Okayama is a fairly large city of around 700,000 people. Beyond its famous white peaches and Kourakuen garden (which in truth, are alone worth a visit) it may seem like it offers far less to the tourist than Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto, but what it lacks in tourist attractions is made up by sharing an experience with the millions of Japanese who don't live in Kanto or Kansai, as Okayama gives a more typical example of Japanese life than the biggest cities can offer. If one gives Okayama the time, they will find it has a pleasant charm of its own, and its small size allows one to feel as though they've fully explored the city within a few weeks.
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". When he grew up, he befriended a dog, a monkey and a pheasant, (by giving them kibi-dango, a local specialty sweet.) With their help, he went to an island known as Onigashima (Demon Island), defeated the demons and lived happily ever after. Okayama (disputedly) proclaims itself as the setting of the original fairytale and today even Okayama's main street is known as Momotarō-Odōri (Momotaro St).
Okayama residents will claim that the fairytale was based on the legend of Kibitsuhiko, in which a prince Kibitsuhiko fought with the ogre "Ura", who is said to have lived in Kinojo Castle (Demons castle) in the area around Soja city. Kibi-dango is a specialty of Okayama as the word "kibi" has two meanings: millet, from which the dumplings are made, and the ancient kingdom of Kibi (which covered a large area of present-day Okayama prefecture.)
Okayama is a major stop on the Sanyo Shinkansen route. All shinkansen trains stop at Okayama, and some even start or terminate here.
Pop into the information office just near the main exit and ask for an English Okayama pamphlet, it has an excellent inner city map showing the tram routes, bus stops and some tourist attractions, it also has a larger map of the surrounds and another concentrated map of the Kibiji Zone outlining shrines, burial mounds, temples and a suggested cycling route.
The most frequent services are the Nozomi trains that operate on the entire shinkasen route; trains depart Tokyo at 20 minute intervals, reaching Okayama in about 3 1/2 hours. Hikari Rail Star trains also make frequent runs, stopping in Okayama on runs between Osaka and both Kokura Station in Kitakyushu and Hakata Station in Fukuoka.
There is also one Hikari train per hour that runs from Tokyo to Okayama, but it takes a bit longer (4 hours 15 minutes) since the train stops at additional stations en route.
Okayama is also the starting point of Marine Liner express trains across the Seto Inland Sea to Takamatsu and other destinations on the island of Shikoku. Making a free reservation on the Marine Liner if you have a Japan Rail Pass will get you a first class seat. Many of these trains are timed for seamless connections with Nozomi train arrivals. Local-line trains will often wait for express trains on other lines, which causes frustration for some users, but enables smooth transfers for visitors.
Note that you cannot use Nozomi trains with the Japan Rail Pass.
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 booked a month in advance.
An alternative way to get to Osaka is to take a local train or the Shinkansen to Nishi Akashi near Himeji and transfer to a Special Rapid service which travels through Osaka and Kyoto. Unfortunately the local service to Akashi runs only once an hour and takes around 90 minutes but the Special Rapid service provides a good alternative to the Shinkansen around Kobe,Osaka and Kyoto.
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 (¥10000 one way, ¥16600 round trip) and nine hours from Yokohama (¥9700 one way, ¥16200 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).
123bus is a company which provides daily night time bus services between Tokyo and Okayama, Osaka and Okayama (4 hours, ¥2500 one way). With an online booking service in English.
A convenient tram line runs east from JR Okayama Station along Momotaro-Odori. There are in fact two tram routes, which begin from the same tram-stop on the east side of Okayama Station and then branch in separate directions. The Higashiyama line tram runs along Momotaro-Odori until Okayama Symphony Hall (stopping at "Shiroshita" tram stop, which is the closest stop to Okayama Castle) then turns south towards the prefectural government office before winding towards the terminus. The other tram line turns to the right about half-way along Momotaro-Odori, passes the central post office and terminates at Seikibashi intersection. Board Okayama 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 your coinage before your ride ends and you can then pay the exact amount to the driver. Prepaid bus cards can also be used on the trams. (See below.)
