Okayama (岡山; ) is the capital of Okayama prefecture in the Chugoku region of Japan, on the southern coast of the island of Honshu.
Okayama is a fairly large city of around 700,000 people. Beyond its famous white peaches and Korakuen 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 however, if one gives Okayama the time, they will find it has a pleasant charm of its own.
One can easily spend an entire day in the Culture Zone visiting all of the various museums, the castle, and Korakuen. Outside the Culture Zone, lies a variety of worthwhile attractions that few foreign tourists are aware exist. From the Kubo Fruit Farm to the Kibi Plains on down to Kojima Bay, Okayama has an impressive array of historical, cultural, and natural sites to explore. Often overlooked, yet easily accessible by Shinkansen, Okayama is truly one of Japan's best kept secrets!
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 a local sweet known as kibi-dango (see Eat)). With their help, he went to an island known as Onigashima (Demon Island), defeated the demons and lived happily ever after.
Okayama proclaims itself as the setting of the original fairytale and today even Okayama's main street is known as Momotarō-Odōri (Momotaro St). Residents claim that the fairytale was based on the legend of Kibitsuhiko, in which prince Kibitsuhiko fought with the ogre Ura, who is said to have lived in Kinojo (Demon's Castle) in the area around Soja city.
Air service is offered into Okayama from several airports, including Tokyo, Sapporo, Sendai, Kagoshima and Okinawa. There are also direct international flights between Okayama and Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dalian, Beijing and Guam. Buses make a 40-minute run to the Okayama train station (¥680).
Okayama is a major stop on the Sanyo Shinkansen route. All shinkansen trains stop at Okayama, and some even start or terminate here.
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.
Note that you cannot use Nozomi trains with the Japan Rail Pass.
An overnight train, the Sunrise Seto/Sunrise Izumo, operates daily from Tokyo Station, leaving at 10 PM and arriving in Okayama at 6:27 AM. 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 currently range from ¥9450 for a B solo to ¥10500 for a B single, to ¥16500 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 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. 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 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.
Local trains also run northward several times daily to Yonago and Tottori Cities in Tottori prefecture and Matsue and Izumo Cities in Shimane prefecture. 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 (¥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.
Pop into the information office just near the main exit of Okayama station 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.
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 buses 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 Japanese, 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 tourists to Okayama have reported that, despite the lack of English-speakers, the people tend to be extremely friendly and willing to offer help, moreso than in other cities, so if you find yourself not knowing where to go, don't be afraid to ask!
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 Okayama station, just take the tram three stops east to Shiroshita on the Higashiyama Line to get there. From Shiroshita, all of the sites within the Culture Zone are within short walking distance.
Overview of Korakuen Garden
- Korakuen Garden (後楽園), ☎ 086-272-1148, . Open from 7:30 AM to 6 PM April-September, 8:00 AM 5:00 PM October-March. No Closing Days. As one of Japan's official Three Great Gardens, Korakuen Garden is 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. Another famous thing about this garden is 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 occasions throughout the year. Much of the area is flat, offering great panoramic views of the garden however, if you take the time to thoroughly explore the garden, you will find waterfalls, tiny shrines, teahouses, miniature maple forests, a lotus pond, and even a greenhouse filled with orchids and cacti. 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 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 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. There are two entrances: The main entrance is located across from the Okayama Prefectural Museum, while the other entrance lies across the Moon-Viewing Bridge (月見橋 Tsukimi-kyo). Entrance fee: ¥350.
- Okayama Castle (岡山城 Okayama-jo), . Open 9 AM to 5 PM daily. Popularly known as Crow Castle (烏城 U-jo), it is 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 neighboring 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.
- Okayama Orient Museum, ☎ 086-232-3636, . Open from 9 AM to 5 PM. Closed on Mondays. 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. 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. Entry is ¥600, but those with a student ID can receive a discount.
- Okayama Prefectural Museum, ☎ 086-272-1149, . Open 9 AM to 6 PM April-September, 9:30 AM to 5 PM October-March. Closed Mondays. 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 however, the museum has many interesting artifacts. It's conveniently located just outside the main entrance to Korakuen Garden, so it's well worth a stop. Entrance fee is ¥200.
- Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art, ☎ 086-225-4800, . Open from 9 AM to 5 PM. Closed Mondays. A large museum housing approximately 2,000 works by famous artists from throughout Okayama Prefecture. The museum's permanent exhibition features artwork dating back as far as the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), such as works by the priest Sesshu and the swordsman Musashi Miyamoto, as well as Bizen pottery and works by more contemporary artists. They also feature special exhibits throughout the year. Entrance fee is ¥300, students receive discounts with ID.
