Okayama (岡山)  is a major transit hub for western Japan. But with white peaches, a brooding black castle, and the famous garden of Kōrakuen, there are plenty of reasons to catch a later train and get out of the station to explore.
Among the attractions of Okayama, only Kōrakuen is widely known, and the rather ordinary station area doesn't seem to promise much to visitors. But one key unlocks the city's unique charm: Momotarō, the Peach Boy.
According to the Japanese fairytale, an old, childless couple found a peach floating down the river, and inside they found a baby boy. They duly adopted him and named him Momotarō (桃太郎), or (quite literally) "Peach Boy". As he grew, he began to feel greatly indebted to the couple that raised him, and when he was finally grown, he announced that he would be going on a journey to Onigashima (Demon Island) to fight the demons that had been causing trouble in the nearby villages. The old woman prepared kibi-dango (see Eat) for him to take on his journey and bid him farewell.
On his way to the island, he befriended a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant by giving them each a piece of the kibi-dango. With their help, he defeated the demons; Momotarō took the demons' treasures back home and gave them to the old couple to thank them for all the things they'd done for him throughout the years. The couple rejoiced that he was back safely, and they all lived happily ever after.
Residents claim that Okayama was the original setting of the fairytale, and that it was based on the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko's battle against the ogre Ura, who is said to have lived in Kino-jo (Demon's Castle) in the area around Soja. Today, Okayama is a busy city of some 700,000 people, and its main street is named Momotarō-Odōri in the Peach Boy's honor; you'll find statues from the tale along the way. Although the Culture Zone can easily fill a full day, try to set aside time for cycling the Kibi Plain — it's another fun way to explore the history of this intriguing area.
The Okayama dialect (岡山弁) is quite different from standard Japanese, with several vocabulary and sound-related distinctions. Sound changes include word-final -i of adjectives changing to a drawn-out -ee (e.g., sugoi ("amazing") to sugee) and standard da copula becoming ja, with Okayama-specific vocabulary including deeree or bokkee (standard Japanese: totemo, meaning "very") and oidensee (standard Japanese: irasshaimase, "welcome"). Though Okayama dialect is used by men and women, it is thought (even by some locals) to sound somewhat "rough", and even unladylike when used by younger women.
Spoken English ability is generally poor, but some residents may surprise you with their fluency. Locals understand standard Japanese, but depending on the dialectical "severity" of the speaker, you may not understand their response. Of course, any use of the local dialect on your part will likely result in both surprise and good-natured amusement. Despite the lack of English-speakers, Okayama residents tend to be extremely friendly and willing to offer help.
Buses make a 40-minute run to JR Okayama Station (¥680).
Okayama is a major stop on the San'yo Shinkansen. All trains passing through Chugoku stop at Okayama. Nozomi trains depart Tokyo at 20 minute intervals, reaching Okayama in about 3 1/2 hours; one Hikari per hour makes the trip in 4 hours and 15 minutes. Hikari Rail Star and Sakura trains also make frequent runs, stopping at Okayama between Osaka, Fukuoka and Kagoshima.
The Sunrise Seto/Sunrise Izumo runs overnight from JR Tokyo Station, leaving at 10PM and arriving in Okayama at 6:27AM. Japan Rail Pass holders must pay the lodging charge on the Tokyo-Okayama segment; the rest of the trip is covered under the pass. Lodging charges range from ¥9450 for a B solo, ¥10,500 for a B single, and ¥16,500 for an A single deluxe. If you really want to travel on the cheap side, ¥3660 gets you your own floor space... literally, you sleep on the floor.
Okayama is also the starting point of Marine Liner rapid trains across the Seto Inland Sea to Takamatsu, and limited express trains to other destinations on the island of Shikoku. Many of these trains to Shikoku are timed for seamless connections with Nozomi arrivals. If you travel on the Marine Liner to Takamatsu using the Japan Rail Pass, a small surcharge will put you in a comfortable Green Car seat.
If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass, it is possible to travel cheaply overnight from Okayama to Matsuyama, Kochi, and Fukuoka during University vacation periods using Moonlight Special Rapid services. These are very popular and tend to get fully booked a month in advance.
Local trains also run northward several times daily to Yonago, Tottori, Matsue, and Izumo. This scenic trip across the mountain range takes about two hours.
Chugoku JR Bus operates an overnight bus service, the Kibi Dream from Tokyo Station and the Yokohama City Air Terminal (YCAT) to Okayama. The travel time is approximately ten hours from Tokyo (¥10,000 one way, ¥16,600 round trip) and nine hours from Yokohama (¥9700 one way, ¥16,200 round trip).
Daytime buses operated by Ryobi Bus run hourly from Osaka Namba (3 hours, ¥3060 one way, ¥5610 round trip), and five times daily from Kyoto (3 1/4 hours, ¥3500 one way, ¥6300 round trip).
Buses from Tottori are ¥3000.
Map of Okayama - city center
Two convenient tram lines run from the east side of JR Okayama Station. The Higashiyama line runs along Momotaro-Odori to Okayama Symphony Hall (stopping at "Shiroshita" tram stop, which is the closest stop to Okayama Castle), and then turns south towards the prefectural government office before winding towards the terminus. The other line turns to the right about half-way along Momotaro-Odori, passes the central post office, and terminates at the Seikibashi intersection.
Board trams (and buses) at the rear, take a boarding ticket, and pay your fare at the front when you disembark. The driver will not give change, but there is a machine on the tram that will change coins. Prepaid bus cards can also be used on the trams.
Buses run throughout the city. You can buy prepaid bus cards at several locations including the JR Okayama Station bus information booth and Omotecho Bus Center, in ¥2000, ¥5000 or ¥10000 iterations. These cards work out to be slightly cheaper than paying cash at the end of each journey, but unused portions of the cards cannot be refunded. (When a card is "drained" of its prepaid charge, you can use cash to pay the outstanding amount.) Trips within the city cost no more than a few hundred yen; from JR Okayama Station to Tenmaya/Omotecho shopping mall costs ¥100.
