Bizen (備前市) is a coastal city in the eastern part of Okayama prefecture. As of May, 2021, Bizen had a population of approximately 31,800 people.
Bizen — literally "before (the plain of) Bi" — is an ancient province known for precisely one thing: Bizen-yaki (備前焼), the oldest and most revered form of pottery in Japan. Unglazed and fairly simple in appearance, the pottery gets its cachet from the complex earthy reddish-brown tones that form when the clay is fired. Nearly anything — dishes, cups, vases, bowls, pots — can be made from it, and according to legend it improves the taste of anything you drink from it.
Modern day Bizen is in legal fiction a "city" (shi), but in practice an expanse of Okayama's suburbs and rice paddies. Most pottery kilns and shops, however, are concentrated near the station of Imbe (伊部).
View from JR Imbe Station, Bizen
The main train station of Bizen is Imbe Station.
The JR Akō line connects Imbe to Okayama, where connections to the Shinkansen network are available. Trains depart about once per hour and reach Imbe in 40 minutes (¥590). From the east, the closest shinkansen station is Aioi Station. From there, it takes 45 minutes to go to Imbe Station, with one transfer and a good connection.
Bizen is a sprawling area, but Imbe is easily covered on foot from the train station. For faster means of getting around, the city has several rental bicycles from the tourist info offices at Imbe or Hinase Stations (9AM-5PM, regular bicycle ¥500, electric bicycle ¥1000).
An elaborate piece of Bizen-yaki
Bizen's sights are mostly dedicated to its famous pottery and sword-making. In October, the Bizen-yaki Festival is held near Inbe station, drawing some 150,000 visitors.
- Bizen Pottery Museum (備前市立備前焼ミュージアム ''Bizen Tōgei Bijutsukan''), 1659-6 Imbe, ☎ 086-964-1400, . 9:30AM-5PM, Closed Mon, exc. holidays. Just to the north of JR Imbe Station, this concrete block displays both old and new examples of Bizen-style pottery. ¥500. edit
- Shizutani School (閑谷学校 ''Shizutani Gakko''), 784 Shizutani, ☎ 086-967-1436 (fax: 086-967-1645), . 9AM-5PM. Ikeda Mitsumasa, a lord of Okayama, commissioned Tsuda Nagatada to build this school. Completed in 1701, it was open not only to samurai but also farmers — exceptionally rare in that period. Now designated a national treasure, the school is still in its original condition, and the shining ebony floor is an impressive sight. Naturally, the roof tiles are made with bizen-yaki. The kai (楷) trees (called "trees of learning") on the grounds are lovely, especially during cherry blossom season and the autumn. It's about 10 minutes by taxi from JR Yoshinaga Station (¥1200), or a longer ride from JR Imbe (¥2500). ¥300. edit
- Kei Fujiwara Museum of Art (藤原啓記念館), 3868 Honami, Bizen-shi, ☎ 086-967-0638. 9:30AM–5PM, Closed Tue. A museum featuring the artwork of Kei Fujiwara, a reknowned Bizen pottery maker who was designated a Living National Treasure in 1970. ¥1800. edit
- Senjuin Shorakuji (千手院正楽寺), 1305 Shigeyama, Bizen, ☎ 086-967-0726, . The third temple of Chugoku region's 33 temple pilgrimage, with a magnificent traditional garden and nice views over the city and the sea. edit
- Amatsu Shrine (天津神社), 629 Inbe, Bizen (10 min walk from Imbe Stn), ☎ 086-964-2738, . A shrine intimately connected with Bizen as its gate, approach, and entire shrine is covered with Bizen style ceramics, making it a unique sight in Japan. On clear days there are also very nice views over the city. Free. edit
- Bizen Museum of Latin America, 241-10 Hinasecho Hinase, Bizen (10 min walk from Hinase Stn), ☎ 086-972-0222, . 10AM–5PM. Not exactly a place you'd expect to see items from Central and South America, yet the museum has an extensive collection, particularly on relics from Columbia. English information is minimal but generally states where the item is from and generally how old it is. ¥700. edit
- Takaraushi Shrine (田倉牛神社), 994-1 Yoshinagacho Fukumitsu, Bizen, ☎ 086-984-2998, . An unusual shrine that is mainly compromised of over 200,000 figurines of cows, that cover the entire shrine precincts. Free. edit
Many kilns around Imbe will let you try your hand at making your very own Bizen-yaki. A chunk of clay, firing and shipping anywhere in Japan (overseas delivery also possible) will set you back around ¥3000.
- Bizen-yaki Traditional Pottery Center (備前焼伝統産業会館 ''Bizen-yaki Dentō Sangyō Kaikan''), ☎ 086-964-1001. The easiest place to give the wheel a spin, as it is located right on the third floor of JR Imbe Station. Workshops are held every weekend. edit
- Bishugama (備州窯). Advance reservation required. The charge is ¥2,625~3,675 (plus postage), and they'll ship it 3~4 months later.
- Minami no Uen (みかん狩り 南農園), Hinasecho Hinase, Bizen, ☎ 086-972-1828, . 9AM-4PM. A tangerine orchard where you can pick and eat organic fruit from mid-October to early December (may be closed in case of rain). ¥1000. edit
- Hinase Marina (東備ヤンマー), 241-128 Hinasecho Hinase, Bizen, ☎ 086-974-0500 (fax: 086-974-0042), . 8AM–5PM. Offers many bay activities such as sea kayaking, boating, jet skiing, and fishing. Prices vary. edit
- Sotowa Beach (外輪海水浴場), 2992-2 Hinasecho Hinase, Bizen, ☎ 086-972-1919, . This is a nice and clean beach that stretches about 150 meters long in a tranquil bay. It has little tidal activitiy so it is ideally suited for families with small children, and it gets a fair crowd of people on weekends in July and August. The beach has restrooms, changing rooms and showers, as well as paid parking. Car recommended. Free. edit
- Tomita Matsuyama Castle Ruins (富田松山城跡), Higashikatakami, Bizen (A bit SE of Nishi-Katakami Stn). There is little of the former castle to see, but there is a nice hike that takes you about 30 minutes to reach the 209m hilltop, and when the weather is good there are excellent views over the Seto Inland Sea. edit
The town of Imbe seems to consist nearly entirely of Bizen-yaki shops, and the large gift shop in the Pottery Art Museum has a fairly representative array of local pieces. Prices are generally steep, with even the simplest tea cups costing several thousand yen and more complex designs going for millions.
- Kotobukien (寿園), 1529 Shinjo, Bizen, ☎ 086-966-6072 (fax: 086-966-6503), . 8:30AM–5PM. A vineyard with direct sales of its grapes to visitors, from the middle of August until the end of November. edit
- Business Inn STK (ビジネスインＳＴＫ), 51-13 Nishikatakami, Bizen (4 min walk from Nishi-Katakami Stn), ☎ 086-963-1515, . While not much to look at from the outside, this hotel has both western and traditional Japanese style rooms (the Japanese rooms are ¥300 cheaper) along with free parking and wi-fi, and optional ¥800 breakfast. ¥5500~. edit
- Tobi Hotel (トービホテル), 950 Inbe, Bizen (1 km from Imbe Stn), ☎ 086-963-1355, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Simple but clean and decent hotel located closed to Imbe Station, with option breakfast buffet (¥800) as well as lunch (¥1100). ¥5800~. edit
For the latest info on events and sights, contact the Bizen Tourism Association (備前市観光協会, Bizen Kankō Kyōkai) Tel. 086-972-1919.
- Okayama - Includes, the brooding black Crow Castle, and the lovely Korakuen Garden, one of Japan's Top 3 gardens.
- Kurashiki - Near Okayama, is famous for its large Bikan Historic District with many well-preserved canals and warehouses from the Edo Period, as well as the famous Ohara Museum of Art.
- Tsuyama - A quiet town with rich history, is famous for Kakuzan Park, a great place for cherry blossom viewing, Joto Street, and the beautiful Shurakuen Garden.
- Himeji - Famous for Japan's grandest castle, the gorgeous Kokoen Garden, and mountaintop Engyoji Temple.
- Takahashi - Site of the Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, one of only twelve remaining original castles in Japan and also the nation's highest castle.
- Onomichi - A hillside city of temples, Japanese novelists, and happy alley cats, with picturesque views of the Seto Inland Sea.
- Takamatsu - Famous 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.
- 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).