Okayama

Korakuen Garden

Okayama (岡山) is a major transit hub for western Japan. But with white peaches, a brooding black castle, and the famous garden of Kōrakuen, there are plenty of reasons to catch a later train and get out of the station to explore.

Understand

Among the attractions of Okayama, only Kōrakuen is widely known. Many travelers only pass through on the Shinkansen as they travel between Kansai and Hiroshima without giving Okayama any thought. But one key unlocks the city's unique charm: Momotarō, the Peach Boy.

According to the Japanese fairytale, an old, childless couple found a peach floating down the river, and inside they found a baby boy. They duly adopted him and named him Momotarō (桃太郎), or (quite literally) "Peach Boy". As he grew, he began to feel greatly indebted to the couple that raised him, and when he was finally grown, he announced that he would be going on a journey to Onigashima (Demon Island) to fight the demons that had been causing trouble in the nearby villages. The old woman prepared kibi-dango (see Eat) for him to take on his journey and bid him farewell.

On his way to the island, he befriended a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant by giving them each a piece of the kibi-dango. With their help, he defeated the demons; Momotarō took the demons' treasures back home and gave them to the old couple to thank them for all the things they'd done for him throughout the years. The couple rejoiced that he was back safely, and they all lived happily ever after.

Residents claim that Okayama was the original setting of the fairytale, and that it was based on the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko's battle against the ogre Ura, who is said to have lived in Kino-jo (Demon's Castle) in the area around Soja. Today, Okayama is a busy city of some 700,000 people, and its main street is named Momotarō-Odōri in the Peach Boy's honor; you'll find statues from the tale along the way. Although the Culture Zone can easily fill a full day, try to set aside time for cycling the Kibi Plain it's another fun way to explore the history of this intriguing area.

History

Okayama's documented history tends to get overshadowed by its folklore history, but of course it exists. The area has been one of the most important in Japan for centuries. In ancient times, the modern city was part of the Kibi Kingdom (吉備国 kibi no kuni). Situated between the Yamato to the east and Korea and other Japanese tribes to the west, the Kibi Kingdom excised a great amount of control over trade between the regions. At its peak, the Kibi Kingdom was said to have been equal in power to the Yamato and the large kofun (burial mounds) that still exist in the Kibi Plains are a testament to that.

In 645AD the Kibi Kingdom was dissolved into four separate provinces; Bingo, Bitchu, Bizen, and Mimasaka. Most of modern Okayama City fell within Bizen Province. Development of the area into a large, unified city is accredited to Ukita Naoie who built up the domain as a castle town with Okayama as its capital. It was the same year he commissioned Okayama Castle to be constructed, although it was not completed until 1597. The Ukita continued to rule until they found themselves on the losing side in the Battle of Sekigahara. Hideaki Kobayakawa, who betrayed Ukita Hideie at Sekigahara, was given control of Okayama but he died after only 2 years as its leader, so the territory was awarded to Ikeda Tadetsugu, one of Tokugawa Ieyasu's grandsons. The Ikeda were powerful rulers that continued to foster growth and cultural development in the city, including the construction of Korakuen Garden from 1686 to 1700. The influence of the Ikeda extended well beyond the borders of their domain as they ruled until the Meiji Period when the provinces were reorganized into prefectures (1871) and they are still well-known and respected today. The city was bombed in WWII air raids in 1945, destroying much of the city center and Okayama Castle, which had been designated as one of Japan's great castles.

The city was rebuilt after the war. Although it had always been an important hub in Western Honshu, it experienced renewed importance with the extension of the Shinkansen from Osaka. Construction of the line began in 1965, a year after the line connecting Tokyo to Osaka opened and it began operation in 1972. Today Okayama ranks among Japan's most populated cities and a major economic center in the Chugoku Region.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 8.7 9.1 12.6 19.4 23.9 27.5 31.1 32.7 28.1 21.9 16.7 11.3
Nightly lows (°C) 0.8 1.1 3.7 9.4 14.1 19.1 23.5 24.7 20.6 13.1 7.6 2.6
Precipitation (mm) 30.6 59.6 95.1 93.9 137.9 213.9 134.8 73 185.8 75.4 40.9 18.9

Source: Japan Meteorological Agency.