Perhaps the most confusing thing is that different companies offer similar routes that depart at different times from different bus-stops. The staff at bus information centers are very helpful, but might not give information on rival companies running similar routes unless asked.
Some companies push the Hareca Integrated Circuit Cards (IC Cards, limited only to the trams and local buses run by Ryobi, Shimoden and Okaden companies) as an alternative to the disposable prepaid cards, but the deposit for a new card makes them more expensive than paying by cash, especially if you are only making a short visit.
Statues of Momotaro are a popular Okayama photo-op. Arriving by train, you'll see your first at the east exit of JR Okayama Station, but there are Momotaro motifs all over the city — there is a Momotaro mailbox at the east exit of the station, and even manholes often feature the Peach Boy. You will also find individual statues of his travel companions the dog, monkey, and pheasant aligning both sides of Momotaro-odori. At the end of the island where Korakuen is located, look for the Riverside Peachbaby, a statue of Momotaro holding a peach to the heavens.
Many of central Okayama's main sights are clustered on the eastern side of the Central Business District in the area known as the Culture Zone. From JR Okayama station, take the tram three stops east to Shiroshita on the Higashiyama Line. All of the sites are within short walking distance.
English-speaking guides are available for free tours of the castle and garden. The guides are volunteers, so it's best to call ahead (+81 086-224-1166) to ensure that they will be available.
View of Okayama Castle from Kōrakuen
Kōrakuen (後楽園), 1-5 Korakuen, ☎ +81 086-272-1148, . 7:30AM-6PM April-Sept, 8AM-5PM Oct-March. The name means "Garden of Pleasure After", a reference to a famous Confucian quote stating that a wise ruler must attend to his subjects' needs first and only then attend to his own. Construction started 1687 and was completed 13 years later. Despite slight changes, Korakuen largely keeps its form from the Edo era, with waterfalls, tiny shrines, teahouses, miniature maple forests, a lotus pond, and even a greenhouse filled with orchids and cacti. The rare red-crested white cranes are another notable feature. They are released for flying exhibitions on special occasions throughout the year. The large wooden building in the park was used to host visiting members of the imperial family. The view from the veranda (usually off-limits to the general public) is considered the best in the park, and the strategic location of trees and hills/mounds in the park act as a natural frame. A local ordinance prevents high-rise buildings that would encroach on this view. (The roof of a temple can be seen on the side of the distant Mt. Misaoyama, but it was built to enhance the view from the porch.) There are two entrances to the garden: across from the Okayama Prefectural Museum, and across the Moon-Viewing Bridge (月見橋 Tsukimi-kyo).¥350.
Okayama Castle (岡山城 Okayama-jō), 2-3-1 Marunouchi, . 9AM-5PM. Popularly known as Crow Castle (烏城 U-jō), it is so named for its striking black color, rare among Japanese castles (which tend to be white, like neighboring Himeji-jō). Only a few protruding bits and the occasional lucky fish-gargoyle (金の鯱 kinnoshachihoko) are gilded. With the exception of one external turret, the current version dates from 1966, but the outside is much more accurate than most Japanese castle replicas, as the original blueprints were used to rebuild it. In the tower is a museum documenting the castle's history, although English explanations are few and far between.¥300.
Okayama Orient Museum (岡山市立オリエント美術館), 9-31 Tenjin-cho, ☎ +81 086-232-3636, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. An interesting museum of Middle Eastern art. The special exhibit details art and trade between China and Persia. If you can speak conversational Japanese, talk with the friendly docents; they will present some highly interesting explanations and background. However, the dates and areas are clearly marked, and the artifacts themselves are interesting enough that you don't need to have a guide to enjoy them.¥600 adults, discounts with student ID.
Okayama Prefectural Museum (岡山県立博物館), 1-5 Korakuen, ☎ +81 086-272-1149, . Tu-Su 9AM-6PM April-Sept, 9:30AM-5PM Oct-March. An excellent museum with a variety of artifacts excavated from various areas throughout Okayama Prefecture from prehistoric artifacts to the Edo and Meiji Periods. Some highlights of the museum are the famous Bizen swords and Bizen pottery. It's conveniently located just outside the main entrance to Korakuen, so it's well worth a stop.¥200.
Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art (岡山県立美術館), 8-48 Tenjin-cho, ☎ +81 086-225-4800, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. A large museum housing approximately 2,000 works by famous artists throughout Okayama Prefecture. The museum's permanent exhibition features art dating back as far as the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), such as work by the priest Sesshu and the swordsman Musashi Miyamoto, as well as Bizen pottery and works by more contemporary artists.¥300, discount with student ID.
Hayashibara Museum of Art (林原美術館), 2-7-15 Marunouchi, ☎ +81 086-223-1733, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. A small museum which houses the private collection of the Ikeda Family, the former Lords of Okayama. The collection features both Japanese and Chinese works, primarily calligraphy and scrolls. Pottery, beautiful textiles, samurai armor, and other works may also be on display; however, because the museum is not large enough to display the entire collection at once, the exhibits are rotated often.¥300.
Yumeji Art Museum (夢二郷土美術館), 2-1-32 Hama, ☎ +81 086-271-1000, . Tu-Su 9AM-5PM. A museum featuring the works of Okayama-born artist Yumeji Takehisa, a well-known artist throughout Japan. He is best known for producing paintings and sketches of beautiful women, and many such works are on display in the museum.¥600.
Located in the northeastern part of the city, from Okayama to Soja, the Kibiji District was once the center of the Kingdom of Kibi (吉備国 kibi no kuni), whose power was said to equal to that of the Yamato. Located strategically between the Yamato and civilizations on the Korean peninsula, the Kibi Kingdom was highly influential. Its leaders continued to influence the Yamato government even after the Kibi Kingdom fell.
Many of the historical and cultural sites are associated with the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto (see Understand).
