last update: February 23, 2022
Okayama (岡山) is a large city, the second largest in the region after Hiroshima, and the capital of the Okayama prefecture of the same name. It is located along the high-speed line connecting the Kansai region with southern Japan, and is also the only city with a rail link to Shikoku Island. Many travelers pass through Okayama, but few stop to visit it, making a mistake. Okayama Castle and especially Kōraku-en are the most important attractions. The latter in particular is considered to be one of the most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan.
Things to do and things to see in Okayama
Okayama and Momotaro's fairy tale
Okayama locals claim that their city was the original setting of the famous fairy tale Momotaro
and that it was based on the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko's battle against the ogre Ura, who is said to have lived in the area around Soja north of the city.
Momotaro's fairy tale tells that an elderly childless couple found a child inside a peach floating along the river. The child was adopted and named Momotarō (桃太郎), literally "peach boy". When the child grew up, he decided to leave for Onigashima (Island of the Demons) to fight the demons that were causing problems in the nearby villages. The old woman prepared kibi-dango for him to take on his journey. During the trip to the island, Momotaro befriended a dog, a monkey and a pheasant by giving them a piece of kibi-dango, and with their help he defeated the demons. Momotaro then returned home taking with him the treasure of the island and gave it to the elderly adoptive parents who had taken care of him. And they all lived happily ever after.
Today, visitors can find many references to the legendary hero around the city. Arriving by train, just in front of the east exit of the station there is a large statue of an adult Momotaro, and a statue of a child Momotaro on top of a letterbox. The main street is called Momotarō-Odōri
and along it there are various statues related to the fairy tale. At the southern end of the islet that houses the Korakuen garden, there is a statue of little Momotaro holding a peach towards the sky. Even the manholes in the city often depict characters from the Momotaro fairy tale. Finally, exploring the Kibi plain you can retrace the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko.
City center (Culture Zone)
Many of Okayama's top attractions, including the famous Korakuen garden and the castle, are clustered in an area about a 15-minute walk east of Okayama station, nicknamed the Culture Zone. The streets between the station and this area are also the commercial heart of the city, with some covered arcades full of shops and several shopping centers and department stores. A large underground shopping mall (Okayama Ichibangai
) is located below the station, while a few minutes to the south there is the Aeon Mall Okayama
Omotecho Shotengai and Okayama-Ekimae Shotengai
Omotecho Shotengai is an indoor shopping street about ten minutes from Okayama Station, about 800 meters long. It can be considered the commercial heart of the city. The Tenmaya department stores are located along this street. Okayama-Ekimae Shotengai is a short shopping arcade of about 300 meters which is located just in front of the east exit of the station.
(admission 410¥, opening hours 7:30-18:00, 8-17 Oct-Mar)
Korakuen Garden is a beautifully landscaped garden and Okayama's most famous attraction. Together with Kanazawa's Kenrokuen and Mito's Kairakuen, it is considered one of the three most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan. It is located on an island near the north bank of the Asahi River, between the river and the city, and opposite Okayama Castle. The castle is somehow part of the landscape of the garden, and from inside you can take beautiful photos of the keep. It was built between 1687 and 1700 by Ikeda Tsunamasa, lord of Okayama, as a place of entertainment for the ruling family and for the most important guests. It has kept its original appearance to this day, except for some minor changes. The Korakuen incorporates all the typical features of traditional Japanese gardens: streams, paths, hills, and a large pond called Sawa-no-ike, which contains three islands that are presumed to replicate the scenery around Lake Biwa. near Kyoto. Distinguishing itself from the Japanese garden tradition, however, the Korakuen is also equipped with expansive green lawns. In the garden there are also plum, cherry and maple groves, tea and rice fields, tea houses. The Garden has two entrance gates: the main one is located to the north, next to the Okayama Prefectural Museum, while a second entrance is located to the south, after the bridge that connects the island to the castle.
Okayama Castle is also known as the Raven Castle (烏城, U-jō) due to its black exterior. It is located on the banks of the Asahi River, whose waters were used as a defense moat, and right in front of the Korakuen Garden located on the other side of the river. The six-storey main tower was completed in 1597, destroyed in 1945 and replicated in concrete in 1966, and today it houses some exhibits on the history of the castle. Only one original turret of the ancient Okayama Castle, dating from 1620, has survived to this day, and it is the tsukimi yagura (literally, "watchtower of the moon").
There are several art and history museums in this area, all within easy reach of each other.
