Very close to Okayama is the small city of Kurashiki. The centre of town along a canal has been very nicely preserved with old buildings and storehouses dating back to the Edo period (1604-1868), a lot of which have been converted into cafes, galleries and museums including the oldest Western art gallery in Japan. It would be a very nice area to stroll around on a sunny day. Unfortunately, when we went it was raining. But it was still quite pleasant:
We were quite lucky, however, to see a small festival going on that day with a large mikoshi (portable shrine) being carried through the streets:
Unusually for these kinds of festivals, it was being carried by the women:
While some of the men who guided the procession wore scary carved wooden masks:
I would like to go back and see Kurashiki when it’s a bit more sunny. I’ve heard it’s particularly pretty in the spring when all the trees along the canal are blossoming. Maybe one day.
A little way inland from Okayama city at the foot of the mountains, in the area of Bizen which produces the beautiful Bizen-yaki pottery, is the town of Bitchu-Takahashi. The old town has been preserved quite nicely with old samurai and merchant houses still extant. The real highlight, however, is Matsuyama Castle, perched up past the town on top of the mountain. It is the oldest and highest castle in Japan and at points seems to be literally carved into the rockface. Like a scene from the great Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, if it were overcast or raining it would have a real brooding, menacing pathos, and you could imagine Mifune plotting with his Lady Macbeth wife. Luckily, when we went, it was sunny.
The walls leading up to the castle:
One of the most famous children’s stories in Japan is momotaro, the peach boy. Together with a dog, a monkey and a pheasant, he travelled to the demon’s island of Onigashima and, after defeating the demon, carried back a treasure to his village. The story is thought to be based on the (possibly legendary) Prince Kibitsuhiko, who defeated an ogre and pacified the region for the Yamato Kingdom. The Kibi Plain in Okayama prefecture is said to retrace his journey and can be easily cycled.
Wedding at Kibitsuhiko:
Kibitsu Shrine, where the Prince is said to have battled the ogre:
Archery at Kibitsu Shrine:
Garden at Bitchu-Kokubunji Temple:
This is Okayama, on the Shinkansen line between Osaka and Hiroshima. It was an important castle town during the Edo Period (1604-1868) and quite a few historical sites remain throughout the area. The castle, however, is a reconstruction from 1966:
This is the view over the town from the top of the castle:
The big attraction of Okayama city is the garden, Koraku-en, reputed to be one of Japan’s top three gardens (the others being Kenroku-en in Kanazawa and Kairaku-en in Mito):
The garden is famous for it’s spacious grass lawns, something of a novelty in Japan (though personally, I thought it just looked a good place for some backyard cricket):
I was a little more interested in the rickety old restaurant nearby I must admit: