30 Things to Do in Okayama From the Classics to Hidden Gems
From the Seto Inland Sea and highlands, to historic towns and more, Okayama Prefecture is full of tourist attractions. Thanks to its temperate climate, there are an abundance of fruits and seafood produced in the area, and there is plenty of local cuisine to enjoy. Here are 30 things to see and do in Okayama.
Where is Okayama?
Okayama is a prefecture in the Chugoku region, which is in the western part of Honshu (main island of Japan). It is about 3 hours and 20 minutes on the shinkansen (bullet train) or 75 minutes by airplane from Tokyo, and about 45 minutes by shinkansen or 60 minutes by airplane from Osaka and Kyoto. There are also direct flights to Okayama Airport from Seoul, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taipei.
This is the southeastern part of the prefecture, which faces the gentle Seto Inland Sea. Thanks to its warm climate, it is a major producer of fruits and a leading source of seafood. Okayama Castle and Okayama Korakuen, known as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, are some of the famous tourist spots of the area.
Visit the Black Lacquer Castle, Okayama Castle
Okayama Castle was built over an eight-year period, and its construction was completed in 1597. The highlight of this castle has to be the Tenshukaku, which is a six-story watchtower-style building that is organized into three layers. Boards painted with black lacquer are used on its walls, giving it the name "Crow Castle". It was designated as a national treasure, but was burnt down during the war. It has been reconstructed, and the Shoin-zukuri style (a Japanese residential architectural style characterized by square posts and floors completely covered with tatami mats) living quarters, which symbolized the lord's power, has been restored as well.
When the permanent exhibition is open: 300 JPY/adult, 120 JPY/elementary and junior high school student
When the permanent exhibition is not open: 150 JPY/adult, 60 JPY/elementary and junior high school student
*Combined ticket for Okayama Castle and Okayama Korakuen available (560 JPY/adult)
Admire Okayama Korakuen, One of the Three Great Gardens of Japan
This garden was constructed about 300 years ago as a retreat for the lord of the Okayama Domain. It has received three stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan. There is a view of the entire garden from the Enyo-tei House, which is the central structure of the garden. Spacious lawns, ponds, artificial hills, and buildings are connected by paths and waterways, so you can stroll around and enjoy the view, which changes with the seasons.
Admission: 400 JPY/adult (aged 15 - 65)
*Combined ticket for Okayama Korakuen and Okayama Castle available (560 JPY/adult)
*There will be a change to the pricing starting on October 1, 2019. Please refer to the official website for details.
See the Famous Hadaka Matsuri at Saidaiji Temple
If you are visiting Okayama in February, you won't want to miss the Hadaka Matsuri (Saidaiji Eyo Festival), which directly translates to “naked festival”. It is known as one of Japan's three major unconventional festivals. Central to this festival are the approximately 9,000 men in fundoshi (Japanese wrestler's belts), who are splashed with cold water as they chant loudly and parade around the temple grounds. The climax of the festival is when they gather in the main temple and scramble to get the Shingi (a talisman for good luck), which is thrown in amongst them. The festival is designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property, and is held in the evening of the third Saturday of February every year.
Stroll Around Ushimado Olive Garden
Offering fantastic views, Ushimado Olive Garden is located atop a hill in Ushimado, Setouchi City, which is one of Japan's leading olive producing regions. There is a footpath around the garden, where approximately 2,000 olive trees grow. You'll also find an olive shop, cafe, and even overnight lodging here. From the observatory, you can get a beautiful view of the Seto Inland Sea, which is sometimes referred to as the "Aegean Sea of Japan".
Purchase Bizen Ware
Bizen ware is the most famous traditional craft of Okayama. It is pottery produced in the oldest of Japan's Six Ancient Kilns*. It has a simple and rustic appearance, with no glazing or painted embellishments. You might notice that each piece differs from each other due to variations achieved by altering the way they are placed in the kiln and how the pinewood is lit.
*The general term for six major kilns that have been producing ceramics since the middle ages: Seto, Tokoname, Tanba, Echizen, Shigaraki, and Bizen.
Sample Superb Peaches!
Okayama is known as a major fruit producing region, and is famous across the country for its white peaches. They have an elegant sweetness and sophisticated aroma that'll leave you crying out for more. There are numerous varieties, such as the early-ripening kind that are particularly juicy and late-ripening ones that have a deep flavor. They are in season from June to September.
Purchase Kibi Dango
Kibi dango is a sweet that Okayama is known for. This mildly sweet wagashi (traditional Japanese sweet) is made by adding sugar, sweetener, and millet to mochi (sticky rice). It is also featured in the folk story, Momotaro*, which is associated with a variety of legends in Okayama, and is popular as a souvenir. It is available in several flavors, including plain, sweet bean paste, roasted soybean flour, black sesame, and matcha (green tea).