There are busses that run throughout the city. You can buy prepaid bus cards at several locations including the 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.) Bus journeys within the city will cost no more than a few hundred yen. Okayama station to Tenmaya/Omotecho shopping mall costs ¥100.
Perhaps the most confusing thing with the buses is that different companies sometimes 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.
Since October 2006, three bus companies have been pushing 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 on the new cards makes them more expensive than paying by cash, especially if you are only visiting and traveling a little.
The Okayama dialect (岡山弁) is quite different from standard Japanese, with several and 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 possibly even unladylike when used by younger women.
Spoken English ability is generally fairly poor, more so than the larger cities which see more foreign tourists, but some residents may surprise you with their fluency. Locals fully understand standard, but depending on the dialectical "severity" of the speaker, you may not understand the response. As in the rest of Japan, attempting to speak Japanese is appreciated, and knowledge of the local dialect will likely result in both surprise and good-natured amusement.
Many of central Okayama's main sights are clustered on the eastern side of the Central Business District. From Okayama station, just take the tram three stops east to Shiroshita on the Higashiyama Line to get there.
Overview of Korakuen Garden
Korakuen Garden (後楽園) is one of Japan's official Three Great Gardens and hence Okayama's number one attraction. 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. The construction of this garden started 1687 and was completed in 1700. At various times the local lord initiated slight changes, but Korakuen largely keeps its form from the Edo era. There is an extensive set of records documenting the history of the gardens. Another famous thing about this garden are the “red-crested white cranes” kept in captivity. There are only 61 such cranes in Japan and 8 of them are in Okayama. They are well cared for and are released for flying exhibitions in the park area on special occassions throughout the year. Entering through the South Gate, the first view is that of a giant lawn, crisscrossed with wide paths and the occasional teahouse to break the monotony. But the interesting stuff is lurking on the sides: waterfalls, tiny shrines, miniature maple forests, a lotus pond, even a greenhouse filled with orchids and cacti. Cross the Moon-Viewing Bridge (月見橋 Tsukimi-kyo) from the Okayama Castle side to get in. Entry ¥350, open 8 AM to 5 PM in winter and 8am to 6pm in spring and summer. (For a limited time each summer (usually late July to late August) there are extended summer operating times, during which candles and other soft lights give the garden a completely different look.
One of the great "secrets" of Korakuen is that the large wooden building in the park was used to host visiting members of the imperial family. The view from the verandah (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 beautiful frame. A local government ordinance also prevents the construction of high-rise buildings that would impede any encroach on this view. It also creates the illusion that the park is larger than it actually is (although it is still quite large), because the view to the distant mountains is unimpeded. The roof of a temple can be seen on the side of the distant Mt. Misaoyama, but it was only built to enhance the view from the porch. 
Tokoen Garden With Korakuen Garden in the city, many visitors don't think of visiting other gardens however, Okayama City is actually a paradise for garden lovers. Although Tokoen Garden is not as big nor as famous as Korakuen Garden, it is quite beautiful and less crowded. It's also almost a century older than Korakuen!
Handayama Botanical Garden 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.
RSK Rose Garden (RSKバラ園) Yet another excellent place in Okayama to view flowers. As the name suggests, this garden features roses! The garden has a wide variety of species of rose from all over the world. 
Okayama Castle (岡山城 Okayama-jo) is popularly known as Crow Castle (烏城 U-jo), so named because unlike every other castle in the country (except Matsumoto's, which shares the nickname) it has been painted a striking black, only a few protruding bits and the occasional lucky fish-gargoyle (金の鯱 kinnoshachihoko) are gilded. Destroyed in WW2, with the exception of one authentic turret the current version dates from 1966, but the layout of the original castle was used in rebuilding it, so the outside is much more authentic and accurate than most other replicas. In the tower is a museum documenting the castle's history, English explanations are few and far between but English-speaking guides are available to give you a tour for no extra cost. Local legend has it that the Daimyo was so annoyed with all of the attention neighbouring Himeji Castle (the white egret castle) was receiving that he built his in black, as way of thumbing his nose at it. Entry into the main donjon ¥300, open 9 AM to 5 PM daily.