The Kibiji District is best visited by bike (see Do). However, all sites can be reached by using the train and then walking (or taking a bus, for certain locations). The information office at JR Okayama Station can provide a map of the Kibiji Zone, including a cycling route. If you begin your travels from Bizen Ichinomiya Station, the following sites are listed in the order in which you will see them.
Kibitsuhiko Shrine (吉備津彦神社), 1043 Ichimiya (Bizen Ichinomiya Station), ☎ +81 086-284-0031, . This shrine, rebuilt in 1697, is dedicated to Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto, and has a unique architectural style. To get there, turn right after exiting the station and cross the train tracks.Free.
Kibitsu Shrine (吉備津神社), 931 Kibitsu, ☎ +81 086-287-4111, . Last rebuilt in 1425, this shrine is important for two reasons: it was once the head shrine of the entire Kibi Kingdom, and legend holds that Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto fought the demon Ura on this site. He shot arrows at the demon, but the demon evaded his attacks by throwing boulders at the arrows. Finally, the prince shot two arrows at the same time, hitting the demon directly in the eye (but not yet killing him — read on).Free.
Kibi Cultural Properties Center (岡山県古代吉備文化財センター), 1325-3 Nishihanajiri, ☎ +81 086-293-3211, . 9AM-5PM. A small museum housing artifacts from the ancient Kibi Kingdom. Although the information is all in Japanese, one does not need to be able to read the information to appreciate the artifacts, which are mainly clay figurines and pottery. It is located on the mountain/hill behind Kibitsu Shrine.Free.
Koikui Shrine (鯉喰神社). If you walk the trail with no prior knowledge of the area or the sites, Koikui Shrine will seem quite disappointing in comparison to the other shrines. However, Koikui is much more interesting than it appears. After the demon was shot by the prince's arrows, he transformed into a carp and swam away. The prince turned into a cormorant and followed him. Koikui Shrine is located on the site where the prince is believed to have caught and killed the demon.Free.
Tsukuriyama Ancient Burial Mounds (造山古墳). Along the trail there are actually two burial mounds (古墳 kofun) with the name "Tsukuriyama" that can be distinguished only when viewing the characters used to write the names. The tomb on the Okayama side of the trail (造山古墳) is the most interesting. This burial mound, believed to have been completed in the fifth century, was the largest in the nation at the time it was built. Because the tomb within the mound has never been excavated, it is not certain who is actually buried here; however, it is believed to be one of the former rulers of the Kibi Kingdom, as tombs of this size were reserved only for those in the highest positions. Although the best view of Japanese burial mounds is always from above (to see the key-hole shape), at this mound, visitors are actually permitted to walk on top of it. Atop the mound there is a shrine.Free.
Komori-zuka Burial Mound (こうもり塚古墳), Soja. Although the mound itself is quite small, this burial mound contains the one thing missing from the Tsukuriyama mound: a look inside the tomb. This tomb is believed to date back to the sixth century. Aside from this, not much else is known about it.Free.
Okayama Prefectural Kibiji Museum (岡山県立吉備路郷土館), Soja, ☎ +81 086-693-2219, . Tu-Su 9AM-4:30PM. A museum with nice displays of artifacts from the ancient Kibiji Kingdom. There are also lectures and interactive demonstrations for children. It's behind Kokubunji and Koumori-zuka Burial Mound.¥150.
Bitchu Kokubunji (備中国分寺), Soja. The Kokubunji temples were designated by the Emperor Shomu as provincial temples. This one represents the Bitchu area (western Okayama prefecture). The five-story pagoda, constructed in 1844, is one of the highlights of the Kibi Trail. The area surrounding the temple is known as the Kibiji Fudoki-no-oka Prefectural Forest Park. To visit without travelling the trail, catch a bus from Soja.Free.
The following sites are not on the trail, but in the area.
Fox statues at Saijo Inari
Site of Takamatsu Castle (高松城跡). While very little remains here of any part of the castle, it has great historical importance. In 1582, Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated the ruling Mori Clan by diverting a river to flood the castle.
Saijo Inari (最上稲荷), 712 Takamatsu Inari, ☎ +81 086-287-3700, . Considered to be one of the Three Great Inari Shrines of Japan, Saijo Inari is a large shrine complex built on the side of Mount Ryuo. Legend has it that the shrine was commissioned by the priest Hoon-Daishi after prayers to Saijo (who came to him as a white fox in a dream) successfully cured two emperors of seemingly fatal illnesses. Buses run from outside the east exit of JR Okayama Station — disembark at 'Inariyama'.Free.
Former Ashimori Clan Samurai Residence (旧足守藩侍屋敷遺構 kyuuashimorihansamuraiyashikiikou), 752 Ashimori, ☎ +81 086-295-0983. Tu-Su 9AM-4:30PM. This building was once the residence to one of the most influential samurai in the region.Free.
Former Ashimori Clan Merchant House (旧足守商家藤田千年治邸 kyuuashimorishoukafujitasennenjitei), 916 Ashimori, ☎ +81 086-295-0005. Tu-Su 9AM-4:30PM. Free.
Omizuen (近水園), 803 Ashimori, ☎ +81 086-295-0981, . Tu-Su 9AM-4:30PM. One of Okayama's largest gardens, Omizuen belonged to Lord Kinoshita of the Ashimori Clan. The garden was designed by the famous poet Enshu.Free.
Kino Castle (鬼ノ城 Kino-jo), Soja. While only the castle walls remain, this is one of the sites linked to the Momotaro tale. It is said that the demon Ura used this castle as the base from which he would pillage the nearby village.
Tokoen (東湖園), 2-2-5 Kadotayashiki, ☎ +81 086-272-0165. 9AM-5PM. With Korakuen in the city, many visitors don't think of visiting other gardens, but Tokoen deserves a look. Though not as big as Korakuen, it is quite beautiful and less crowded. Also, it's almost a century older.¥400.