*A story in which a young man called Momotaro battles a demon with the help of a dog, a monkey, and a Japanese pheasant. He is given a kibi dango made by his grandmother at the beginning of the tale.
Try the Regional Specialty, Mamakari-zushi
If you are going to Okayama, make sure to try this regional dish! "Mamakari" is another name for the small fish called "sappa" (Pacific herring) that's used in this dish. It comes from a Japanese saying that claims it to be so good that you'll go next door just to borrow (kariru) some rice (mamma) to eat with it! The sappa is filleted and marinated in vinegar for this Okayama specialty.
Visit Okayama Orient Museum
Okayama Orient Museum houses around 4,800 pieces of art from the ancient Near East. Gathered systematically, the vast collection includes sculptures, mosaics, pottery, adornments, and much more, allowing you to visualize the history and culture of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, just to mention a few. After enjoying the exhibitions in this environment reminiscent of the ancient world, you are encouraged to take a break at the museum’s coffee shop and enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee.
Entrance fee: General 300 JPY; high school and university students 200 JPY; elementary and junior high school students 100 JPY
Buy Gifts and Souvenirs at AEON MALL Okayama
AEON MALL Okayama is home to more than 350 different shops selling all sorts of food, everyday goods, and clothing. Here you find a wide variety of establishments where you can buy all sort of gifts and souvenirs, including stores specialized in Japanese ingredients and shops that offer stylish daily-use products and knickknacks, such as chopsticks and dishcloths, all with designs original from Okayama. Located in a very convenient location, only a 5-minute walk from Okayama Station, AEON MALL Okayama is the perfect place to do some last-minute shopping before going home.
Admire the Beauty of Japanese Swords at Bizen Osafune Sword Museum
Bizen Osafune Sword Museum is one of the very few museums in Japan dedicated to Japanese swords. It has a permanent collection of approximately 40 swords and holds special exhibitions around 6 times a year. At one of the exhibition rooms, you can learn about the deep universe of Japanese swords through digital images and video games thanks to the use of cutting-edge technology. Inside the museum complex, you find a forge that produces real swords and, on the 2nd Sunday of every month, you have a chance to see the traditional methods employed to manufacture them. You will be surprised by the hard work of hammering and stretching the 1,200 degrees hot steel under a shower of sparks.
Entrance fee: General 500 JPY; high school and university students 300 JPY; free of charge for junior high school students and below
Visit Saijo Inari, One of the Three Largest Religious Grounds Dedicated to Inari God
Official Name: Saijo Inari-san Myokyoji Temple
Saijo Inari is a temple with almost 1200 years of history. A 27m high Bengara-colored torii gate welcomes visitors at the entrance. The temple is said to bestow blessings on those who come to pray for good luck, abundant harvests and prosperity in business but here you also have the unique opportunity to ask for the end of a bad relationship and the start of a new one at the En-no-Massha Temple. If you continue following the mountain path you will find the sacred stone of Hachijo-iwa, said to be the place where the deity Saijoi Kyo-o Daibosatsu descended to Earth. From here you have a beautiful view of the torii gate and the Bitchu Takamatsu Castle Site.
Take a Walk at the Nishikawa Green Road Park
Nishikawa Green Road Park is a gorgeous green area located on the shores of the Nishikawa River, an irrigation canal that crosses Okayama City from north to south. With close to 38,000 trees of some 100 different species beautifully lined along the walking path, here you will find the perfect place to enjoy a stroll surrounded by nature and the chirping of birds. Whenever you feel tired you can take a break at one of the many gazebos available along the way, not to mention the water fountains and other amenities. During the first days of summer, if you go to a place called Hotaru-sawa in the south part of the park, you might even be able to see some fireflies!
This is a part of the prefecture that stretches from the Chugoku Mountains in the north to the Seto Inland Sea. It is home to a lot of historic townscapes, such as the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter that's filled with beautiful white-walled buildings. Other wonders to see include Mt. Washu, from which there is a fantastic view of the Great Seto Bridge, and the stunningly large limestone cave, Ikurado.
Stroll Around the Beautiful Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter
This area is popular for its townscape consisting of old buildings, willow trees lining a river, and contrasting white-walled and Namako-walled (a Japanese wall design distinguished by white grid patterns on black slate) structures. During the Edo period (1603 - 1868), it flourished as an important rice distribution center, which is why there are still many stone warehouses remaining today. Kurashiki River, which was once a major thoroughfare for trading boats, now offers boat tours for tourists (500 JPY/adult, 250 JPY/age 5 through elementary school). The area is lit up in the evening, giving it a mystical ambiance.
