Okayama (3 days)
Updated: Nov 13, 2022
Okayama is not one of the best travel destinations, but could be a good place to visit in Japan.
WikiVoyage has the original version of travelling in Okayama. But we have rewritten and integrated several articles together to create a better version.
According to Wikipedia, "Okayama is the capital city of Okayama Prefecture in the Chūgoku region of Japan. "
Here we quote the best way to travel in Okayama provided by wikiVoyage, a multilingual, web-based project to create a free, complete, up-to-date, and reliable worldwide travel guide. Wikivoyage is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization that also hosts a range of other project such as Wikipedia. Please edit the articles and find author credits at the original wikiVoyage article on Star articles - Okayama. Content on wikiVoyage can be shared under a Creative Commons License.
Part 1: 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.
Part 2: Tourist information
Okayama Station Tourist Information Center, Okayama-eki 2F, 1-1 Ekimotomachi, Kita-ku (In Okayama Station, between the Shinkansen gates and JR gates). 09:00-18:00. Has maps and pamphlets in English, Chinese, and Korean. The staff here have a reputation for being both helpful and friendly to foreign visitors.
Momotaro Tourist Information Center, Basement No.6, Ichibangai Ekimotomachi (it's in the Okayama Ichibangai; exit Okayama Station, turn right and walk towards the Granvia hotel; there's an escalator/stairwell: the tourist information center is just below this stairwell), ☏ +81 86 222-2912, firstname.lastname@example.org. 09:00-20:00. This is the city's primary tourist information center. The Okayama Station information center is best for quick questions and guidance, but those wanting more information should make their way here instead. They have an impressive array of pamphlets and information about Okayama City, as well as every other city/town in Okayama Prefecture. They even have information about places outside of Okayama. There are also travel books and magazines available to browse. They usually have at least one staff member that can speak English and sometimes serve free kibi dango and tea outside the center.
Izushi Shiromachi Studio, 1-6-6 Izushi-cho Kita-ku, ☏ +81 86 206-5124. 09:00-17:30. It's across the bridge from Korakuen Garden in a quieter part of town. It is most useful for drivers who won't go to the station or those who are already out and about. The information provided here is mostly limited to travel within Okayama City.
Part 3: Get Around
Fares for public transport can either be paid in cash or by using a Hareca Card. 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.
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.
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.
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 Momochari. 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 maximum 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.
Upon exiting Okayama Station, the taxis are 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.
Part 4: Itinerary:
Day 1: 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.
Kōrakuen Garden (後楽園), 1-5 Korakuen (15-min walk from Okayama Station or 5-min walk from Shiroshita tram Stop), ☏+81 86-272-1148. Apr-Sep: 07:30-18:00, Oct-Mar: 08:00-17:00. The name means "Garden of Pleasure After", a reference to a famous Confucian quote stating that a wise ruler must attend to his subjects' needs first and only then attend to his own. Construction started 1687 and was completed 13 years later. Despite slight changes, Korakuen largely keeps its form from the Edo era, with waterfalls, tiny shrines, teahouses, miniature maple forests, a lotus pond, and even a greenhouse filled with orchids and cacti. The rare red-crested white cranes are another notable feature. They are released for flying exhibitions on special occasions throughout the year. The large wooden building in the park was used to host visiting members of the imperial family. The view from the veranda (usually off-limits to the general public) is considered the best in the park, and the strategic location of trees and hills/mounds in the park act as a natural frame. A local ordinance prevents high-rise buildings that would encroach on this view. The roof of a temple can be seen on the side of the distant Mt. Misaoyama, but it was built to enhance the view from the porch. There are two entrances to the garden: across from the Okayama Prefectural Museum, and across the Moon-Viewing Bridge (月見橋 Tsukimi-kyo).¥400.
Okayama Castle (岡山城 Okayama-jō), 2-3-1 Marunouchi (15-min walk from Okayama Station or 5-min walk from Shiroshita tram Stop), ☏ +81 86-225-2096. 09:00-17:00. Popularly known as Crow Castle (烏城 U-jō), it is so named for its striking black color, rare among Japanese castles (which tend to be white, like neighboring Himeji-jō). Only a few protruding bits and the occasional lucky fish-gargoyle (金の鯱 kinnoshachihoko) are gilded. With the exception of one external turret, the current version dates from 1966, but the outside is much more accurate than most Japanese castle replicas, as the original blueprints were used to rebuild it. In the tower is a museum documenting the castle's history, although English explanations are few and far between. On the first floor of the castle, you can also make your own Bizen pottery for an extra fee. ¥300 (except during special exhibits).