Handayama Botanical Garden (岡山市半田山植物園), 3-1 Hokaiin, ☎ +81 086-252-4183, . W-M 9AM-4:30PM. A botanical garden filled with various types of flowers. It's particularly beautiful during the spring cherry blossom season; however, one can easily enjoy this garden anytime of the year. It's a 10 minute walk from Hokaiin Station on the JR Tsuyama Line. There are also buses from JR Okayama Station.
RSK Rose Garden (RSKバラ園), ☎ +81 086-293-2121, . Yet another excellent place in Okayama to view flowers (best in May and June). As the name suggests, this garden features roses, and it is the largest rose garden in Japan. Although the roses are the main attraction, there are also other blossoming plants, such as irises, peonies, and plum trees.¥500.
Sogen-ji (曹源寺), 1069 Maruyama (Sogenji-mae bus stop via Tenmaya Bus Station), ☎ +81 086-277-8226. 6AM to 5PM. A large Zen temple located at the base of Mt. Misaoyama at the end of the path between Tendai-ji (right side) and Daiko-in (left side). It is a well known place for western Zen students. Free meditation sessions from 8-9AM most Sundays are usually followed by a simple tea ceremony. The garden behind the temple is famous for having one of the largest cherry blossom trees in Okayama and a lake which beautifully reflects the tree and the surrounding countryside. This garden was designed by the same architect who built Korakuen. Although the mountain is near the center of the city, the area around it maintains a rural atmosphere. It can be very pleasant to hike over around this hill and visit the various small temples and shrines. If Zen meditation at Sogen-ji gives you a backache, you can relieve your aches and pains at a ganban onsen (rock hot spring.) This style of hot spring does not have a large bathing area but instead has gravel and hard rock beds where steam passes up from under you or down from above like a sauna.¥100.
Saidaiji (西大寺), 3-8-8 Saidaijinaka, ☎ +81 086-942-2058, . 9AM-4PM. This is the location of the famous Naked Man Festival (see "Do" section). The priest Yasutaka founded this temple. It is said that while meditating in Hasedera Temple, an oracle came to him instructing him to repair the Kannon Hall in Bizen Kanaoka. He immediately departed for the West. On his way, he met a dragon deity carrying a rhinoceros horn who told him to build the temple and then vanished. The priest did as he was told and called it Saidaiji (犀戴寺) "rhino temple", but the characters were later changed by retired Emperor Gotoba to its current spelling (西大寺) after prayer-writing revealed to him the new name.¥500.
Hokai-in (法界院), 6-1 Hokaiin (JR Hokaiin Station), ☎ +81 086-252-1769. One of the temples of the Chugoku 33 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage. It's a short distance from Handayama Botanical Garden.
Ikeda Zoo, 2-5-1 Kyosan, ☎ +81 086-252-2131, . 9AM-5:30PM April to October, 9AM-5PM November to March. Ikeda Zoo offers many of the typical zoo animals: elephants, giraffes, tigers, lions, and a variety of birds and monkeys. The most unique animals here are perhaps the tapirs and the red pandas. It's a short distance northwest of JR Okayama Station.¥1050 for adults, ¥840 for high school students, ¥630 for middle school and elementary school students, and ¥315 for children over 3 years of age.
Kibiji Literary Museum, ☎ +81 086-223-7411, . Tu-Su 9:30AM-5PM. Displays of original works and transcripts from famous authors from the Okayama area. It helps to have Japanese reading ability and an interest in Japanese literature, of course. It's just north of the city center, a couple blocks east of the Nishi-gawa Canal.¥400.
Keikaen (慶華園), 1428-3 Kawaguchi Takebe-cho, ☎ +81 086-722-3939. 9AM-6PM. Because of its remote location, near the northern border of the city in the Takebe area, this garden is a great refuge for those looking to get out of the city. Keikaen is said to have begun as a local man's private garden that he just kept expanding. Visitors can also enjoy viewing the variety of birds housed here, as well as a greenhouse.¥300.
Okayama Digital Museum, ☎ +81 086-898-3000, . An odd museum that uses modern technology to showcase the city's history, local culture, and nature.
Japanese Fossil Museum, ☎ +81 086-237-8100, . W-Sa, M 10AM-5PM. A small museum showcasing fossils found in Japan, particularly ammonite.Free.
Animo Museum, 1196-1 Kita-ku, ☎ 086-228-1666, . 10AM-5PM. A museum established to honor Okayama native and Olympic marathon medalist Yuko Arimori. Here you can see her silver medal from Barcelona, bronze medal from Atlanta, and other Olympics memorabilia.¥300.
Manekineko Museum of Art, (JR Makiyama Station), ☎ +81 086-228-3301, . Th-M 10AM-5PM. A museum devoted entirely to the famous good luck cats seen in many shops and restaurants throughout Japan.¥600.
Yahata no Sato (やはたの里), 609 Takebekami Takebe-cho, ☎ +81 086-722-1231. 9AM-5PM. Three interesting yet completely unrelated sites. First up is a Yogurt Factory (ヨーグルト工房) where you can see how they make yogurt and then taste it, too. From there, the Toy Museum (おもちゃの宿) has displays of traditional Japanese toys and some for children to play with. Finally, there is the Killifish Research Center (めだかの学校), which studies the fish of the same name. Yahata no Sato is most enjoyable for those travelling with kids, particularly if they understand Japanese.¥500, yogurt ¥150 extra.
Kubo Fruit Farm (くぼ観光農園), 2688 Shitori Mitsu Kita-ku, ☎ +81 086-726-0511, . 10AM-6PM, harvests from September to early November. Okayama is known throughout the county for producing some of the most delicious fruits Japan has to offer. Most visitors are aware of the local peaches, but the Japanese will often cite Okayama's muscat grapes (葡萄 Budō) as its premier offering. Visitors can tour the farm to see how the grapes are grown and harvested. You are also permitted (and even encouraged) to eat as much as you like, making a tour of the farm as delicious as it is interesting! Although the grapes are the star attraction, you can also see the harvesting of shiitake mushrooms, persimmons, sweet potatoes, and chestnuts. Visitors are also permitted to picnic and camp here.Prices vary by crop; muscat grapes are ¥2100 for anyone 13 years or older and ¥1260 for children ages 2-12. Camping costs an additional ¥315.