- Okayama Orient Museum, a small but peculiar museum on the art, history and archeology of the Middle East.
- Okayama Prefectural Museum, an archaeological museum that preserves the artifacts found in the territory of the prefecture of Oyakama, ranging from prehistory to the Meiji period. It is located right next to the Korakuen Garden.
- Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art, a large museum that houses about 2,000 works by artists born in Okayama prefecture.
- Hayashibara Museum of Art, a small museum that houses the private collection of the Ikeda family, consisting mainly of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy and scroll works, but also fabrics, samurai armor and ceramics.
- Yumeji Art Museum, a small museum dedicated to the famous artist Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934), born in Okayama. He is best known for his illustrations depicting beautiful women, and his style is believed to have subsequently influenced representations of female characters in the shojo manga genre.
The plain of Kibiji (吉備路, Kibiji)
, in the northeastern part of the city, from Okayama to Soja, was once the center of the Kingdom of Kibi
, an ancient clan that in the fourth century controlled much of modern Okayama prefecture. Today it is a charming rural plain just outside the center of Okayama, with small farms and large cultivated fields, amidst which there are hidden sanctuaries, temples and archaeological remains. The best way to explore this area is to take a well-made bike path that passes by most of the places of interest along the way. We are talking about the so-called Kibiji Cycling Trail
, a 17 km route that extends from Bizen-Ichinomiya station to Soja station, considered among the 100 best cycle paths in Japan.
The route loosely follows the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko and passes several important shrines, temples, and burial mounds along the way. The journey can be done in either direction, but the route is a little easier to find from Bizen-Ichinomiya Station. Bicycles can be rented at both stations and can be left at the other end or at the rental shop near Bitchu-Kokubunji temple. One day rental costs 1100¥. The temples and shrines along the way are free, so there's nothing else to pay. To cover the entire cycle path it takes about 2 hours at an average speed, however taking it easy and exploring all the stages along the route calmly a half day passes very quickly. Obviously, with the right motivation, the same path can also be explored on foot.
List of places of interest along the cycle path
- Kibitsuhiko Shrine
- Kibitsu Shrine
- Kibi archeological museum
- Koikui Shrine
- Tsukuriyama Kofun
- Bitchu-Kokubunji Temple
- Sun Road Kibiji Onsen
Other places of interest
Sogenji is a large Zen temple outside the city center, at the base of Mount Misaoyama, and is a completely off the beaten path destination. It has been for many years a training place for a large community of Western Zen students, almost all the monks inside this temple come from abroad, and also the official site of the temple is in English. The temple is very charming and nestled in the forest. On the right of the main building, you will find the entrance to the temple garden (100¥), but you will not find any attendants. To pay, simply insert a coin into a wooden box. This garden was designed by the same architect who built Korakuen, and is home to one of Okayama's largest cherry trees.
the main building and the large cherry tree inside the Sogenji temple garden
Maneki Neko Museum
(admission 600¥, opening hours 10-17, closed on wednesday)
A small museum lost in the countryside about 10 km from Okayama station. This museum houses a collection of about 700 maneki neko, which, for the uninitiated, are those figurines in the shape of a cat with a raised paw that are found practically everywhere in Japan and often even abroad at the entrance of Japanese shops and restaurants. Inside the museum it will also be possible to participate in workshops where you will paint and decorate your maneki neko yourself, to take home as a souvenir. The nearest station is Bizen-hara about 4 km away, from here on the only means available is a taxi.
Where to stay in Okayama
It is advisable to stay in the central area of Okayama, near the station, so that you can reach the main places of interest on foot.
In our opinion, the Abest is the hotel with the best value for money, as well as a wide choice of accommodation types for all budgets, near the JR Okayama station, just a three-minute walk away. The hotel has in fact normal, single and double rooms, starting from 5000¥ for one person and 7000¥ for two people. It also has very spacious deluxe double rooms, up to 30 square meters, and which can accommodate up to four people. But that's not all, the hotel also has some mini rooms at bargain prices (from 3000¥ per night), which they call capsule but actually much larger than typical capsule-hotel cubicles. The hotel also has large common areas and various services, including large public baths with sauna on the top floor, a small gym, non-alcoholic drinks available to all guests and also a restaurant. In the same restaurant in the morning a large buffet breakfast is served (1300¥) which includes various typical products of the area.
Price range: 3,000-7,000¥.
Other recommended business hotels in downtown Okayama
This classic capsule hotel is just a two-minute walk from the east exit of JR Okayama Station. It offers large common rooms with sauna, jacuzzi and a restaurant. Overall the hotel is nothing fancy, but perfect for those on a budget, perhaps the lowest price in town for accommodation.