Okayama Orient Museum is worth a quick stop. Entry is ¥600, but those with a student ID can receive a discount. 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. Even if you do not understand Japanese however, the dates and area are marked on the artifacts and the artifacts themselves are interesting enough that you don't need to have a guide to enjoy them. A full walk through both floors of the museum should take about an hour. 
Okayama Prefectural Museum is an excellent museum with a variety of artifacts escavated 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 however, the museum has many interesting artifacts. It only costs 200 yen, and it is conveniently located just outside the main entrance to Korakuen Garden, so it's well worth a stop. 
Sogenji Temple is a large Zen temple at the base of Mt. Misaoyama. It is a well known place for western Zen students. Free meditation sessions from 8am to 9am most Sundays and 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 the Korakuen garden. Take a bus from Tenmaya Bus Station and get off at Sogenji-mae bus stop.
The temple is at the base of a large hill called Misaoyama. In fact the hill is near the centre of Okayama city precincts but the area around it has a rural feel. It can be very pleasant to hike over around this hill and visit the various small temples and shrines. If zen meditation at Sogenji gives you a little 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. (This kind of bath is not unique to Okayama.)
Saidaiji Temple This is the location of the famous Naked Man Festival (Hadaka Matsuri 裸祭り), also called Saidaiji Eyo, held every February on the third Saturday. The festival originated in the 16th century and is a designated Cultural Asset. Although it is preferred to come during festival, this temple can easily be appreciated anytime of the year. 
Momotaro Statue, east exit of Okayama station. A popular photo-op with tourists. You'll find Momotaro motifs all over the place elsewhere in the city too: there is a Momotaro mail box at the east exit of the station, and even manholes often feature Momotaro's picture. At several intersections along Momotaro-Odori you will find individual statues of Momotaro's friends, the dog, monkey, and pheasant, as well as statues of young Momotaro on each corner.
Muscat Stadium. The biggest baseball stadium in Okayama, established in 1965. It has many facilities, for example, a stadium, tennis courts, a park, and training gym. The stadium has no home team, but is used on occasion for matches and the Hanshin Tigers used it as their training camp in spring 2005. To go to Muscat Stadium from Okayama station, take a Sanyo line train to Nakasho station (¥230 yen, 12 minutes) and walk 8 minutes.
Okayama Dome. Not a baseball stadium like its namesakes in Tokyo and Osaka but rather a multi-purpose space which has housed many events from indoor sports to an exhibition of embalmed bodies. It is also the site of Okayama's biggest monthly flea-market.
The largest arcade in the city
Sega Joypolis: 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). Though it looks large, the top floor’s full of slot machines only. The bottom floor however is full of 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.
Momotarō Festival. Held annually in the summer months in commemoration of the lead character of the children's fairytale and his rival, Ura the ogre (see info box.) The festival involves Okayama's biggest display of fireworks and numerous public dances and parades throughout the city and it's 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.) Most teams that particpate in the dance competitions and parade practice for half a year but some teams are active all year round performing at smaller local festivals or as Uraja ambassadors at large festivals in other prefectures throughout Japan. Dance participants paint their faces to look like ogres and each team has its own unique homemade costumes.
Cherry Blossom Festival It is probably fair to say that such festivals are held in every city and every town in Japan. One of Okayama's most popular destinations in "cherry blossom season" is along the Asahi River which is on the east side of Korakuen park. The offical dates of this festival changes every year according to blooming the cherry blossoms, but it is usually held around the beginning of April for about two weeks. 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 buy something, and they gather under the cherry blossom trees with their friends, family, or colleagues. Some may have a barbecue and picnic there. Barbeque sets hired from nearby Yakiniku restaurants offer an alternative to supplying everything and then cleaning the tools afterwards.