Cycle the Kibi Plain. The Kibiji District, a 15 kilometer trail extending from Okayama to Soja, is a scenic cycling path, voted as one of the top 100 cycling paths in the nation. There is no need to bring your own bike, because you can rent your bike upon arrival. Bike rentals are available adjacent to the JR station at Bizen Ichinomiya (upon exiting the station, the rental area is directly to the right). To reach Bizen-Ichinomiya from Okayama Station transfer to the 'Local lines' section. Two lines run on this track, so ask an attendant which train to take to Bizen-Ichinomiya if you are not sure. The ride should only take about 10 minutes. They will provide you with a map, although the entire trail is quite well-marked. Signs along the path have "Kibiji District" written on them in English and Japanese. You can return the bicycle at Soja station. The rental cost is ¥1000 per bicycle per day. The sites along the trail are free, so expenses are quite nominal, making the cycling trail a highly affordable way to see a wide variety of cultural sites. The official estimated time to cycle the trail is two hours; however, if you take the time to thoroughly explore the sites, you can easily make it a half-day excursion, perhaps combining it with a visit to some of the other sites in the area. Although it is a cycling course, it is possible to use the trail for hiking. In order to see all the sites before evening, you should arrive at Bizen Ichinomiya Station no later than 10AM. (It is unlikely that you will be able to see any of the other sites in the area, since it will take most of the day to walk the trail.) Hiking the trail is ambitious, as you will also be walking around the grounds of each of the sites along the way, so make sure to wear appropriate footwear and bring food, because you won't reach the restaurants (which are mainly located in the Soja portion) until late in the day.
Kirin Beer Park, 678 Mantomi, Seto-cho, ☎ +81 086-953-2525, . Tu-Su 9:30AM-3:30PM. The Kirin Beer Factory is the only brewery in Western Honshu. Beer-lovers can see how the beer is produced and sample fresh brew for ¥400 per pint. There are shuttle buses from JR Mantomi Station; alternately, it's a 15 minute walk southwest of the station.Free.
Sega Joypolis, 2-10-1 Shimoishii, ☎ +81 086-232-8790. 10AM-midnight. A large arcade that’s a few minutes walk from the station street — ask any young, friendly looking local, they can most likely direct you, and may even join you. Though it looks large, the top floor is full of slot machines only. The bottom floor, however, is packed with the latest arcade games including the highly popular Taiko: Drum Master game and the latest iteration of House of the Dead. An excellent way to waste both time and money. Just above the arcade lies “Segakara”, a great karaoke venue with themed rooms.
Okayama Symphony Hall (岡山シンフォニーホール), 1-5-1 Omote-cho (Shiroshita tram station), ☎ +81 086-234-2001, . The ticket center is open from 10 AM to 6:30 PM. It is closed on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month. The third largest symphony hall in Japan, it hosts shows by the resident Okayama Symphony Orchestra as well as performers from across Japan and all over the world.Prices vary by show.
Okayama Dome, 1-1-1 Kitanagaseomote-cho, ☎ +81 086-805-8883, . W-M 9AM-9PM. A multi-purpose space for events from indoor sports to an exhibition of embalmed bodies. It is also the site of Okayama's biggest monthly flea-market.Prices vary depending on the activity. For use of the sports facilities, you pay per hour.
Yuba Onsen, 644 Yuba, Hakuunkaku Ryokan (Bus from Uno Bus station), ☎ +81 086-279-0545. Despite being located within the city limits, this onsen is not well known even by locals. Although the exterior leaves much to be desired, inside is a genuine hot-spring with good facilities and a variety of baths.¥:1500 if not staying in the ryokan.
Tomata Onsen Noritake, 1453-2 Kaidani, ☎ +81 086-225-4211. A 2000 year old onsen.
Naked Man Festival (''Hadaka Matsuri'' 裸祭り), . Okayama's Naked Man Festival, officially called Saidaiji Eyo, is held on the third Saturday in February at Saidaiji. During the coldest month of the year, men wearing only fundoshi (traditional Japanese loincloths) fight to obtain one of two lucky sticks thrown by the temple priests. The men who catch the sticks will have an entire year of good fortune (and also receive a cash reward from the festivals sponsors.) All the lights in the temple are temporarily blacked out and other "less-lucky" sticks are also thrown down into the crowd of participants to create even more confusion. Spectators too jostle for viewing spots, but you can choose to pay to watch from the temporary spectator grandstand. (Price depends on seating proximity.) The festival originated in the 16th century when people would request special talismans thrown out by priests. As word spread that the talismans were bringing those who possessed them good luck, more and more people came to get them, fights broke out and the talismans were damaged. Later this all evolved into a midnight festival with only male participants dressed in loincloths. Today, the fesival continues to evolve, with the "midnight" highlight of the festival recently moved forward 2 hours to finish at 10PM.
Cherry Blossom Festival. One of Okayama's most popular destinations in "cherry blossom season" (usually about two weeks at the beginning of April) is along the Asahi River, which is on the east side of Korakuen Park. About three hundred cherry blossom trees are decorated with Japanese lanterns, and illuminated after sunset. On the first day, a lighting ceremony is held. There are many street stalls, selling for example cotton candy, octopus fritters, and crepes. Their prices are from three hundred to five hundred yen. People gather for barbecues and picnics under the cherry blossom trees. Barbecue sets hired from nearby yakiniku restaurants offer an alternative to supplying everything and then cleaning the tools afterward.