- Hayashibara Museum of Art, ☎ 086-223-1733, . Open from 9 AM to 5 PM. Closed Mondays. A small museum which houses the private collection of the Ikeda Family, the former ruling Lords of Okayama and the surrounding areas. The collection features both Japanese and Chinese works. Much of the artwork in the museum consists of calligraphy and scrolls. Pottery, beautiful textiles and samurai suits, and other works may also be on display however, it should be noted that because the museum is not large enough to display the entire collection at once, the exhibits are rotated often. What you will see will depend on what parts of the collection are being featured at the time of your visit. Entrance fee is ¥300.
- Yumeji Art Museum, ☎ 086-271-1000, . Open from 9 AM to 5 PM. Closed Mondays. 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. The relics of Yumeji himself are also on display. Entrance fee is ¥600.
- Momotaro Statues, (East exit of Okayama station, along Momotaro Odori Street). 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.
The Kibiji District, located in the northeastern part of the city, was once the center of the great 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 also highly influential. Leaders of the Kibi Kingdom continued to influence the Yamato government even after the kingdom fell. Many historical and cultural sites can be seen today in the Kibi District, which extends from Okayama to Soja. Many of the sites are also associated with the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto, which is believed to be the tale that later became the famous Tale of Momotaro.
A visit to the historical sites of the Kibiji District is best done by bike (refer to the "Do" section of this guide) however, all sites can be reached by using the train and then walking (or taking a bus, for certain locations). 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, (It can be reached from Bizen Ichinomiya Station. Upon exiting the station, turn right and cross the train tracks. You will see the shrine's torii gate.), ☎ 086-284-0031, . This shrine, rebuilt in 1697, is dedicated to Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto and claims to be among the areas where the Prince fought the demon, Ura, who had been terrorizing those living in the area however, this battle is said to have taken place predominately at the next site, Kibitsu Shrine. Regardless of whether or not this shrine should be associated with the story, as the first stop along the trail and due to its unique architectural style, should not be passed up. Entrance is free.
- Kibitsu Shrine, ☎ 086-287-4111, . Last rebuilt in 1425, this shrine is important for two main reasons. First, it was once the head shrine of the entire Kibi Kingdom (which spanned from Okayama to areas in Hiroshima). The second reason it is famous is due to its association with the tale of Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto. As the legend goes, the demon Ura fought the prince on the site where this shrine stands. Because he was a skilled archer, he shot arrows at the demon, but the demon evaded his attacks by throwing boulders at each of the arrows. Finally, the prince decided to shoot two arrows at the same time, successfully hitting the demon directly in the eye (but not yet killing him). Entrance is free.
- Kibi Cultural Properties, (On the mountain/hill behind Kibitsu Shrine), ☎ 086-293-3211, . Open from 9 AM to 5 PM. 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. Since it is located behind Kibitsu Shrine, someone travelling strictly along the path will not reach this site. Entrance is free.
- Koikui Shrine. If you walk the trail with no prior knowledge of the area or the sites, Koikui Shrine will seem quite disappointing after having already visited the more beautiful and elaborate Kibitsu and Kibitsuhiko shrines however, Koikui Shrine is much more interesting than it appears. This shrine is another one of the trail's sites associated with the story of Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto. After the demon was shot by the arrows, he was said to have transformed into a carp and swam away. The prince, not wanting him to escape, 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. Visiting the shrine is free.
- Tsukuriyama Ancient Burial Mounds. 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 famous and most interesting. This burial mound, believed to have been completed in the fifth century, was the largest burial mound in the nation at the time it was built. Today, it is the fourth largest, and its key-hole shape is still quite visible. 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 (which you cannot do at the largest burial mound, the Nintoku Tomb). Atop the mound there is a shrine. Viewing and walking atop the mound is free.
- Komori-zuka Burial Mound. 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. Entrance is free.
- Okayama Prefectural Kibiji Museum, (Behind Kokubunji Temple and Koumori-zuka Burial Mound), ☎ 086-693-2219, . Open from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. Closed Mondays. A museum with nice displays of artifacts from the ancient Kibiji Kingdom. There are also lectures and interactive demonstrations for children. Entrance fee: ¥150.
- Bitchu Kokubunji Temple. Kokubunji Temples are special temples that were designated by the Emperor Shomu as provincial temples. This is the provincial temple of the Bitchu area (western Okayama prefecture). The large 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. For those wishing to see this temple without travelling along the trail, there are buses from Soja that stop here. Entrance is free.
The aforementioned sites are located along the main trail however, there are a few other worthwhile sites in the area.