Yuba Onsen is located within the city limits but is not well known even by locals. Inside a rather ugly building is a genuine hot-spring with good facilities and a variety of baths. It is possible to stay the night in the ryokan or visit the baths for a fee of around ¥1500. Take a bus from the Uno Bus station or in front of the Prefectural Office/Library.
Cycle the Kibi Plain. Bike hire is available adjacent to the JR station at Bizen Ichinomiya, just ten minutes from JR Okayama station. They will provide a map to cycle the well posted quiet and mostly off-road 15km route to Soja. You can return the bicycle at Soja station. Cost is ¥1000 per bicycle per day. The cycle passes many shrines, temples, and pagodas that are pretty and with very few tourists.
Looking down the Omotecho Shopping Street
Omotecho Shotengai (Shopping Street). From Okayama Station a 10-minute walk or 3 tram stops along the Higashiyama line, get off at Shiroshita Station (cost 100yen - May 2008). This shopping street has everything from game arcades to kimono retailers, as well as antique shops and a multi-story branch of the Maruzen bookstore chain. From this street one can enter the Tenmaya shopping center, which has a large food hall perfect picking and mixing a meal.
Apart from Tenmaya, there are two other department stores near the shopping street, Cred and Loft. Cred contains 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, as well as an HMV located in the basement.
Animate & Melon Books app. 10 min walk down the Omotecho Shopping street on the right hand side you'll find an Animate (downstairs) and Melon Books (upstairs), the Animate isn't as big as some of the others in Japan but still has a good selection of items and I found some products there that I had not seen in any other Animate stores. Melon Books has a good selection of Adult comics and doujinshi and a small selection of figures. They both close at 8pm, not sure if it's the same closing time on weekends/weekdays.
Bizen-yaki (備前焼), originating from the nearby town of Bizen, is a famous (and very expensive) type of Japanese pottery associated with Okayama; see the Bizen article for details.
Okayama Bizen-yaki Factory (おかやま備前焼工房), tel.（086)224-3396. From Okayama station, just take tram Number 1 three stops east to Shiroshita (城下) and walk 5 minutes. Visitors need a reservation to make Bizen-yaki and it costs 2,000 yen (plus postage). It takes about 2 months to finish the works.
Like the rest of Japan, the cheapest food available comes from the convenience stores like Lawson, 7/11 and Family Mart. Here you can pick up Onigiri for a few hundred yen each, or Bento boxes that they’ll microwave in store for just a little more.
When in Japan, don't go for western style fast food. There’s a large selection of Japanese style food to whet your appetite. Try Udon noodles (うどん), which can range from around ¥300 to ¥1000. You will find hundreds different Udon restaurants in Okayama. Izakaya bars also offer a wide range of foods in the evenings, a good way to combine a light meal and a drink. Be sure to try the local Sake or Prune flavoured spirit.
Mamakari (ままかり), a herring-like fish is caught in the interior sea to the south of Okayama, and can be enjoyed across Okayama. One 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, or can be eaten in some restaurants. Last but not least, and not only thanks to the whole Momotaro saga, Okayama is also famous for its luscious peaches.
Asuka (飛鳥), across the street from the west side of Okayama Station, serves aji sashimi, vinegared aji and deep-fried aji. 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.
Like many other cities in Japan, one can enjoy Okonomiyaki, Tonkatsu, Sushi, Yakitori, and many other traditional Japanese foods.
If you’re willing to spend a few thousand yen, your choices for meals widen considerably. Not far from the shopping street is a department store called Cred, on the top floor are several nice restaurants. Particularly recommendable are the Indian Restaurant, and the restaurant serving large portions of various breadcrumbed meats and fishes for reasonable prices. The Italian restaurants are also worth a visit.
From Cred, a short walk in the direction of the station will lead you to CoCo Curry House , home of the best Curry Rice in Japan. A warning: the spicier Curries are in fact, spicy.
Wherever you eat, you are likely to be given a pair of disposable (single-use) chopsticks. Over 2.5 billion of these are used in Japan every year. Some Japanese people carry their own reusable chopsticks 'My hashi' wherever they go. Many foreign visitors also do the same.