Momotarō Festival, ☎ +81 086-803-1335. Held annually for two days at the beginning of August in commemoration of the lead character of the children's fairytale and his rival, Ura the ogre. The festival involves Okayama's biggest display of fireworks and numerous public dances and parades throughout the city and its numerous shopping malls. The largest dance parade, the Uraja Dance, is held in the center of Okayama on the street leading from Okayama Station towards City Hall (Shiyakusho-suji). Dance participants paint their faces to look like ogres and each team has its own unique homemade costumes. Some dance teams are active all year round, performing at smaller local festivals or as Uraja ambassadors at festivals throughout Japan. Free parking for the event is available around Okayama Dome.
Okayama University has around 14,000 students, with over 500 foreign students from 50 different countries.
The Okayama Institute of Languages has ties with the popular Two Worlds United exchange program. It offers Japanese courses from beginner to advanced.
Looking down the Omotecho Shopping Street
The Omotecho Shotengai (shopping street) is a ten minute walk from JR Okayama Station, or 3 tram stops away on the Higashiyama line (get off at Shiroshita Station). It has everything from game arcades and kimono retailers to antique shops and a multi-story Maruzen bookstore. The biggest presence here is the Tenmaya shopping center, which has a large food court.
There are two other department stores near the shopping street, Cred and Loft. Cred has a large Kinokuniya bookstore with a sizable selection of English-language and Japanese learning books, as well as a Virgin CD/DVD store. Loft features a toy shop selling novelty dress-up costumes, Studio Ghibli plushies and more; there's also an HMV located in the basement.
Melon Books, 2-1-37 Kita, 2F, ☎ +81 086-227-6170, . M-F 11AM-8PM, Sa-Su 10AM-8PM. A good selection of adult Japanese comics and doujinshi, and a small selection of figures. It's about a ten minute walk down Omotecho, on the right-hand side.
Okayama Ichibangai, Okayama-eki Motomachi, ☎ +81 086-232-9411, . 10AM-10PM, hours vary by store. A large shopping complex located below JR Okayama Station. There are many trendy clothing shops, particularly for women. It's also a great place to dine, as there are a variety of delicious and affordable restaurants. There are also souvenirs and various specialty shops that are nice to browse.
Okayama Bizen-yaki Factory (おかやま備前焼工房), (Tram #1 east to Shiroshita), ☎ +81 086-224-3396. 10AM-6PM April-Sept, 9AM-5PM Oct-March. Bizen-yaki (備前焼) is a prized form of pottery that originates from the nearby town of Bizen. Each piece takes about 2 months to finish, but you'll only need a day for a classes with the rokuro (potter's wheel) — ¥2000 with reservation.
Kibi dango (吉備団子) are sweet millet-flour dumplings. According to the legend, Momotaro gave his companions kibi dango, and they helped him defeat the demons. Whether or not you'll like kibi dango enough to run off and fight demons will vary by personal taste, but they certainly are a tasty treat. The name is a bit of a pun too, as kibi means both "millet" and the ancient kingdom of Kibi, which covered a large area of present-day Okayama prefecture.
Not surprisingly, going along with the "peach boy" theme, one of the famous fruits grown in and around Okayama is the white peach (白桃 shiromomo). Okayama is also well known for grapes (葡萄 budō), particularly muscat, which have been grown here since 1886 and command 95% of the Japanese market. Known as the "Queen of Fruits", they're priced to match at ¥2000 to ¥10,000 a bunch, while pione grapes can go for as little as ¥1000. The best season to eat muscats is the beginning of October, but the best choice for a souvenir are the grape sherbets, jellies, and wines, which keep for longer and are easier to get through customs.
Mamakari (ままかり), a herring-like fish, is another specialty that can be enjoyed throughout Okayama, as they are fished from the Seto Inland Sea. Another local delicacy is sawara (鰆), a white-fleshed fish translated into English alternatively as "trout" or "horse mackerel". A popular takeaway option is matsuri-zushi (祭り寿司), the local version of chirashi-zushi (sushi rice dressed with vinegar and topped with egg and seafood), sold in a peach-shaped box at Okayama station kiosks and some restaurants as well.
Cafe.the Market Mai Mai, 1F K's Terrace (JR Kitanagase Station), ☎ +81 086-241-3141, . 8AM-midnight daily. This bakery and dessert shop serves a variety of fresh breads and pastries. Try the Peach Juice (¥600), made from the delicious homegrown white peaches.¥600-¥1200.
Fujiya, 2-3-8, ☎ +81 086-253-9759, . Th-Tu 11AM-7:30 PM. A soba restaraunt that has gained fame for its delicious chuuka soba (Chinese soba noodles).¥650.
Ramen Ikki, 7-24-31 Ima (JR Kitanagase Station), ☎ +81 086-243-5520. Tu-Su 11AM-10PM. A very popular ramen shop with its own special Ikki Ramen dish.¥600-¥700.
Tandoor, (6th floor of Cred), ☎ +81 086-212-2569, . 11AM-9:30 PM. A tasty Indian restaurant serving all the typical curry dishes.
Tenjin Soba, 1-19 Tenjin-cho, ☎ +81 086-223-7057. M-F 11AM-4:40 PM. Named after the dish it is most famous for, tenjin soba. This is considered to be the best soba restaurant in the city, as the flavor of the tenjin soba is truly "heavenly".Average price ¥750.
Torisoba, 1-7-24 Omotemachi, ☎ +81 086-236-0310, . Tu-Su 11AM-10PM. A great place to find cheap soba and udon dishes.¥320-990.
Yamato, 1-9-7 Omotemachi, ☎ +81 086-232-3944. 11AM-3PM, 4-7PM. Another one of Okayama's popular places to eat Chinese soba¥700.
Ajitsukasa Nomura, 1-10 Heiwa-cho, ☎ +81 086-222-2234. 11AM-9PM. This restaurant serves a variety of katsu dishes, the most popular being the roast katsu (¥1200).Prices range from ¥560-¥1600.