Okayama is known as the "Land of Sunshine". The city is guarded by mountains which often take the rainfall before it can reach the city, so compared to the surrounding prefectures and most of the country, Okayama has more sunny days. It is not uncommon for it to be raining in the surrounding areas while Okayama is merely cloudy or even sunny. Likewise, snow is uncommon in the winter.

Talk

The Okayama dialect (岡山弁) is quite different from standard Japanese, with several vocabulary and sound-related distinctions. Some examples of its unique points include changing the standard da copula to ja (e.g., daijoubu da ("I'm/It's okay") is raku ja in the local dialect. Some other common Okayama-specific vocabulary include words like eroo or buchi (standard Japanese: totemo, meaning "very"), bokkee and banko (standard Japanese: sugoi, meaning "great/amazing") and oidensee (standard Japanese: irasshaimase, "welcome"). Though the Okayama dialect is used by men and women, it is thought (even by some locals) to sound somewhat "rough", and even unladylike when used by younger women.

Although it's located outside of the Kansai area, the Kansai dialect can still be heard here, particularly the sound changing of the word-final -i of adjectives to a drawn-out -ee (e.g., sugoi ("amazing") to sugee).

Spoken English ability is generally poor, but some residents may surprise you with their fluency. Locals understand standard Japanese, but depending on the dialectical "severity" of the speaker, you may not understand their response. Of course, any use of the local dialect on your part will likely result in both surprise and good-natured amusement. Despite the lack of English-speakers, Okayama residents tend to be extremely friendly and willing to offer help.

Tourist Information

Get in

By plane

Okayama Airport (OKJ) has arrivals from Tokyo (Haneda), Sapporo, and Okinawa. There are also direct international flights between Okayama and Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, and Guam. Buses make a 30-minute run to JR Okayama Station (¥760).

If you choose to fly to Kansai International Airport (KIX), there is a bus that departs every 2-3 hours (first bus 8:45am, last bus 9:15pm) that can take you directly to Okayama from the airport in 3.5 hours for ¥4650.

By train

Okayama is a major stop on the San'yo Shinkansen. All trains passing through Chugoku stop at Okayama. Nozomi trains depart Tokyo at 20 minute intervals, reaching Okayama in about 3 1/2 hours; one Hikari per hour makes the trip in 4 hours and 15 minutes. Hikari and Sakura trains also make frequent runs, stopping at Okayama between Osaka, Fukuoka and Kagoshima.

The Sunrise Seto/Sunrise Izumo runs overnight from JR Tokyo Station, leaving at 10PM and arriving in Okayama at 6:27AM. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can book a carpeted floor space on this service at no charge. Otherwise you can travel in a compartment or room by paying the applicable room fee and surcharges.

Okayama is also the starting point/terminus of the Marine Liner rapid trains which travel on the famous Seto Ohashi Bridge over the Seto Inland Sea from Sakaide and Takamatsu. Okayama is the only entry point to the mainland from Shikoku by train, so all trains will stop (terminate) here. Limited Express Trains connect destinations beyond Kagawa to Okayama. Many of these trains to Shikoku are timed for seamless connections with Nozomi arrivals. If you travel on the Marine Liner using the Japan Rail Pass, you have the option to upgrade to a comfortable Green Car seat for a small surcharge.

If you do not have a Japan Rail Pass, it is possible to travel cheaply overnight from Okayama to Matsuyama, Kochi, and Fukuoka during University vacation periods using Moonlight Special Rapid services. These are very popular and tend to get fully booked a month in advance.

Yakumo Limited Express Trains also connect Okayama to Yonago at the Sea of Japan coast. It's a scenic two hour trip across the Chūgoku mountains with a magnificent view of Mount Daisen. From Yonago it is another 1/2 hour to Matsue, and 1 hour to Izumo in the San-in Region. Another Sea of Japan destination Tottori can be reached in two hours via Kamigori or Himeji.

By bus

Chugoku JR Bus operates an overnight bus service, the Kibi Dream from Tokyo Station and the Yokohama City Air Terminal (YCAT) to Okayama. The travel time is approximately ten hours from Tokyo (¥10,000 one way, ¥16,600 round trip) and nine hours from Yokohama (¥9700 one way, ¥16,200 round trip).