Okayama Orient Museum (岡山市立オリエント美術館), 9-31 Tenjin-cho (Shiroshita tram stop), ☏ +81 86-232-3636. Tu-Su 09:00-17:00. An interesting museum of Middle Eastern art. The special exhibit details art and trade between China and Persia. If you can speak conversational Japanese, talk with the friendly docents; they will present some highly interesting explanations and background. However, the dates and areas are clearly marked, and the artifacts themselves are interesting enough that you don't need to have a guide to enjoy them. ¥300 adults, discounts with student ID.
Okayama Prefectural Museum (岡山県立博物館), 1-5 Korakuen (5 min from Shiroshita tram stop, across from Korakuen main entrance), ☏ +81 86-272-1149. Apr-Sep: Tu-Su 09:00-18:00, Oct-Mar: Tu-Su 09:30-17:00. An excellent museum with a variety of artifacts excavated from various areas throughout Okayama Prefecture from prehistoric artifacts to the Edo and Meiji Periods. Some highlights of the museum are the famous Bizen swords and Bizen pottery. It's just outside the main entrance to Korakuen, so it's well worth a stop. ¥250.
Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art (岡山県立美術館), 8-48 Tenjin-cho (Shiroshita tram stop), ☏ +81 86-225-4800. Tu-Su 09:00-17:00. A large museum housing approximately 2,000 works by famous artists throughout Okayama Prefecture. The museum's permanent exhibition features art dating back as far as the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), such as work by the priest Sesshu and the swordsman Musashi Miyamoto, as well as Bizen pottery and works by more contemporary artists. ¥350, discount with student ID.
Hayashibara Museum of Art (林原美術館), 2-7-15 Marunouchi (near Kenchodori tram stop), ☏ +81 86-223-1733. Tu-Su 09:00-17:00. A small museum which houses the private collection of the Ikeda Family, the former Lords of Okayama. The collection features Japanese and Chinese works, primarily calligraphy and scrolls. Pottery, beautiful textiles, samurai armor, and other works may also be on display; however, because the museum is not large enough to display the entire collection at once, the exhibits are rotated often. ¥500.
Yumeji Art Museum (夢二郷土美術館), 2-1-32 Hama (a 10-min walk from Shiroshita tram stop, just across the river north of Korakuen), ☏ +81 86-271-1000. Tu-Su 09:00-17:00. A museum featuring the works of Okayama-born artist Yumeji Takehisa, a well-known artist throughout Japan. He is best known for producing paintings and sketches of beautiful women, and many such works are on display in the museum. ¥700.
Okaden Museum & Mitooka Eiji Design (おかでんミュージアム＋水戸岡鋭治デザイン), 2 Chome 3-33 Higashiyama (Across from the Higashiyama Tram Station), ☏ +81 86-272-5520. 10:00-16:00. The Okaden Museum is a museum dedicated to Okayama's Okaden tram. Inside you can see the tram's "station master" cat, Momo along with videos, train models, and artwork. Overall, it's more of a fun place to take children who like trains/the tram than a museum. It really doesn't have any objects or information but instead features train and other toys that kids can play with. It's at the terminus of the Higashiyama Line so outside there are out-of-use trams and you can also see the trams coming and going. ¥1000.
Day 2: Kibiji District
The Kibiji District (吉備路), in the northeastern part of the city, from Okayama to Soja, was once the center of the Kingdom of Kibi (吉備国 kibi no kuni), whose power was said to equal to that of the Yamato. Strategically located 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.
The Kibiji District is best explored by bike along its famous cycling route. 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 area, including the 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.
Kibitsuhiko Shrine (吉備津彦神社), 1043 Ichimiya (Bizen Ichinomiya Station), ☏ +81 86-284-0031. This shrine, rebuilt in 1697, is dedicated to Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto, and has a unique architectural style. To get there, turn right after exiting the station and cross the train tracks. Free.
Kibitsu Shrine (吉備津神社), 931 Kibitsu (Kibitsu Station), ☏ +81 86-287-4111. Last rebuilt in 1425, this shrine is important for two reasons: it was once the head shrine of the entire Kibi Kingdom, and legend holds that Prince Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto fought the demon Ura on this site. He shot arrows at the demon, but the demon evaded his attacks by throwing boulders at the arrows. Finally, the prince shot two arrows at the same time, hitting the demon directly in the eye (but not yet killing him - read on). Free.
Kibi Cultural Properties Center (岡山県古代吉備文化財センター), 1325-3 Nishihanajiri (20-min walk from Kibitsu Station; on the mountain/hill behind Kibitsu Shrine.), ☏ +81 86-293-3211. 09:00-17:00. A small museum housing artifacts from the ancient Kibi Kingdom. Although the information is all in Japanese, one does not need to be able to read the information to appreciate the artifacts, which are mainly clay figurines and pottery. It is located Free.