Fruits of Okayama: Fruit farming is one of the most famous agricultural products of Okayama. Many variety of fruits are grown in Okayama, especially, white peaches, muscats, pione grapes, and melons. They are grown in the north of Okayama on hilly terrain. Muscats (the formal name is Muscat of Alexandria) have an excellent taste, so, they are called "Queen of Fruit". The best season to eat muscats is the beginning of October. They have been producted since 1886. Now, about 95 percent of Japan's muscat production is done in Okayama. "New pione" and "Momotaro-muscat" are two popular grapes with no pips .
The muscats go for about ¥2,000 to ¥10,000 a bunch, whereas pione grapes can go for as little as ¥1,000. The best choice for a souvenir however are the grape sherbets, jellies and wines, which keep for longer and are easier to get through customs.
Sweets of Okayama: Any visitor must try Kibi dango, the famed sweet millet-flour dumplings, which, according to the ledgend, Momotaro gave to the three animals, and helped them to overcome the demons.
Pinball Cafe - Friendly and welcoming American themed bar and cafe serving a wide variety of cocktails as well as all the standard fair to suit both the Japanese and local expat tastes. A good selection of Japanese and Western food is served until the early hours but come lunchtime for a very reasonably priced and surprisingly good lunch set. If your lucky you may even catch the owner performing live with his 1950s rock band, an occasion not to be missed. From the east side main exit of the train station, head down the main street (Momotaro-Odori) and turn right at the Nishigawa canal. The cafe is on the right side of the street, go one block and up an escalator, you can see it on the escalator, at the top its on your left.
Aussie Bar - Local watering-hole for expats and the Japanese who love them. From the main exit of the train station, go down the main street (Momotaro Odori) to the Nishigawa Canal Walk. You can walk or take the tram which starts just outside the station, there are two trams and they will both take you to Nishigawa Canal Walk, it's the first station, it's 100 yen (May 2008). You turn left into Nishigawa Canal Walk and it's on the left hand side of the street, you can see the yellow sign illuminated once you turn into Nishigawa Canal Walk, about a block or two down and it's on street level. Link - http://www.aussiebar-j.com/, they have all you can drink specials weeknights and weekends (from a selected menu), from memory it's around 11pm onwards, it's timed and around the 3000-4000 yen mark.
Okayama's Seinen-Kaikan youth hostel has closed permanently.
Matunoki Ryokan, 19-1 Ekimotocho, Tel 086-253-4111, . A moderately priced Japanese-style hotel that is only a two minute walk from the west entrance of Okayama Station. Available are western style rooms and Japanese style rooms, with or without private toilet/bath.
Okayama International Villas, . 5 villas located in different parts of Okayama Prefecture, catering specifically to international guests. The villas are self-contained with their own cooking areas, Western-style toilets, linen and laundry facilities. Each villa is different - Hattoji is an old farmhouse, whereas Takebe is a modern building designed by a local architect.
Two internet cafes close to Tenmaya Bus Station: Megalo and Popeye; are open 24 hours and allow customers to stay overnight for around ¥2000
Okayama University is one of the top 500 Universities in the world, with around 14,000 students total, and over 500 foreign students from 50 different countries.
Indeed, many foreigners may first visit Okayama through the Okayama Institute of Languages, which has ties with the highly popular Two Worlds United exchange program. The institute, like many things of interest in the city, is not far from the shopping street. It offers Japanese courses from absolute beginner, to advanced level.
Okayama city is a good place to launch day-trips to most of western Honshu 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 swordsmaking, 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 Takahashi Castle, one of only twelve remaining original castles in Japan and also the highest castle.
Fukiya, known for its beautiful burnt orange bengara buildings in its historic district.
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
Kojima, an area known for its Jean factory, which you can tour, as well as Washuzan Hill, which provides a great view of the Seto Ohashi Bridge and Seto Inland Sea.
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!