Take a Look at the Exhibits in the Ohara Museum of Art
Established in 1930 by an entrepreneur from Kurashiki, Ohara Magosaburo, this is Japan’s first museum dedicated to modern Western art. It is located in the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter. It has a collection of approximately 3,000 pieces, including El Greco's Annunciation, Gauguin's Delightful Land (Te Nave Nave Fenua), and Monet's Water Lilies. In addition to the Main Gallery that’s situated in a building reminiscent of a Greek temple, there is an Annex and Craft Art Gallery & Asian Art Gallery, which exhibits Japanese art and ancient East Asian art.
Admission fees: 1,300 JPY/general, 800 JPY/university student, 500 JPY/elementary, junior high, and high school students
Visit Kibitsu Jinja
This shrine is dedicated to Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto, the legendary Japanese prince that Momotaro* was modeled after. Designated as a national treasure, the main shrine building is constructed in a Hiyoku Irimoya-zukuri (also called “Kibi-zukuri”) style, which is characterized by a paired wing hip-and-gable roof. There are no other examples of this style of architecture in Japan. There's also the beautiful 400 m corridor extending from the main building, which is an Important Cultural Property of the prefecture. Furthermore, you can find a structure called the “Okamaden” that is said to house the head of an Ura (a barbaric tribe; the demons in Japanese myths). This shrine is also known for Narukama Shinji, which is a ceremony through which fortunes are told based on the sound of a cauldron.
*It is said that the folktale of Momotaro is based on the legend of Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto's conquest over an Ura.
Visit the Castle in the Sky, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle
Built in 1240, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle is famous for being one of the 12 castles in Japan that still have their original tenshu (castle tower). In fact, this is the only mountain castle in Japan that still has its original tenshu, which was restored in 1683. From late September to early April, the area is often surrounded with thick fog. When the fog does come out, the castle looks like it’s floating in a sea of clouds, giving it the nickname "Castle in the Sky". Seeing this view from Bitchu Matsuyama Castle Observatory, which is to the northeast of the castle, is highly recommended by many.
Entrance fee: 300 JPY/adult, 150 JPY/child
Walk Around the Stunning Ikurado Cave
Ikurado is a cave on the side of a sheer 240 m high limestone cliff situated along Takahashi River. It was formed through erosion by rain and other elements, resulting in a limestone cave that’s 1.2 km in length and 90 m from top to bottom. Enter to see a dynamic, magical world created by stalactites that hang like icicles; strangely formed rocks, such as stalagmite, created by drops of water that recrystallized; and three waterfalls.
Entrance fee: 1,000 JPY/adult, 800 JPY/junior high school student, 500 JPY/child
Travel Back in Time at Fukiya Furusato-mura
All the buildings in this town have roofs made from copper red Sekishu-gawara tiles (clay tiles made in Iwami, Shimane Prefecture) and Bengara-colored (a dark, reddish brown) facades. Built between the Edo and Meiji periods (1603 - 1912), this splendid townscape is designated as a Group of Traditional Buildings under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. What’s notable about this town is that all of it was built under one concept that was agreed upon by the leading townspeople then - a progressive approach at that time.
See the Great Seto Bridge From Mt. Washu Observatory
Mt. Washu is known as the spot that offers the best views in Setonaikai National Park. The mountain's name means "eagle wings" and comes from its form that resembles an eagle with its wings spread. It is designated as a Place of Scenic Beauty by the national government. There are two observatory decks from which you can see all of Seto Inland Sea, including its many islands. There is also a complete view of the Great Seto Bridge that connects Honshu with Shikoku.
Visit Kojima Jeans Street to Understand the Allure Behind Jeans "Made in Okayama"
Okayama has a long history in the textile industry. Jeans tailored by local artisans in the prefecture are called Okayama Denim. These trousers are characterized by their high-quality dyeing, weaving, and sewing. Standing out among all other regions in Okayama Prefecture is Kojima District – the birthplace of the jeans industry in Japan. Jeans produced here are known as Kojima Denim and are very popular around the world. At Kojima Jeans Street, you find a wide variety of shops from local brands, each with its own taste and very unique selection of products. Stroll around to find a pair that strikes your fancy and understand the allure behind these jeans.
Enjoy Shopping at Mitsui Outlet Park Kurashiki
If you are in Kurashiki, you don't want to miss shopping at Mitsui Outlet Park Kurashiki! It is the largest outlet mall in the Chugoku region and is conveniently located just 3 minutes on foot from Kurashiki Station. Here, approximately 110 shops - ranging from famous local and overseas fashion brands to sports brands - sell a variety of items, including daily necessities. Many of them are duty-free!