- Site of Takamatsu Castle. While very little remains here of any part of the castle, it retains great historical importance. In 1582, Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated the ruling Mori Clan by diverting a river to flood the castle.
- Saijo Inari, ☎ 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. Entrance is free.
- Ashimori Clan Samurai Residence. A residence of one of the region's most prominent ruling families.
- Omizuen Garden (近水園 ''omizuen''), ☎ 086-225-4211, . One of Okayama's largest gardens, Omizuen belonged to Lord Kinoshita of the Ashimori Clan. The garden was designed by the famous poet Enshu.
- Kinojo Castle. While only the castle walls remain, this site 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.
Note: The Koumori-zuka Burial Mound, Okayama Prefectural Kibiji Museum, Bitchu Kokubunji Temple, and Kinojo Castle are located in the part of the trail belonging to the city of Soja. For the purpose of providing a complete guide of the Kibi Plain Cycling Road, they are listed here.
- 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 or as famous as Korakuen Garden, it is quite beautiful and less crowded. It's also almost a century older than Korakuen. Entrance fee: ¥300.
- Handayama Botanical Garden, 3-1 Hokaiin (A 10 minute walk from Hokaiin Station on the JR Tsuyama Line. There are also buses that go here from Okayama Station), ☎ 086-252-4183, . Open from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. Closed Tuesdays. 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), ☎ 086-293-2121, . Yet another excellent place in Okayama to view flowers. As the name suggests, this garden features roses, and it's the largest rose garden in Japan, featuring a wide variety of species of rose from all over the world, best viewed in May and June. Although it's main attraction is the roses, there are also other blossoming plants, such as irises, peonies, and plum trees. Entrance fee: ¥500.
- Sogenji Temple, (Take a bus from Tenmaya Bus Station and get off at Sogenji-mae bus stop.). A large Zen temple located 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. Although the mountain is near the center of Okayama city precincts, 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 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.
- Saidaiji Temple, ☎ 086-942-2058, . 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 rhinocerous 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.
- Hokai-in Temple (法界院), 6-1 Hokaiin (The nearest station is Hokaiin Station on the JR Tsuyama Line. It's only a short distance from Handayama Botanical Garden), ☎ 086-252-1769. One of the temples of the Chugoku 33 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage.
- Ikeda Zoo, 2-5-1 Kyosan, ☎ 086-252-2131, . Open from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM April through October, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM November through 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. Admission is ¥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, ☎ 086-223-7411, . Open 9:30 AM to 5 PM. Closed Mondays. The museum displays original works and transcripts from famous authors from Okayama and Okayama Prefecture. Those who have an interest in Japanese literature and are able to read Japanese will be able to appreciate this museum much more than most tourists. You can read copies of many of the books at the museum. Entrance fee: ¥400.
- Okayama Digital Museum, ☎ 086-898-3000, . An odd museum that uses modern technology to showcase the city's history, local culture, and nature.
- Japanese Fossil Museum, ☎ 086-237-8100, . Open from 10 AM to 5 PM. Closed Tuesdays and Sundays. A small museum showcasing fossils found in Japan, particularly ammonite. Entrance is free.
- Manekineko Museum of Art, ☎ 086-228-3301, . Open from 10 AM to 5 PM. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A museum devoted entirely to the famous good luck cats seen in many shops and restaurants throughout Japan. Entrance fee: ¥600.
- Kubo Fruit Farm, ☎ 086-726-0511, . Open from 10 AM to 6 PM. Harvests only occur 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 that Okayama's peaches are famous however, the Japanese will often cite Okayama's muscat grapes (葡萄 Budō) as its most famous, and you will find them grown here at the Kubo Fruit Farm. Visitors can tour the farm to see how the grapes are grown and harvested. You are also permitted (and even encouraged) to taste them for yourself, and you may eat as much as you like, making a tour of the farm as delicious as it is interesting! Although the grapes are what this farm is most famous for, 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 depending on which crop you wish to see harvested. If you choose to see the famous muscat grapes, it will cost ¥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), just ten minutes from JR Okayama station. They will provide you with a map, although the entire trail is quite well-marked. 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 (For a list of the sites you will pass along the trail, refer to the "See" section of the guide). The official estimated time to cycle the trail is two hours however, if you take the time to truly explore the sites along the way (which you should do), 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. If you choose to do this, in order to see all the sites before evening, you should arrive at Bizen Ichinomiya Station no later 10 AM. (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 at walking pace, you won't reach the restaurants (which are mainly located in the Soja portion) until late in the day.
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.
- Okayama Dome, 1-1-1 Kitanagaseomote-cho, ☎ 086-805-8883, . 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Closed Tuesdays. 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. Prices vary depending on the activity. For use of the sports facilities, you pay per hour.
