If you’re into castles, trains, gardens, and fairy tales, then you’ll feel right at home exploring the largest city in the Chugoku Region, Okayama! Not only is Okayama the capital of the entire Okayama Prefecture, but it was also once developed into a significant regional power and is the location of one of Japan’s most popular fairy tale! Be sure to read up on the tale of “Momotaro”, or “The Peach Boy”, before you visit to further appreciate the splendor and beauty of this popular city!
There’s plenty to do during a visit to Okayama, though no trip would be complete without seeing the famous Okayama Castle and walking through the Korakuen Gardens. With a population of over 700,000 residents, it’s hard to feel alone in such a friendly and welcoming area of Japan. You’ll also notice how easy it is to get around, as Okayama is western Japan’s major transit hub!
To give you a few pointers on what to see first, we’ve included 10 unique things to do in Okayama that should inspire and inform you for your upcoming trip!
Commonly referred to as Crow Castle, this striking black structure has stood tall and proud since 1597, though there was a bit of replication done in 1966 to restore portions that were damaged in 1945. The black exterior of the castle is how it got its nickname, though the bright and beautiful interior creates a striking contrast. Visitors can enjoy a pottery studio , exhibits on the history and development of the original structure, a small restaurant, and even a place to dress up in traditional Japanese kimono!
Overall, this wonderful castle has a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy during their trip to Okayama! You can reach this popular destination by taking the JR Sanyo, Uno, or Sanyo Shinkansen to Okayama Station. From there, the castle is about a half an hour walk, though you can take a tram to cut that time in half! If you happen to visit around springtime, you’ll be delighted to see the area filled with cherry blossoms!
One of the first places many tourists visit when they travel to Okayama, Korakuen Garden, has been drawing in visitors since 1687. Today it is known as one of Japan’s three best landscape gardens, though it was originally created and used as a scenic location for ruling families to receive and entertain important guests. The gardens were open to the public around 1884, though they were damaged in 1934 by flooding and bombs. Restorations have already been completed, so don’t worry about missing out on this beautiful sight! Don’t forget to charge your phone or bring a camera – you won’t want to miss the opportunity to take a photo (or two, or a hundred) of these spectacular natural sights!
Not to be outdone by Korakuen Garden, Saijo Inari is one of Japan’s top three Inari shrines. During the New Year’s holidays the temple is filled to the brim with travelers seeking good luck and granted wishes regarding business prosperity and personal safety. As one of the most popular temples in the entire Okayama Prefecture, Saijo Inari is most often visited by couples in hopes of having a lasting relationship and a happily ever after! Be sure to grab a heart-shaped matchmaking souvenir on your way out to give you good luck in present and future relationships!
Remember that fairy tale mentioned before? Well, if you’re a fan of Momotaro you’ll certainly enjoy taking a stroll through the 360 meter long corridor next to the Kibitsujinja Shrine. While walking through the corridor, visitors can view the stunning nearby landscapes and seasonal flowers that line either side of the long corridor. The most impressive sight to behold is, in fact, the 1,500 hydrangeas that bloom every year in June within the Hydrangea Garden. It’s highly recommended you visit this famous shrine during the summer seasons, though winter provides just as many beautiful sights and experiences! Don’t forget to snag a peach-shaped romance amulet, or Momomamori, to commemorate your visit!
If you know anything about Japan you’ll know that cats reign supreme – well, one particular cat, that is. No, we’re not talking about Hello Kitty! We’re talking about Manekineko, or the lucky cat, of course! The Manekineko museum of art features over 700 lucky cats that have been collected from all across Japan, so you can see a wide variety of how different regions pay tribute to the adorable cat. The museum even allows guests to write their wishes on bamboo provided by the museum or even straight onto the museum wall! If you want to take a lucky cat home with you to remember your visit, you can decorate a personal manekineko and make a little luck of your own!
Who would have thought you could find modern works of art below the ruins of a former copper refinery? Step into history as you explore the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, which features works by Yukinori Yanagi that embrace recycling-based society by minimizing the constructional impact on the environment. Combining a natural, yet sophisticated, water purification system on site with solar, geothermal, and various other natural sources of energy, this museum was meant to leave as small a footprint on the planet as possible! Yanagi’s artwork is separated into six locations throughout the museum, which allows visitors to explore every inch of this historic place to see modern architectural artwork in its natural environment.
You’ll be hard-pressed to pass up on the opportunity to check out the museum shop for original goods, books, stationary, and keepsakes with designs from the artist!
Complete with beautiful blooming flowers, wide walking paths, and the last pagoda to be built in Japan, Bitchu Kokubunji Temple is one of the most beautiful places to visit for picturesque scenery and a calm atmosphere! No matter which season you happen to visit in, you’re sure to find beautiful flowers in bloom wherever you look! The pagoda that stands at 5-stories high next to the temple is the symbol of Soja, and can be easily seen from all directions! If you’re fond of festivals and local activities, make sure you take a look at the festival calendar before you plan your visit – we highly recommend trying to get to the area at the end of April to join in with the locals for the Lotus Festival!
Okayama is always full of beautiful nature for visitors to take in, and one of the best places to view such natural wonders is at Miyama Park! This park is home to over 7,000 cherry trees – the largest amount of such trees in the entire prefecture – which makes it the perfect spot for “hanami”, or flower viewing! The best times to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom are around early April, but with over 300 different varieties of flowers and 150,000 trees and shrubs in the park, you’ll be sure to see beautiful sights no matter what season you decide to visit in! You can choose between several gardens to visit within the park, including a British Garden, Hot Color Garden, Summer Flower Garden, and White Garden!
Ever wonder just how Japanese swords are made? Wonder no more with a trip to the Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum! Learn about the history behind Japanese swords, how they were originally made, and view swords that are over thousands of years old! You can even enjoy animations and video games within museum exhibits that enhance the experience and give delight to those who enjoy the art of the Japanese sword. For visitors who want even more action, it’s possible to view the actual process of Japanese sword making by professional artisans in the nearby workshop. If you want to see some sparks fly while masters of sword do what they do best, be sure to check the museum’s schedule and plan accordingly!
If you’ve fallen in love with Okayama as many people do, you should take a trip to the Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art, where they proudly display art that has “a connection with Okayama Prefecture”. They feature Japanese paintings and writing, Western art, industrial crafts, and more pieces of art for the public to enjoy. Though there’s limited English descriptions for many of the works on display, visitors find that appreciating the art is doable no matter what language you speak, as art transcends even the highest language barriers! Exhibits are changed throughout the year, so you can always find something new and interesting to look at no matter how many times you visit!
Okayama is the perfect destination for those looking to take breathtaking photos of gorgeous sceneries and historical sights. No matter where you go, you’ll always find something new and intriguing everywhere you look! You have your choice of castles, museums, gardens, shrines, and temples to visit, so there’s no shortage of experiencing tradition and authentic Japanese culture. With so many things to do in Okayama, your hardest decision will be deciding where to go and what to see first!
Wisteria D. Jones is an American writer currently living and working in Ibaraki, Japan. She loves traveling to new locations around Japan and writing about her experiences. She also enjoys writing series on Amazon, and has over 45 published works so far. As Wisteria always says, 'Happy reading, writing, working and living!'