Contents Cafe, 1-6-56 Omote-cho, ☎ +81 086-222-0488. 11:30AM-10:30PM. As it mainly serves desserts, it's a bit pricey, but the grape parfait (budou pafe ¥900) is particularly delicious, as it contains fresh muscat grapes from the prefecture's many grape farms. They also have peone parfaits available from July to November.Prices range from ¥500-¥1500.
Heartland and Ryoutei, 1-6-19 Tamachi, ☎ +81 086-233-3959, . 12PM-12AM. Serves a wide variety of pasta, meat, and seafood dishes.¥700-¥1800.
Kotoya, 2-3-5 Tamachi, ☎ +81 086-221-5108, . 5:30PM-12AM. Seasonal seafood and vegetables in a stylishly renovated bar.
Onmaku Sushi Aoe, 1-1-15 Aoe, ☎ +81 086-803-3541, . 11AM-10:30PM. One of Okayama's most popular sushi restaurants, directly south of the city center.
Torattoria Mizuochi, 1-3-3 Uchisange, ☎ +81 086-234-1122. 12PM-2PM, 6PM-9:30PM. This classy Italian restaurant serves delicious pastas, breads, and desserts. The price of food changes dramatically from lunch to dinner, so if you want to eat great food for a reasonable price, be sure to come during lunch hours.Lunch course ¥1200, dinner course ¥4000.
Asuka (飛鳥), 30-10 Ekimoto-cho, ☎ +81 086-252-4151, . Th-Sa, M-Tu 11AM-10PM. Serves aji sashimi, vinegared aji and deep-fried aji, along with a variety of other sashimi. Perhaps more of a drinking spot/pub than a restaurant, Asuka is still a fine place for food and drink and an excellent place to experience "after-work Japan" in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
Hamasaku, 7-65 Omote-cho, ☎ +81 086-223-1515, . 11:30AM-2PM, 5PM-10PM. A teppanyaki restaurant with local seafood specialties, including oysters.¥3150 and up.
Kanshiki Teppanabe Tanatana, 1-7-24 Ekimae-cho, ☎ +81 086-225-3577, . 6PM-12AM. One of Okayama's most popular (and expensive) Korean restaurants, most famous for its Korean-style hot pot.¥3000 and up.
Kappou Mamakari, 3-9-2 Omote-cho, ☎ +81 086-232-1549, . 11:30AM-1PM, 5PM-9:30PM. The best place in Okayama to dine on the city's famous mamakari, fresh from the Seto Inland Sea.Some of the cheapest dishes cost ¥2625, but some meals cost more than ¥10,000.
Senju, 1-6-15 Nodaya-cho, ☎ +81 086-233-3110, . Tu-Su 11AM-4PM, 5PM-12AM. Omakase negiri is the order of the day at this sushi restaurant, where the chef is keen to serve samples of that morning's catch.Lunch ¥1500, dinner ¥2500 for what's in season or ¥4500 all out.
Jazz Piano Bar, 〒700-0815 岡山市野田屋町1丁目11-10 清水ビル3F (From Okayama Station east exit, walk down Momotaro Dori for about 7 minutes. Turn left just before the high-rise Grace Towers. Take an immediate right on the diagonal road. Jazz Piano Bar is on 3F in a smaller building behind Grace Towers.), ☎ 086 (222) 8162, . Hours 20:00-25:00. Tucked away on a back street, this place is cozy, relaxing, and looks straight out of a movie. It is the most perfect little jazz spot ever. The proprietor is friendly and can speak English. Between occasional live events, staff entertains on the piano and bass. A full bar and light snacks are available. Cover charge is ￥300.
Aussie Bar, 1-10-21 Ekimae-cho, ☎ +81 086-223-5930. 7AM-3AM, later on weekends. An Oz-themed bar with Victoria Bitter and other brews from Down Under — look for the yellow sign by the Nishiki Canal Walk.¥3000 for all you can drink (from 11PM).
Bar Hips, 1-2-4 Marunouchi (Tram to Shiroshita), ☎ +81 086-232-1230, . Tu-Su 10PM-4AM. A popular bar among locals and visitors alike, across from Ishiyama Park. Among the liquors on the menu is Okinawa-style awamori — best on the rocks.
Bar Rude Boy, 7-5 Family Building 2F, Togiya-cho, ☎ +81 086-222-8120, . M,W-Sa 8PM-4AM; to 12AM Su. An upbeat reggae bar; the space is small, but there's enough room for a DJ and good irie.
Bar Towser, 1-2-5 Rarikku Building 4F, Honmachi, ☎ +81 086-225-7117, . Tu-Su 6PM-2AM. Look for the kitty silhouette. They serve cocktails and bourbon, with beer and bar food available as well.
Bar Vagabond, 6-27 Waka Building 1F, Heiwa-cho, ☎ +81 086-233-2526, . Tu-Sa 7PM-2AM. A well-stocked wine cellar and whiskeys from around the world.
Hau 'Oli Kitchen, 1-7-15 Nodaya-cho, ☎ +81 086-239-3534. 6PM-3AM, later on weekends. This small, friendly bar's atmosphere and theme are Hawaiian, although the bar food is mostly seafood and Italian.
Pinball Cafe, 4-18 Honmachi, ☎ +81 086-222-6966, . 11:30AM-3PM, 5PM-2AM. Friendly and welcoming American themed bar and cafe with a wide variety of cocktails as well as all the standard fare. A good selection of Japanese and Western food is served until the early hours, but come early for a reasonably priced and surprisingly good lunch set. If you're lucky you may even catch the owner performing live with his 1950s rock band, an occasion not to be missed.
Most of the hotels in Okayama are mid-range, with a few options for those willing to spend a little more. The nearest youth hostel is in Kurashiki. The trip is short, and the train ticket combined with the hostel rate is still a good option for budget travelers.
The two Internet cafes close to Tenmaya Bus Station, Megalo and Popeye, are open 24 hours and allow customers to stay overnight for around ¥2000. Showers and light snacks are available, though there isn't much space for luggage.
