Rooms contain two sets of bunk beds and a small TV area. There is also a nice commons area with a fireplace and musical instruments, and meals are served. Pick-up may be available if you phone ahead. Otherwise, take bus #6 to Shimin-kaikan-mae (last departure 8:50PM) and walk uphill for ten minutes.¥2940 per person, ¥6930 for twin room.
Washuzan Youth Hostel, 1666-1 Obatake, ☎ +81 086-479-9280, . This hostel is well-situated for exploring the Kojima area, with an excellent view of the Seto Ohashi Bridge — particularly beautiful when lit up at night. There is a 10PM curfew, after which the entrance and shower room is locked. Bathrooms are always open. Reservations can be made online but if you will be arriving sooner than one week, it is better to call. The owner is extremely friendly, but he only speaks Japanese. From JR Kojima Station, take the bus to Yuusuhosteru-mae. Buses leave Kojima station hourly between 8:30 AM and 5:30 PM.¥2100 per person per night.
Young Inn Kurashiki, 1-14-8 Achi-dori, ☎ +81 086-425-3411, . A large, red-brick hotel with several floors of small, Western-style rooms. It's not very clean by the standards of most Japanese hotels, but it's close to the station and fairly easy to find. The owner speaks a little English. Breakfast (¥600) and dinner (¥2000) are available.Rooms without/with private bath from ¥4200/7000.
Hotel 330 Grand Kurashiki, 2-2-26 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-421-0330, . Warm, pleasant rooms with business hotel amenities but American-style decor. Buffet Western or Japanese-style breakfast available (¥1100).Single rooms from ¥7200, double from ¥10,600 if booked in advance.
Kurashiki Station Hotel, 2-8-1 Achi-dori, ☎ +81 086-425-2525, . Five floors and 111 small rooms slightly more pleasant than the average business hotel. They offer steep discounts for online booking; buffet Japanese breakfasts are available for ¥1000.Rooms from ¥6300 single, ¥10,500 double.
Minshuku Kashiwaya, 2-1-22 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-425-2507, . Lodgings are basic at this three-floor minshuku, but it's an excellent value.Rooms from ¥6000 per person with two meals, ¥4800 without.
Kurashiki Ivy Square Hotel, 7-2 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-422-0011, . Small, decent rooms in a splendid location. All of the amenities of Ivy Square (shopping, a restaurant, a beer garden) are right on hand. Some rooms face a parking lot and some face a grove of palm trees, so you may wish to state your preference between those two alternatives.Rooms with private bathrooms from ¥10,500 single, ¥18,900 double.
Hotel Nikko Kurashiki, 3-21-19 Achi, ☎ +81 086-423-2400, . Nice, well-appointed Western-style rooms, with notably spacious bathrooms. Western and Japanese buffet breakfasts are available to mix and match as you please.Rooms from ¥22,000 single, ¥27,000 twin.
Ryokan Kurashiki, 4-1 Hon-machi, ☎ +81 086-422-0730, . A traditional inn, occupying an atmospheric complex of old buildings, facing the canal in the Bikan section. There are various styles of suites — Western, traditional, mixed — scattered along a maze of corridors. Little English is spoken, but the staff welcomes foreigners, and breakfast is available. Guests should arrive early enough to sip tea by the garden and soak themselves before dinner. It's on the left side of the canal as you walk from the train station, at a bend in the canal.Rooms from ¥28,000 per person, including dinner and breakfast.
Tsurugata, 1-3-15 Chuo-dori, ☎ +81 086-424-1635, . Another beautiful ryokan, in business for more than 250 years with eleven Japanese-style rooms. The garden, in particular, is pure Kurashiki atmosphere. Stellar meals of seafood (and nothing but seafood, mind you) are included in the rate, and a little English is spoken.Rooms range from ¥12,000 to ¥30,000.