Ryobi Bus operates from Okayama, so there are more location options and prices tend to be cheaper than JR buses. From Tokyo, there are three different buses, all for ¥9800 one-way (special deals often make it even cheaper), each has different departure points. The Mamakari Liner has stops at Tokyo Station, Ueno Station, and Asakusa Station, the Tokyo Muscat departs from Shinjuku Station, and the Tokyo LeBlanc from Shinagawa Station.

The night bus Pegasus connects Kyushu to Okayama, departing from Kokura (one-way ¥6070, round-trip ¥10900). From Nagoya there is one evening bus (same-day arrival) and one night bus (one-way ¥6700, round-trip ¥12000).

Daytime buses operated by Ryobi Bus run hourly from Osaka Namba (3 hours, ¥3060 one way, ¥5610 round trip), and five times daily from Kyoto (3 1/4 hours, ¥3500 one way, ¥6300 round trip).

Ryobi, Chugoku JR, and other bus service operators have additional buses from Matsue (¥3500), Izumo (¥4000), Yonago (¥3100), Kurayoshi (¥3100), Tottori (¥3000), Matsuyama (¥4400), Kochi (¥3500), Tokushima (¥3400), and Hiroshima (¥2900).

Map of Okayama - city center

Get around

By tram

Two convenient tram lines run from the east side of JR Okayama Station. The Higashiyama line runs along Momotaro-Odori to Okayama Symphony Hall (stopping at "Shiroshita" tram stop, which is the closest stop to Okayama Castle), and then turns south towards the prefectural government office before winding towards the terminus. The other line turns to the right about half-way along Momotaro-Odori, passes the central post office, and terminates at the Seikibashi intersection.

Board trams (and buses) at the rear, take a boarding ticket, and pay your fare at the front when you disembark. The driver will not give change, but there is a machine on the tram that will change coins. Prepaid bus cards can also be used on the trams.

By bus

Buses run throughout the city. You can buy prepaid bus cards at several locations including the JR Okayama Station bus information booth and Omotecho Bus Center, in ¥2000, ¥5000 or ¥10,000 iterations. These cards work out to be slightly cheaper than paying cash at the end of each journey, but unused portions of the cards cannot be refunded. (When a card is "drained" of its prepaid charge, you can use cash to pay the outstanding amount.) Trips within the city cost no more than a few hundred yen; from JR Okayama Station to Tenmaya/Omotecho shopping mall costs ¥100.

Perhaps the most confusing thing is that different companies offer similar routes that depart at different times from different bus-stops. The staff at bus information centers are very helpful, but might not give information on rival companies running similar routes unless asked. For the most recent departures from Okayama Station, there is a bus departure list complete with times and stop number straight outside the Okayama Station ticket gates.

Some companies push the Hareca Integrated Circuit Cards (IC Cards, limited only to the trams and local buses run by Ryobi, Shimoden and Okaden companies) as an alternative to the disposable prepaid cards, but the deposit for a new card makes them more expensive than paying by cash, especially if you are only making a short visit.

By bike

Okayama can be an excellent place for biking. For those who want to bike from Okayama Station, there is a Rentacycle attached to the station. Upon exiting Okayama Station (Higashi-guchi Exit), turn to the right and walk straight along the station building. You'll pass the Hotel Granvia (left side) and the Renta-Car. It's about a 3 minute walk from the station exit.

Within the downtown area, the city also has its own Momo-chari. The name is a play on words. In Japanese, mama-chari is what they call women's bikes (typically bikes with baskets). Momo is the Japanese word for 'peach', a reference to the city's famous white peaches and Momotaro, the Peach Boy. To rent a Momo-chari, you must first get a membership card which can be purchased at any of the Momo-chari portals located by the bikes. They can be paid for with ICOCA/SUICA cards. The bikes cost ¥100 for the first hour and an additional ¥100 every 30 minutes after that. The maximium cost for a 24 hour period is ¥1000. If you keep the bike beyond 24 hours, it costs an additional ¥1000 per day. The Momo-chari Bike Portals are all located in the downtown area of central Okayama.