Hotel Riverside, 4-11 Nishiki-cho, ☎ +81 086-233-1700, . A capsule hotel with the usual bachelor amenities like a bath/sauna and meals (for a bit extra).Capsules for ¥1980. Hotel rooms start from ¥2980, including rooms for women.
Matsunoki Ryokan, 19-1 Ekimoto-cho, ☎ +81 086-253-4111, . Both Western and Japanese-style rooms are available, with dinner served for ¥1300 and breakfast ¥600.Rooms from ¥5250 single, ¥4200 per person double.
Universal Hotel Ekimae, 9-6 Saiwai-machi, ☎ +81 086-232-2600, . Business hotel with non-smoking rooms available by reservation only. Dinner and a buffet breakfast are included in the rate. There are a few other Okayama hotels in the same chain, so if this one is booked, they can check another branch. Rooms from ¥4950 single, ¥8810 double.
Okayama Central Hotel, 1-10-28 Tamachi, Kita-Ku, ☎ +81 086-222-2121, . Located 5 mins by taxi from Okayama train station, this modern and clean family run hotel provides a perfect base for sightseeing in Okayama City, and beyond. Owners speak perfect English. Parking available 800 yen per night (free on Sundays), breakfast Japanese or Western style 600 yen. Free coffee in lobby for guests. Dependable LAN internet access in every room. Rooms from ¥5200 single, from ¥4000 per person double.
Comfort Hotel Okayama, 1-1-13 Marunouchi, ☎ +81 086-801-9411, . Western-based chain with rooms about 5% nicer than the usual business hotel; wireless internet access and continental breakfast are included.Rooms from ¥6000.
Okayama Koraku Hotel, 5-1 Heiwa-cho, ☎ +81 086-221-7111, . Rather nice business hotel with English speakers on staff, and non-smoking rooms by request.Rooms from ¥6930 single, ¥9200 double.
Hotel Sunroute Okayama, 1-3-12 Shimoishii, ☎ +81 086-232-2345, . Dependable business hotel chain with LAN Internet access and over 500 rooms. Meals available for an extra charge.Single rooms as low as ¥3900 with advance booking, but usually closer to ¥7350.
Washington Hotel Plaza, 3-6-201 Motomachi, ☎ +81 086-231-9111. Basic Western-style rooms with wireless Internet; nothing out of the ordinary, but it has a coffee shop and a restaurant on the premises.Rooms from ¥7,600 single.
Mitsui Garden Hotel, 1-7 Ekimoto-machi, ☎ +81 086-235-1131, . Average business hotel with breakfast and a nice hot bath-with-a-view on the top floor.Rooms from ¥7800 single, ¥10,000 twin.
Sanko-so, 1-7-36 Furugyocho, ☎ +81 086-272-2271, . A standout among the hordes of business hotels, Sanko-so also offers a beer garden and plenty of dining options, along with an enviable location just across the river via the Aioi Bridge.Rooms from ¥5544 single, ¥9932 double.
Hotel Leopalace, 2-12-13 Yanagi-machi, ☎ +81 086-223-6231, . Wireless Internet and a few free movies are among the amenities at this business hotel.Rooms from ¥8000 single, or ¥14,000 for a 'comfort double'.
Ark Hotel Okayama, 2-6-1 Shimoishii, ☎ +81 086-233-2200, . The rooms are average, but there's a touch of elegance to fit this hotel's reputation as a popular wedding spot, including a Christian-style chapel on premises.Rooms from ¥8100 single, ¥11,600 double; heavy discounts for advance online booking.
Hotel Granvia Okayama, 1-5 Ekimoto-cho, ☎ +81 086-234-7000, . Plenty of luxury to be found here, including an indoor pool, sauna, gym, and eight restaurants & bars.Rooms from ¥13,860 single, ¥18,480 double, although rates escalate quickly above the standard class; suites begin at ¥69,300.
Okayama Royal Hotel, 2-4 Ezu-cho, ☎ +81 086-255-1111, . Nicely appointed rooms; they're enthusiastic about food here, with organized events such as peach-tasting.Rooms from ¥8000 single, ¥12,000 double.
ANA Hotel, 15-1 Ekimoto-cho, ☎ +81 086-898-1111, . Two restaurants and a bar on-site.Business rooms from ¥9000 single, ¥12,800 twin; if you're willing to spend more, there are a variety of bridal suites with amenities like cake & cocktails included.
Okayama is a good place to launch day-trips to most of Chugoku and even Shikoku, as it is the regional transportation hub.
Within Okayama prefecture you will find:
Bizen, known for its vast history of pottery and sword making, you can discover the history and even purchase authentic Bizen pottery
Kurashiki, known for its well-preserved merchant quarters and Japan's oldest art museum, is only 15 minutes away.
Tsuyama, known for Kakuzan Park, the best place to view cherry blossoms in Okayama Prefecture, as well as for its historic Joto street and Shurakuen Garden.
Takahashi, known for Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, one of only twelve remaining original castles in Japan and also the highest castle.
Soja, known for the famous Hofukuji Temple where the famous priest and poet Sesshu once studied, as well as containing half of the Kibiji District Trail which extends out from Okayama.
Niimi, a city famous for Ikura Ravine and Maki Cave
And in neighboring prefectures, but within day-trip distances are:
Takamatsu, known for Ritsurin Park, one of the largest gardens in Japan, as well as the historic Yashima Island where one of the final battles of the Gempei War took place.
Marugame, known as the home of Marugame Castle, one of Japan's remaining original castles.
Kotohira, home to Shikoku's largest shrine Konpirasan, is one hour away by express train.
Naoshima, a small island on Seto Inland Sea with superb contemporary art museums, can be easily reached from Uno port (one hour by JR train).
Himeji, most famous for Himeji Castle, the striking White Egret Castle, is 50 kilometers to the east along the Sanyo line.