Visit the Yumeji Art Museum for a Taste of the Taisho Era
Yumeji Takehisa achieved great popularity through his unique paintings of beautiful women. Yumeji Art Museum – a quaint building from the same period Takehisa was active, the Taisho era (1912-1926) – has a permanent exhibition of more than 100 of his artworks. The museum also has the largest collection in Japan of his original works. Annexed to the facility is the thatch-roofed house where Takehisa used to live until he was 16, preserved just as it was back then. At the museum’s cafe, you can enjoy matcha green tea, sweets inspired by Takehisa’s artwork, and many other dishes.
Admission fee: 800 JPY for adults; 400 yen for junior high, high school and university students; and 300 yen for elementary school students
Enjoy the Townscape from a Streetcar on the Okayama Electric Tramway
The streetcars of the Okayama Electric Tramway run on two lines, the Higashiyama line and Seikibashi line. Both lines have the Okayama-ekimae station as their starting point and are approximately 3km long. You can enjoy a lovely view of the city from the window, not to mention that streetcars make for a very convenient means of transportation running by places such as Okayama Castle and Okayama Korakuen. Purchasing a one-day pass (400 JPY for adults, 200 JPY for children) allows you to ride both lines as many times as you want. The pass also provides discounts at many sightseeing spots around the area.
Embark on a Boat Cruise to See the Great Seto Bridge
If you want to see from up close the incredible size of Great Seto Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world, you should definitely embark on a boat cruise. The sightseeing boat departing from Kojima Sightseeing Port takes you on a 45-min ride where you can get a better look at this engineering wonder while enjoying the beautiful scenery of the serene Seto Inland Sea and its many islands.
Ticket price: 1,550 JPY for adults; 780 JPY for children
This refers to northern Okayama, where one can experience generations of history and culture, as well as the rich nature of the Chugoku Mountains. There are many places to visit, such as Hiruzen Kogen - a major highland resort of western Japan; the three hot springs of Mimasaka (Yubara, Okutsu, and Yunogo) that are famous for their beauty benefits; and the historic townscape around an old but historically significant road, Tokaido.
Relax at Okutsu Onsen
Okutsu Onsen, which is one of the three hot springs of Mimasaka that are rumored to give beauty benefits, is located in Kagamino - a small rural town by Yoshii River in the Chugoku Mountains. It was opened to the public during the Edo period, and even now, you’ll find many old Japanese inns and guesthouses along the river. At the foot of Okutsu Bridge, there are demonstrations of the local custom, Ashibumi Sentaku* (occurs on Sundays and national holidays between early March and mid-December; cancelled when there is bad weather).
*Refers to "laundry-stomping". This custom began as a way to look out for bears and wolves while doing the laundry in the hot water that sprang up from the river.
Explore the Katsuyama Historical Preservation District
The castle town of Katsuyama is home to a Historical Preservation District, where an old townscape consisting of white walls and latticed windows remains. It originally flourished as a key point along the old Tokaido route. You can still find breweries, homes, and samurai residences that look no different from the past, offering glimpses of what life was like during the Edo period. Some of these homes and breweries have been renovated into cafes and galleries, making it a great place to explore. Make sure you check out the plant-dyed curtains hanging at their entrances!
Visit Hiruzen Kogen
Hiruzen Kogen is western Japan's leading resort area. It faces Hiruzen Sanza (the general term for three mountains: Kami-Hiruzen, Naka-Hiruzen, and Shimo-Hiruzen), which stretches along the border of Tottori Prefecture. It is well-known for being Japan's leading producer of Jersey cattle. People love coming here to see the idyllic scenery filled with grazing cows, as well as to visit Hiruzen Jerseyland - a leisure facility where visitors can enjoy dairy products like Jersey yogurt. Other activities that this area is perfect for are cycling, horseback riding, and camping!
Visit Okayama International Circuit
Okayama International Circuit is a famous race track in West Japan where renowned Formula One pilot Michael Schumacher had one of his first wins. On days when there are no racing events, you can watch the machines running on the track from the comfort of a cafe, or, if you prefer, stroll around areas where you would normally not be allowed entrance during races. If you are lucky enough, you might even be able to see a practice in progress and catch a glimpse of the pilots’ daily routine.
Appreciate Art at Inujima Island
Located in the Seto Inland Sea, Inujima Island is a popular location highly regarded for its art scene. This small island which can be explored entirely by foot is home to many galleries of modern art and a museum that makes use of the building of an abandoned copper refinery more than 100 years old. The island also hosts many other charming attractions, such as cafes and a botanical garden. The world of art gently connects to the daily life of the island, making it a great place to have a relaxing walk.
If you’re looking to savor all that Okayama has to offer, all the places introduced here come highly recommended by many. Before heading to Okayama, take a look at this article!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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