The Kibi Cycling Trail is a well-known cycling trail through the historic Kibi area of Okayama. There are Rentacycles located at Bizen-Ichinomiya Station and at Soja Station (Soja). If you rent a bike at one of these sites, you can return the bike at the other. This special system was designed to make the cycling course more enjoyable and appealing to travelers. You don't have to backtrack in order to return your bike. You can simply rent your bike at one station, cycle the trail, and then drop your bike off at the other station.

By taxi

Upon exiting Okayama Station, the taxis are located on the right side (toward Hotel Granvia). The base fair is ¥630.

Okayama is also home to Grace Taxi , a unique taxi service with all-female drivers. You must contact them by phone in order to use their services.

See

Statues of Momotaro are a popular Okayama photo-op. Arriving by train, you'll see your first at the east exit of JR Okayama Station, but there are Momotaro motifs all over the city there is a Momotaro mailbox at the east exit of the station, and even manholes often feature the Peach Boy. You will also find individual statues of his travel companions the dog, monkey, and pheasant aligning both sides of Momotaro-odori. At the end of the island where Korakuen is located, look for the Riverside Peachbaby, a statue of Momotaro holding a peach to the heavens.

Culture Zone

Many of central Okayama's main sights are clustered on the eastern side of the Central Business District in the area known as the Culture Zone. From JR Okayama station, take the tram three stops east to Shiroshita on the Higashiyama Line. All of the sites are within short walking distance.

English-speaking guides are available for free tours of the castle and garden. The guides are volunteers, so it's best to call ahead (+81 86-224-1166) to ensure that they will be available.

View of Okayama Castle from Kōrakuen
Okayama Castle

Kibiji District

Kibitsu Shrine

Located in the northeastern part of the city, from Okayama to Soja, the Kibiji District was once the center of the Kingdom of Kibi (吉備国 kibi no kuni), whose power was said to rival that of the Yamato. Located strategically between the Yamato and civilizations on the Korean peninsula, the Kibi Kingdom was highly influential. Its leaders continued to influence the Yamato government even after the Kibi Kingdom fell.

Many of the historical and cultural sites are associated with the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto (see Understand).

The Kibiji District is best explored by bike (see Do). However, all sites can be reached by using the train and then walking (or taking a bus, for certain locations). The information office at JR Okayama Station can provide a map of the Kibiji Zone, including a cycling route. If you begin your travels from Bizen Ichinomiya Station (bike rental is just beside the station), the following sites are listed in the order in which you will see them.

Fox statues at Saijo Inari

Ashimori area

The above sites are all located along the main cycling path however, there is another path that branches off the main path between Koikui Shrine and Tsukuriyama Burial Mound. There are a few signs to guide bikers, but they are not as frequent here, so a map will be useful. They are listed below in the relative order that you will see them in. Near the Ashimori area is Kino-jo (鬼ノ城) in Soja. Those interested in the Momotaro sites will want to make the journey here as it is said that the demon Ura lived in a cave near the castle. You can visit the cave and the reconstructed castle to complete your self-guided tour of the Legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-Mikoto.

Other areas

Inujima

Inujima Island

Inujima is a small island in the Seto Inland Sea that was historically used as a place to gather granite to make castle walls, including Okayama Castle and Osaka Castle, and later also built a prosperous copper refinery. After the industries shut down, the island struggled to support its citizens and so joined other islands in the inland sea to become one of the art islands in the Setouchi Art Triennale. Although the Triennale is an exciting time to visit, the art sites can be enjoyed anytime. There are often mini festivals on the island and other special art events on off-years. It's also a popular place for swimming, camping, and kayaking in the summertime. Visitors can travel to Inujima by boat from Hoden Port (buses to the port depart from Saidaiji Station) to visit the art sites and enjoy the beauty of the inland sea. Upon arrival at the port, head straight to the Seaside Inujima Gallery where you can get a map of the island and purchase your ticket to the art sites (including exhibits within the gallery itself). You can also check boat departures going back to the mainland, eat at the cafe, and visit the souvenir shop.