Koikui Shrine (鯉喰神社), Kurashiki (Near the intersection of Route 270 and Route 73), ☏ +81 86-287-4111 (Kibitsu Shrine). If you walk the trail with no prior knowledge of the area or the sites, Koikui Shrine will seem quite disappointing in comparison to the other shrines. However, Koikui is much more interesting than it appears. After the demon was shot by the prince's arrows, he transformed into a carp and swam away. The prince turned into a cormorant and followed him. Koikui Shrine is located on the site where the prince is believed to have caught and killed the demon. Free.
Tsukuriyama Ancient Burial Mound (造山古墳), Shinjoshimo Kita-ku (near Senzoku Bus Stop; buses depart from Soja Station), ☏ +81 86-226-7601. Along the trail there are actually two burial mounds (古墳 kofun) with the name "Tsukuriyama" that can be distinguished only when viewing the characters used to write the names. The tomb on the Okayama side of the trail (造山古墳) is the most interesting. This burial mound, believed to have been completed in the fifth century, was the largest in the nation at the time it was built. Because the tomb within the mound has never been excavated, it is not certain who is actually buried here; however, it is believed to be one of the former rulers of the Kibi Kingdom, as tombs of this size were reserved only for those in the highest positions. Although the best view of Japanese burial mounds is always from above (to see the key-hole shape), at this mound, visitors are permitted to walk on top of it. Atop the mound there is a shrine. Free.
Komori-zuka Burial Mound (こうもり塚古墳), Soja (10-min walk from Kibiji-Motenashinokan Bus Stop. Buses depart from Soja Station). Although the mound is quite small, it contains the one thing missing from the Tsukuriyama mound: a look inside the tomb. This tomb is believed to date back to the 6th century. Aside from this, not much else is known about it. Free.
Bitchu Kokubunji (備中国分寺), Soja (7-min walk from Kibiji-Montenashinokan Bus Stop. Buses depart from Soja Station), ☏ +81 86-694-3155. The Kokubunji temples were designated by Emperor Shomu as provincial temples throughout the nation. This one represents the Bitchu area (western Okayama Prefecture). The 5-story pagoda, constructed in 1844, is one of the highlights of the Kibi Trail. The area surrounding the temple is known as the Kibiji Fudoki-no-oka Prefectural Forest Park. To visit without travelling the trail, catch a bus from Soja. Free.
Day 3: Ashimori area
The above sites are 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.
Site of Takamatsu Castle (備中高松城跡), 558-2 Takamatsu Kita-ku (10-min walk from Bitchu-Takamatsu Station), ☏ +81 86-287-5554. Grounds always open, museum 10:00-15:00. While very little remains here of any part of the castle, it has great historical importance. In 1582, Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated the ruling Mori Clan by diverting a river to flood the castle. The moat still exists, and is filled with lilies that bloom in the summer. You can also still see some of the old waterways. There is even a small museum with some artifacts and information on the site. Free.
Saijo Inari (最上稲荷), 712 Takamatsu Inari (5-min walk from Inariyama Bus Stop. Buses depart from Okayama Station and Bitchu-Takamatsu Station), ☏ +81 86-287-3700. Considered to be one of the Three Great Inari Shrines of Japan, Saijo Inari is a large shrine complex built on the side of Mount Ryuo. Legend has it that the shrine was commissioned by the priest Hoon-Daishi after prayers to Saijo (who came to him as a white fox in a dream) successfully cured two emperors of seemingly fatal illnesses. Buses run from outside the east exit of JR Okayama Station — disembark at 'Inariyama'. Free.
Former Ashimori Clan Samurai Residence (旧足守藩侍屋敷遺構 kyuuashimorihansamuraiyashikiikou), 752 Ashimori (50 min bus ride to AshimoriYubinkyoku-mae Stop from Okayama Station, 50-min walk from Ashimori Station), ☏ +81 86-295-0983. Tu-Su 09:00-16:30. This building was once the residence of one of the most influential samurai in the region. Free.
Former Ashimori Clan Merchant House (旧足守商家藤田千年治邸 kyuuashimorishoukafujitasennenjitei), 916 Ashimori (50 min bus ride to AshimoriYubinkyoku-mae Stop from Okayama Station, 50-min walk from Ashimori Station), ☏ +81 86-295-0005. Tu-Su 09:00-16:30. Formerly a soy sauce factory, visitors can roam the building and see the tools used to make soy sauce. Free.
Omizuen (近水園), 803 Ashimori (50 min bus ride to AshimoriYubinkyoku-mae Stop from Okayama Station, 55-min walk from Ashimori Station), ☏ +81 86-295-0981. Tu-Su 09:00-16:30. One of Okayama's largest gardens, Omizuen belonged to Lord Kinoshita of the Ashimori Clan. The garden was designed by the famous poet Enshu. Free.