- Yuba Onsen, (Take a bus from the Uno Bus station or in front of the Prefectural Office/Library). Despite being located within the city limits, it's not well known even by locals. Although the buildings exterior leaves much to be desired, inside 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.
- Tomata Onsen Noritake, 1453-2 Kaidani, ☎ 086-225-4211. A 2000 year old onsen.
- Naked Man Festival (''Hadaka Matsuri'' 裸祭り), . Okayama's Naked Man Festivel, officially called Saidaiji Eyo, is held annually on the third Saturday in February at midnight at Saidaiji Temple (the festival for younger boys is held at 6:00 PM on the same day). During the coldest month of the year, men wearing only fundoshi (traditional Japanese loincloths) fight to obtain a single pair of lucky sticks thrown by the temple priests. Other lucky items are also thrown into the crowd. 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 the temple to request them, giving rise to the festival. Although it is not tangible, because of its long history and tradition, the Saidaiji Eyo been bestowed the honor of being designated a Cultural Asset.
- 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 official dates of this festival changes every year according to the 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.
- Momotarō Festival, ☎ 086-803-1335. Held annually for two days at the beginning of August (exact days change annually) 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 participate 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. Free parking for the event is available around Okayama Dome.
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.
Okayama is most famous for its fruits and dumplings.
Kibi dango (吉備団子) are sweet millet-flour dumplings, which, according to the legend, Momotaro gave to a dog, monkey, and pheasant in exchange for their companionship. With the help of these three friends, Momotaro was successfully able to defeat the demons. Whether or not they are good enough to make you run off to kill demons is debatable, 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 ¥2,000 to ¥10,000 a bunch, while pione grapes can go for as little as ¥1,000. The best season to eat muscats is the beginning of October, but 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.
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. 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 and some restaurants as well.
- Mos Burger, 2-chome 10-1 Okayama Joypolis, ☎ 086-235-3033, . Japan's very own fast food chain. It's slightly more expensive than MacDonalds, and portions are smaller, but delicious nonetheless. ¥800.
- Kotoya, 2 Chome, Tamachi, ☎ 086-221-5108, . 5:30 PM to 12:00 AM. ¥800.
- MacDonalds, 10-6 Honmachi, ☎ 086-231-2961, . A MacDonalds just like any other in Japan. ¥650.
- Tandoor, (Located on the 6th floor of Cred), ☎ 086-212-2569, . Open from 11 AM to 9:30 PM. A tasty Indian restaurant serving all the typical Indian curry dishes.
- CoCo Curry House, . Home to some of Japan's best curry, it's a great choice for those who want delicious food for less money. Be aware that, unlike many Japanese curries, the spicier curries are in fact, spicy. About ¥650-900.
- Yamato Ramen, 9-7 Chome 1 Omotemachi, ☎ 086-232-3944. 11 AM to 7 PM. ¥999.
- Heartland and Ryoutei, 1-6-19 Tamachi, ☎ 086-233-3959, . 12 PM to 12 AM. ¥700-¥1800.
- Torisoba, 1-7-24 Omotemachi, ☎ 086-236-0310, . ¥1,000.
- Onmaku Sushi Aoe, 1-15 Aoe, 1 chome, ☎ 086-803-3541, . 11 AM to 10:30 PM. One of Okayama's most popular sushi restaurants.
- Hamasaku, 7-65 Omote-cho, ☎ 086-223-1515, . Lunch 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM, Dinner 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM. ¥3150 and up.
- Senju, 1-6-15 Nodaya-cho, ☎ 086-233-3110, . 11 AM to 4 PM, 5 PM to 12 PM (Closed Mondays).
- Kanshiki Teppanabe Tanatana, 1-7-24 Ekimae-cho, ☎ 086-225-3577, . Open from 6 PM to midnight. One of Okayama's most popular (and expensive) Korean restaurans, most famous for its Korean-style hot pot. Average cost ¥3,000-5000.
- Asuka, 30-10 Ekimoto-cho (Across the street from the west side of Okayama Station), . (飛鳥) 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.
- Aussie Bar, 1-10-21 Ekimae-cho (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. 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.), ☎ 086-223-5930, . 7 AM to 3 AM (opens even later on weekends). A nice Australia-themed bar. ¥3000 for all you can drink (from 11 pm).
- Bar Hips, 1-2-4 Marunouchi (It's located within the Culture Zone. By tram, get off at Shiroshita and walk for three minutes (towards Okayama Castle). It's on the right, across from Ishiyama Park.), ☎ 086-232-1230, . 10 PM to 4 AM (Closed Mondays). A popular bar among locals and visitors alike.
