Okayama Province in southern Honshu is commonly referred to as the “Land of Sunshine“, due to its usually pleasant weather. Its capital city, which goes by the same name, is a cool destination that doesn’t see too many foreign visitors. The reason can’t be for a lack of sights, because Oyakama’s utterly beautiful Kōrakuen Garden and unusual black castle alone warrant a visit.
Add to that the possibility to take a bike-tour through the surrounding plains and you’ve got yourself a must-visit destination in southern Honshu. Read on for my recommendations of what to do in Okayama.
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What to see and do in Okayama
Constructed in 1700 under the orders of then-lord lord of Okayama Ikeda Tsunamasa, Kōraku-en Garden completely deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful parks in Japan. As a matter of fact, is has been designated as one of “Three Great Gardens of Japan” according to the Japanese people (the others being Kenroku-en in Kanazawa and Kairaku-en in Mito). This is quite a pedigree considering the amount of gorgeous parks and gardens in the country.
Kōraku-en used to be the sole domain of the daimyō and his guests until it was opened to the public in 1884. Nowadays, visitors can roam freely around the beautifully landscaped park and enjoy the little details at every corner.
The views all around the garden are fantastic, especially as the black-walled castle always looms in the background, which makes for some great photo motives. There are several ponds and cute little streams, all of them harbouring tons of Koi Carps and Turtles.
Apart from that, you can check out some beautiful reed-decked buildings from the Edo era, which are strewn all over the garden, including some small shrines and reception buildings for the lords of Okayama and their guests.
There’s also an iris garden, a tea plantation and even a rice field, which was populated by herons when we were there. There’s a lot to see and if you don’t want to rush I suggest you plan at least an hour here.
The entrance fee is 400¥ and the opening times vary by season. Check them here. The garden is located on a small island in the Asahi River directly north of the castle, from where you can reach it by a pedestrian bridge. You can also take the bus going in the direction of Fujiwara Danchi from the train station and get off at Korakuen-Mae Bus Stop.
Okayama’s impressive castle is also referred to as “Crow Castle” due to its unusual black façade. While it was originally constructed at the end of the 16th century, the current building only dates to 1966, as the former structure was destroyed in World War II. Because of that, the views from the top of the keep and the historical weapons and objects of daily use exhibited inside the castle are more interesting than its mostly modern interior construction.
We enjoyed our visit, but if you’re on a tight schedule and only have time for one or two castles, I suggest checking out nearby Himeji Castle, which still appears as it did centuries ago. That said, Okayama-jō is still very impressive from the outside, especially when picturesquely framed by the trees of nearby Kōraku-en Garden.
The visiting times are 9AM to 5:30PM (Check them here) and the entrance fee is 320¥. The castle is located east of the city centre on the western bank of the Asahi River and South of Kōraku-en Garden. To get there by public transport, you could take the tram to Shiroshita Stop and walk five minutes east from there.
Hayashibara Museum of Art
This small museum in a former guest house building features countless beautiful artefacts collected by local businessman Ichiro Hayashibara. The exhibition displays the former possessions of the Ikeda family, the Feudal Lords of Bizen Province (which is nowadays the location of Okayama) and includes some fascinating swords, armours, masks, calligraphies and lacquer work, among other pieces.
It’s open from 10AM to 5PM (Check the times here and the entrance fee is 500¥. It’s located west of the south-western corner of the castle moat.
Bike Tour through the Kibi Plain
The peaceful Kibi plain right outside of Okayama city is a fantastic place for bicycle tours, due to its largely flat terrain. On the way, you can visit several cool low-key sights. Check out my dedicated guide to the bike tour.
Guided tours of Okayama
If you prefer the company of a guide, you should check out this customizable Four Hour Tour of the most important places in city. If you enjoy something more out-of-the-ordinary, you could also take a unique Standing Bicycle Tour to all of the city’s top sights.
Map of Okayama
Browse this map for all the sights mentioned above as well as some places to stay in Okayama.
How to get to Okayama
Okayama is located on the JR San-yō Line and trains passing between Hiroshima (approx. 40 mins./3,000¥) and Kyoto (approx. 60 mins./3,700¥) stop in the city. On the way to the latter, trains also stop in Himeji (approx. 20 mins./1,500¥) and Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka (approx. 50 mins/3,000¥) along the way.
Where to stay in Okayama
We stayed in the dormitory at the budget Kamp Houkan-cho Backpacker’s Inn & Lounge. It’s located in a quiet residential area slightly west of the train station, so you’ll have to leg it for a bit to get to the centre but it has a cool vibe, friendly staff and pleasant common hangout/bar area on the ground floor. There are plenty of mid-range options in the city centre. Check the map above to find one that suits you.
Where to eat in Okayama
The city is famous for its local Demikatsudon dish, which consists of a breaded pork cutlet served atop rice and covered in tasty demiglace sauce. We tried it at Ajitsukasa Nomura, which is one of the most popular places serving the specialty.
Also make sure to try the city’s other speciality Kibi-Dango, a sweet millet dumpling. It’s connected to the legend of local folktale-hero Momotarō, who allegedly went on adventures with a motley crew consisting of a dog, a monkey and a pheasant. You can see a statue depicting the troupe in front of the train station.
Where to go next
Naoshima, the quirky Art Island in the Sento Inland Sea
Himeji Castle, the biggest and most beautiful castle in Japan