Okayama’s rich and unique culture combined with its easygoing pace and friendly locals, makes for an excellent visit in Japan’s western heart.
A little on Okayama
Without the influx of cars on the city’s streets, Okayama exudes a more relaxed ambiance than Hiroshima.
Trams, trains, and buses run on time and are frequent as with the rest of Japan, so far. This is great news for travellers, especially independent travellers.
As an important transportation hub, because the Sanyo Shinkansen meets with the only rail connection to Shikoku, Okayama is often used as a hop to get to the more popular destinations. Spending four nights in Okayama isn’t quite enough to absorb the city.
Located in the heart of western Japan, Okayama became a castle town during the Edo Period (1603-1867) and a significant regional power.
What to see
Unwind at Okayama’s pace and take your time to enjoy the best of the city’s alluring sights, including the Asahi River.
Okayama Castle Tower
From the JR Okayama train station, only a 5-minute walk brings you face-to-face with the exquisite Okayama Castle. Soak up the picturesque views from the Asahi River or roam along the castle’s stone walls. (Free entry to the keep but ¥400 to enter the castle.)
The castle’s black exterior features earned the name “The Crow”. It’s believed that in contrast to Himeji Castle’s immaculate white, Ukita Naoie, the Daimyo who commissioned Okayama Castle, chose black to thumb his nose at Himeji Castle. The castle’s construction started in 1573 and was completed in 1597.
With a very long queue to enter the castle, we decided to take photos of the castle and its charming splendid expansive gardens instead.
Unprocessed natural stone walls surround the Okayama castle with the west side buried nearly 3 meters underground. Originally, the stone wall was 15.6 metres high – one of the tallest stone walls in Japan leading up to the Battle of Sekigahara.
Captivating views from across the Asahi River paint a picture of modern and ancient architecture converging.
Okayama Korakuen Garden
After visiting the Okayama Castle, take a short stroll next door to the three-century-old Okayama Korakuen Garden.
Heralded as one of the three best gardens in Japan, you can easily spend several hours strolling through the gorgeous Okayama Korakuen Gardens.
Temples, serene ponds, colourful Koi fish, turtles basking in the warmth, and picturesque scenery welcome visitors providing a pleasant, lovely, and calming experience.
Connecting paths wind through Korakuen to quaint cosy timber tea houses originally built for Feudal Lords (Daimyo), Wisteria, a plum grove, and alluring grassed retreats.
March weather sees Korakuen as a little wintery still and without the spectacular Cherry blossoms, but the gardens are still wonderful to visit and a break from urban architecture.
Nishigawa Canal Park Walk
Lined with numerous Cherry trees not yet in bloom as this is only March, the Nishigawa Canal Park Walk is in the centre of Okayama and a peaceful promenade with numerous quaint bridges crossing the 550-metre long canal along the 2.4-kilometre green park.
In 1974, Okayama started to rectify its smelly rivers and canal, completing the clean-up project in 1982 while building a green corridor on both sides of Nishikawa. This project won the first Green City Award for Okayama in Japan.
Fountains, sculptures, and art
Okayama offers diverse fountains and intriguing sculptures.
Colourful art and vibrant manholes are an eclectic Japanese mix.
The Tale of Momotarō
It is believed that Okayama is connected with the popular hero of Japanese folklore, Momotarō (the Peach Boy), which can be seen as unusual statues of the legendary hero dotting the city – most wearing modern-day hats.
Dating back to the late 1800s to early 1900s (Meji Period), the Momotarō legend, which even has a song, goes something like this…
An old childless couple came by a large peach floating down the river and when trying to open the peach, Momotarō appeared declaring that the Gods granted himself to be their son. Momotarō was very strong and became a hero when he and his three talking animal friends beat a band of demons trying to take his parents’ land. Read the full account in this link.
Omotecho Shopping Street
For the shoppers out there, the undercover pedestrian Omotecho Shopping Street spans several long blocks. Lined with around 300 specialty stores, you can spend a couple of hours just wandering from store to store, then pop into one of the many restaurants or cafes for a break.
The large clock tower marks an intersection along Omotecho Shopping Street.
If you need any type of innersole for your shoes, then stop off at Dr. Insole at Omotecho for an amazing experience with a podiatrist. Ended up with handmade innersoles to correct the way I walk and hopefully, to ease the burning sensation in my left foot that the podiatrist in Australia couldn’t fix. A lot of care and attention to detail at Dr Insole and innersoles are made in a couple of hours.
Kurashima Kaikyo Ohashi Bridge
Sadly, today’s forecast looks grey, cold, and with torrential rain so decided to forfeit the hour-plus train trip from Okayama to the Kurashima Kaikyo Ohashi Bridge, with a 4km walk to the observatory. Opted to potter and eat more delights in Okayama instead. I wanted to mention this bridge as I’ve read the bridge is impressive…next time.
Where is Okayama?
Day trip from Okayama
As one of the most visited and famous tourist locations in Okayama’s Prefecture, Kurashiki City offers visitors a variety of activities in a relatively small area.
Colourful shops grace Kurashiki’s narrow streets as do temples, shrines, and typically Japanese buildings. Kurashiki deserves a separate post.
Coming next: Okayama: Eat, Sleep, Getting There
Note: All photos by Nilla’s Photography unless otherwise mentioned. No part of this post was composed with the help of ChatGPT or AI.