Do

Onsen

Below are some of the most popular and onsen (hot springs) in Okayama City. If you are a fan of onsen and you have time, you should consider taking a trip to the northern parts of Okayama Prefecture to visit one of the Three Onsen of Mimasaka (美作三湯): Yubara Onsen (Maniwa), Okutsu Onsen (Kagamino), and Yunogo Onsen (Mimasaka).

Events

Saidaiji Eyo

Learn

Buy

The   Omotecho Shotengai (表町商店街). shopping street is a ten minute walk from JR Okayama Station, or 3 tram stops away on the Higashiyama line (get off at Shiroshita Station). It has everything from game arcades and kimono retailers to antique shops and a multi-story Maruzen bookstore, and the large Tenmaya shopping center. There are a lot of locally owned clothing and specialty shops, as well. The shopping street is quite long, extending from where it branches off Momotaro-Odori Street all the way down to Saidaiji-cho, around Saidaiji Tram Station.

There are two other department stores near the shopping street, Cred and Loft. Cred has a large Kinokuniya bookstore with a sizable selection of English-language and Japanese learning books, as well as a Virgin CD/DVD store. Loft features a toy shop selling novelty dress-up costumes, Studio Ghibli plushies and more; there's also an HMV located in the basement.

Eat

Kibi dango (吉備団子) are sweet millet-flour dumplings. According to the legend, Momotaro gave his companions kibi dango, and they helped him defeat the demons. Whether or not you'll like kibi dango enough to run off and fight demons will vary by personal taste, but they certainly are a tasty treat. The name is a bit of a pun too, as kibi means both "millet" and the ancient kingdom of Kibi, which covered a large area of present-day Okayama prefecture.

Not surprisingly, going along with the "peach boy" theme, one of the famous fruits grown in and around Okayama is the white peach (白桃 hakutō). Okayama is also well known for grapes (葡萄 budō), particularly muscat, which have been grown here since 1886 and command 95% of the Japanese market. Known as the "Queen of Fruits", they're priced to match at ¥2000 to ¥10,000 a bunch, while pione grapes can go for as little as ¥1000. The best season to eat muscats is the beginning of October, but the best choice for a souvenir are the grape sherbets, jellies, and wines, which keep for longer and are easier to get through customs.

Mamakari (ままかり), a herring-like fish, is another specialty that can be enjoyed throughout Okayama, as they are fished from the Seto Inland Sea. Another local delicacy is sawara (鰆), a white-fleshed fish translated into English alternatively as "trout" or "horse mackerel". A popular takeaway option is matsuri-zushi (祭り寿司), the local version of chirashi-zushi (sushi rice dressed with vinegar and topped with egg and seafood), sold in a peach-shaped box at Okayama station kiosks and some restaurants as well.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

There are hundreds of bars and izakaya in the central area. The biggest concentration is likely 50-100m east from the station, starting from one street to the right (south) of Momotaro Dori (the main street where the Street Car runs). Along the nearby Nishigawa Canal, there is a nice vibe at night. There are a few microbreweries in Okayama (e.g. Doteshita, Doppo) and also some local sakes.

Sleep

Most of the hotels in Okayama are mid-range, with a few options for those willing to spend a little more. The nearest youth hostel is in Kurashiki. The trip is short, and the train ticket combined with the hostel rate is still a good option for budget travelers.

Budget

The two Internet cafes close to Tenmaya Bus Station, Megalo and Popeye, are open 24 hours and allow customers to stay overnight for around ¥2000. Showers and light snacks are available, though there isn't much space for luggage.

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Internet

Okayama has a couple internet cafes near the station. Others are scattered about the city in less convenient locations.

Post

If you need a post office on the weekdays in the daytime, there are post offices on both sides of the station, as well as by Shiroshita Tram Stop that are convenient for travelers. As the capital city, Okayama is home to the Central Post Office, which is open later on weekdays and also has weekend and holiday hours.

Go next

Okayama is a good place to launch day-trips to most of Chugoku and even Shikoku, as it is the regional transportation hub. Within Okayama prefecture you will find:

And in neighboring prefectures, but within day-trip distances are:

Routes through Okayama

Hiroshima Shin-Kurashiki  W  E  Aioi Shin-Osaka
Hiroshima Kurashiki  W  E  Bizen Kobe


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 29, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.