- Bar Rude Boy, 7-5 Family Buidling 2F, Togiya-cho, ☎ 086-222-8120, . 8 PM to 4 AM (Mondays, Wednesday-Saturday). Closes at midnight on Sundays. Closed Tuesdays.. An upbeat Reggae bar.
- Bar Shooters, 1-2-5 Rarikku Building 4F, Honmachi, ☎ 086-225-7117, . 7 PM to 3 AM (Closed Mondays). A more traditional-style bar, complete with a pool table and darts.
- Bar Vagabond, 6-27 Waka Building 1F, Heiwa-cho, ☎ 086-233-2526, . 7 PM to 2 AM (Closed Sundays and Mondays).
- Dining Bar Tulipa Gesneriana, 1-7-5 Tamachi, ☎ 086-224-2553, . 6 PM to 1 AM (Closed Mondays). A classy, elegant cocktail bar. On average, people spend around ¥3,000.
- Pinball Cafe, 4-18 Honmachi (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.), ☎ 086-222-6966, . 11:30 AM to 3 PM (Lunch), 5 PM to 2 AM (Dinner). 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 you're lucky you may even catch the owner performing live with his 1950s rock band, an occasion not to be missed.
- Musica Vista Live Bar & Karaoke, 2F Kimura Bldg., 2-1-1 Tamachi Kita-ku Okayama-shi 700-0825, ☎ 086-224-9109, . From 9pm-4am Monday through Saturday. (Sunday and holiday group reservations may be made). At the Music Live Bar & Karaoke in Okayama, you can drink while enjoying great live entertainment. Entrance charge is 2500yen+/90mins..
Most of the hotels in Okayama City are mid-range, with a few options for those willing to spend a little more.
- Matsunoki Ryokan, 19-1 Ekimotocho, ☎ 086-253-4111, . A moderately priced Japanese-style hotel that is only a two minute walk from the west entrance of Okayama Station. Both Western and Japanese-style rooms are available with or without private toilet/bath. ¥4,200 (2 rooms) or ¥5,250 (1 room).
- For even cheaper accommodations, try the Kurashiki Youth Hostel. Although it is located in Kurashiki, rather than Okayama, the cities are close, trains travel frequently between them, and the train fare is cheap enough to make it an attractive option for budget travelers. Kurashiki also has many of its own worthwhile attractions, so if you are planning to combine a trip to Okayama with a trip to Kurashiki, this will save you a lot of money on hotels:
- Kurashiki Youth Hostel, 1537-1 Mukoyama (Kurashiki-shi), ☎ 086-422-7355, . checkin: 4:00 PM; checkout: 10:00 AM. ¥2940 (note that those with the Hostel card get a discount).
- Two internet cafes close to Tenmaya Bus Station: Megalo and Popeye; are open 24 hours and allow customers to stay overnight for around ¥2000. There is a shower and light snacks are sold here. Although internet cafes are cheap, only those without much luggage can take advantage of them.
- Comfort Hotel Okayama, 1-1-13 Marunouchi, ☎ 086-801-9411, . checkin: 3:00 PM; checkout: 10:00 AM. Prices start from ¥6000.
- Okayama Koraku Hotel, 5-1 Heiwa-cho, ☎ 086-221-7111, . checkin: 3:00 PM; checkout: 11:00 AM. Start from ¥6,930 (single).
- Washington Hotel Plaza, Motomachi 3-6-201, ☎ 086-231-9111. checkin: from 2:00 PM; checkout: By 10:00 AM. Wireless internet access available. Prices start from ¥7,600 (single, 1 person).
- Mitsui Garden Hotel, 1-7 Ekimoto-machi, ☎ 086-235-1131, . checkin: 2:00 PM; checkout: 11:00 AM. Prices start from ¥7,500 (single).
- Hotel Okura Okayama, 4-1-16 Kadota Honmachi, ☎ 086-273-7311, . Prices start from ¥7,800 (single)..
- Hotel Granvia Okayama, 1-5 Ekimoto-cho, ☎ 086-234-7000, . Prices start from ¥13,860 (Standard Single Room).
- Royal Hotel, 2-4 Ezu-cho, ☎ 086-255-1111. Prices start from ¥9,332 (single).
- ANA Hotel, 15-1 Ekimoto-cho, ☎ 086-898-1111, . checkin: 2:00 PM; checkout: 12:00 PM. Prices start from ¥9,000 (single).
Note: Okayama's Seinen-Kaikan youth hostel has closed permanently.
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 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
- Yunogo Onsen (hot spring)
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.