Sunny gardens, artsy islands and a lotta peaches
With its mild, sunny, seaside weather, Okayama is bursting with natural and historical riches. Okayama is most famous for Korakuen, one of Japan’s three best gardens, but it’s also famed for its fruit – white peaches, grapes and strawberries that you’ll find featured in dessert bars throughout the area. (One of Okayama’s biggest folk heroes is the demon-fighting ‘Peach Boy’, Momotaro.) More natural treasure is revealed in its autumn leaves – the charismatic black Okayama Castle shrouded in fiery Japanese maples glowing red, orange and yellow is an unforgettable sight – while manmade delights include incredible shrines, notable ceramics from Bizen and wild, oversized sculptures on the nearby Naoshima Art Islands. And while Okayama might be known for its sun, there’s also good skiing and onsens to explore, as well as gleamy malls and symphony halls. As Okayama is a major transport hub, you can get to Kyoto on a bullet train in an hour, and Hiroshima in just 35 minutes.
Things to do: Okayama
Stroll great gardens
Korakuen is one of Japan’s top three gardens and Okayama’s biggest tourist drawcard. You’ll discover why when you start wandering this lavish expanse of lush lawns, shimmering ponds, serene tea houses, mists of plum and cherry blossoms and, in autumn, explosions of Japanese maples. There’s even a tea plantation and a rice field on the grounds, along with a crane aviary. You’ll find the gardens just across the river from Okayama Castle, which can add cinematic grandeur to your photos.
Visit a black castle
Nicknamed ‘Crow Castle’ because of its black exterior, Okayama Castle is a stunning must-visit. Originally built in 1597, destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in 1966, this six-storey, riverside castle features historical exhibits that tell the castle’s epic story. You can also sign up for a class in Bizen-yaki, a form of pottery specific to Okayama. The views from the upper floors (including the Golden Dolphin on the fifth floor) are spectacular.
See art at sea
If you want an island getaway with a real difference, take a train and a ferry (about 90 minutes all up from Okayama City) to Naoshima. Sure, it’s sunny and beachy, but it’s also known for its cutting-edge architecture, its range of contemporary art galleries and its sculpture installations dotted around the island (yes, that’s a giant pumpkin). This relaxing oasis is the perfect setting to slow down and contemplate the art.
Explore a magical shrine
The sprawling Kibitsu-jinja Shintō shrine has a lot of folklore in its bones. It’s believed to be the source of the Momotaro (Peach Boy) legend; it’s also known for the Narukama Shinji ritual, where the sound a steaming pot of rice makes is supposed to predict whether you’ll have good fortune or not. The shrine features an impressive corridor that stretches 360m and is flanked with seasonal flowers like cherry blossoms and peonies.
Summon the jean genie
Fun fact: Okayama has been the Denim Capital of Japan since the ‘70s. Head for Kurashiki Denim Street for your fill of vintage denim from major Japanese brands – and we’re not just talking jeans. You’ll find dresses, bags and other blue accessories. Taking it one immersive step further, you can also get denim-coloured ice cream (what flavour is denim?!) and burgers and sandwiches in denim-blue buns.
Distance to Okayama City 18km
Bus: There are multiple bus services between the airport and the west exit of Okayama Station. It takes around half an hour.
Taxi: There are a range of ride share, fixed price and regular taxis. The taxi rank is clearly signed at the front of the airport.Back to top
When to go
Okayama’s weather is mild and temperate, but summers can get very hot, wet and humid. Fortunately, Okayama’s coastal location means it’s relatively protected from monsoons and typhoons.
The Cherry Blossom Festival is usually at the start of April. Okayama is well-known for its cherry blossoms stretching more than a kilometre along the Asahi River. Then there’s the two-day Momotaro Festival in early August, which celebrates Momotaro (Peach Boy) with fireworks and street parades. Autumn is ideal for seeing the changing foliage.Back to top
Buses and trams are the main modes of transport within central Okayama. Most of the major tourist sights are quite close to each other so you’ll find it easy to navigate by sight. There are two tram lines that leave from the front of Okayama Station, and several bus companies that run frequently and have some tourist-friendly routes that will get you to the main points of interest.Back to top