Price range: 2,800-3,000¥.
Eating in Okayama, cafes and restaurants
Typical local dishes
are Okayama's most famous ingredient, grown in the vast countryside of the prefecture. Peaches, called "momo" in Japanese, also have special cultural significance in this city, as the hero Momotaro is said to have been found by his adoptive parents in a giant white peach floating along the river in this prefecture. In addition to peaches, another fruit widely cultivated in Okayama is grape
, and in particular the Muscat grape variety.
Osaka and Hiroshima are the two regions of Japan most famous for their okonomiyaki. But Okayama, located in the middle between these two okonomiyaki queens, defends itself well with its own style called hinase kakioko
, made with grilled oysters and chopped cabbage. The dish originates from Hinase, a town 45 kilometers east of Okayama where part of the local economy is based on oyster farming.
Kibi-dango is another typical Okayama dish, which also plays a leading role in the famous Momotaro fairy tale. Thanks to the kibi-dango Momotaro was able to make friends with the animals that helped him to defeat the monsters. These are glutinous rice cakes with a spherical shape, with a soft and chewy texture. Today you will find them for sale on the streets of Okayama in countless flavors, the most popular being kinako (soybean meal), matcha and white peach.
Dishes based on fish
Okayama prefecture is rich in fish and seafood caught in the Seto Inland Sea. Okayama's most popular fish is sawara
, a white-fleshed fish from the same family as mackerel (the city has the highest per capita consumption of sawara fish in all of Japan!). Another Okayama specialty is mamakarizushi
(photo on the side), made with pickled sappa fish, a type of small local herring. Finally, a very popular dish is barazushi
, which is a large portion of rice sprinkled with fish and vegetables.
Recommended restaurants in Okayama
restaurant on the second floor of Okayama station is a good place to try a plate of barazushi, as well as great sushi in general. If you want to try the best mamakarizushi in town, head south of the station to Kappo Mamakari
. For delicious okonomiyaki, you can try Okonomiyaki Mori
or Goemon Okonomiyaki
, both of which are within walking distance from JR Okayama Station. For an even more authentic experience, you can take the train to the village of Hinase (1 hour from Okayama), where you will find dozens of oyster okonomiyaki restaurants and many other oyster dishes.
How to get to Okayama
Okayama Station is a major rail hub, also served by high-speed shinkansen trains. In addition, the city also has an airport.
Okayama station is served by the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen
, and all the shinkansen stop in the city, even the fastest nozomi and mizuho trains. It is therefore possible to easily reach Okayama from the main cities of Japan, possibly free of charge if you are a Japan Rail Pass holder:
- From Tokyo, in 3 hours and a half or 4 hours (17,660¥)
- From Osaka, in 45 minutes (6,140¥)
- From Kyoto, in 60 or 90 minutes (7,700¥)
- From Hiroshima, in 25/45 minutes (6150¥)
Please also note that the Japan Rail Pass is valid on Hikari, Kodama and Sakura trains but not on Nozomi and Mizuho trains, while the JR Kansai Wide Area Pass can be used on unreserved seats on any train between Shin-Osaka and Okayama, but not between Kyoto and Shin-Osaka.
By local trains
If you do not have an active Japan Rail Pass, the local railway lines allow you to reach Okayama saving a lot of money and with reasonable times from the Kansai region and Hiroshima, while beyond these areas travel times become too long. Via the JR Tokaido Main Line
and the San'yō Main Line
you can reach Kobe in about 2 hours (2640¥), Osaka in about 2 and a half hours (3080¥), Kyoto in about 3 hours (3740¥), Hiroshima in about three hours (3080¥). In all cases it will be necessary to make at least one or two train changes along the way.
For those who prefer to travel by bus, the JR Bus and Ryobi Bus companies offer connections to Osaka and Kyoto. Both travel times and fares (3000-4000¥) are similar and sometimes even lower than local trains. If you come from Tokyo, you can also take into consideration the low-cost bus company Willer Express
, which offers a night bus connection in approx. 10 hours and super cheap, starting from 5000¥.
The small Okayama Airport is located approximately 15 km from the city center, and is connected to the city by a bus service (30 minutes, 780¥). The airport is served by a few daily flights, limited to Tokyo and Sapporo within the country and operated by ANA and Japan Airlines.
Map of Okayama
Guided tours, activities and other things to do
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