Nestled on the bullet train line between Osaka and Hiroshima, Okayama often gets overlooked as a tourist destination.
While Okayama does not have the towering skyscrapers of Kobe or the bustling street of Hondori in Hiroshima, it does have history and culture so rich you will be able to feel the true heart and soul of Japan. Imagine crowdless bamboo thickets, flooded rice terraces, and snow-blanketed mountains in the winter.
Okayama, affectionately named harenokuni - the land of sunshine - is the home of the famous legend, Momotaro - the boy born from a peach that befriended animal companions and marched to Demon Island to defeat the demon king. Everywhere you go around the prefecture there is something to pay homage to its mukashibanashi (folktales).
Okayama is also the place I called home for four years. Even though I based myself here for so long, and explored everything I thought I could, I still find new hidden gems.
I first lived in the tiny town of Kibichuo - the true Japanese countryside decorated with cafes in traditional houses, and monkeys that run across the road. I then spent one year living in downtown Okayama City near the main station.
With five-plus years total living in Japan and visiting over half of the prefectures, I can say wholeheartedly that Okayama is one of the best gems of the country, and an absolute shame to skip over on your Japan journey.
Follow along for the top things to do and see in The Land of Sunshine.
While two locations, Okayama Castle and Korakuen are often considered a set trip because of their connection by the Tsukimi bridge. From Korakuen you can view a perfectly centered view of the castle and take one of the best photos of your trip.
Korakuen is one of the great three gardens in Japan and has a history of over 300 years. It is stunning at any time of the year. There are seasonal events, such as cherry blossoms in the spring and illuminated foliage in the fall. Pre-pandemic, there was a night beer garden in the summer.
See here for a list of yearly events. Insta: @okayamakorakuen
Okayama Castle, also nicknamed U-Jo, Crow Castle, is unique for its dark color. Japanese castles are traditionally lighter, but the black lacquer painted onto the side of this castle acts as a preservative.
Before World War 2 the castle was a national treasure. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the war. Now the castle has been rebuilt and two original towers over 400 years old each remain.
See here for the official castle guide.
How to go
The castle and garden are an easy twenty-minute walk from the main station.
You could also take a five-minute tram ride for 100 yen from in front of the station, near Bic Camera. Get off at Shiroshita. From there it is another five-minute walk.
Korakuen - 1-2 Hours
Okayama Castle - 1-2 Hours
Okayama Castle - 300 yen
Korakuen - 400 yen
Set ticket - 560 yen
Okayama City’s neighbor, and the prefecture’s second-largest city, boasts “The Venice of Japan”. Intimate waterways wind through traditional white and black storehouses.
In the 1600s Kurashiki City was an important distribution center for rice. Kura, meaning storehouse, is where the city derived its name from.
Now, visitors use the area for leisure. Even on its most crowded days, the alleyways are pleasant to walk through. Quaint shops open their doors in the daytime selling locally handmade goods. Other activities include animal cafes, street food, and rickshaw rides.
On pleasant days you can enjoy a boat ride passing through the hanging willows that line the canals. Traditional woven hats are provided.
There are also a plethora of museums - the most famous being Ohara - lining the streets. See Japan Guide’s detailed article about the best route to get there from the station and more information on museums.
The Historical Quarter is also a popular spot to wear Kimono. There are several rental shops nearby. See here for an English kimono rental in Okayama! Korakuen and Kurashiki can be reached within an hour of each other, so it is possible to combine the two locations for an entire day to get the most out of your rental.
How to go
The Historical Quarter is an easy 10-minute walk from Kurashiki station. There are busses that go from the station to Ohara Bijutsukan Bus Stop for 170 yen. However, considering traffic, it would be quicker for the average traveler to walk.
2-4 hours. You could dedicate an entire day to the Bikan, or walk through for an hour. However, most travelers recommend a half-day to really soak it in.
Also located in Kurashiki City, South of the Historical Quarter, is Okayama’s best amusement park - Brazilian Park Washuzan Highland. Closeby, and a quick side trip, is Kojima Jeans street. While two separate things to do, their proximity makes them easy to do in a combined day trip.
Kojima is famous throughout the country for being a top denim manufacturer. So much so that there is an entire street dedicated to the craft. Pass under the hanging jeans archway and be met with rows of denim stores. There are opportunities to partake in a custom jeans-making workshop. Premium quality and customization do not come cheap, but you will leave with jeans to last for years to come. See Voyapon’s article about the novelty of Jeans Street and how to make a reservation with Betty Smith.
The amusement park overlooking the Seto Inland Sea has daily Samba shows, bungee jumping, and a plethora of other rides. The most well-known on SNS is the four-story tall Sky Cycle. From the top, you can see Kagawa Prefecture on the other side of the sea.
How to go
From Okayama Station take the train to Kojima Station. If going to Jeans Street, you can get off and walk from here. If going all the way to Washuzan Highland, transfer to the bus at Platform 4 and get off at Washuhairandoyuenchi-mae Stop. The full journey one-way takes around 1.5 hours and costs 510 yen.
Kojima Jeans Street - this depends! If you plan on shopping and buying denim products then dedicate a few hours to the street. If going to explore, then at most one to two hours as the area is very small.
Washuzan Highland - as long as you like!
Kojima Jeans Street - Free to visit, but denim products are costly.
Washuzan Highland - 3,800 yen for the admission ticket. Certain amenities in the park cost more money.
One of the best aspects of Okayama is its easy access to the Seto Inland Sea - a serene stretch of water between Honshu and Shikoku. The island-speckled waters have been nicknamed “The Aegean of Japan”.
Some islands in the seas are split between Hyogo, Tokushima, Okayama, Kagawa, and Hiroshima prefectures, but most are easily accessible from Okayama. The waters are calm and the breeze is balmy from spring to autumn.
The art islands
There is no shortage of islands to choose from, but the most popular is the art island: Naoshima - technically in Kagawa Prefecture, but accessible from Okayama. Teshima, considered a sister to the art island, is nearby. The two can be combined in a day trip, but Naoshima requires the most time.
Also not to be missed are the Kasaoka Islands, accessible by ferry from nearby Kasaoka Station. Of the total thirty-one islands, only seven are inhabited.
These islands are filled to the brim with history, from providing stones used in the construction of Osaka Castle on Kitagi-Shima to charming beaches and international villas on Shirai-Shima. If you are up for a bit of a hike, you can also reach the top of Taka-Shima and get a view just as good as the top of Miyajima without the crowds.
In Tamano, overlooking Shibukawa beach - ranked the best beach in Okayama - is the cheeky Niko Niko (smiley) rock.
Mt. Ojigatake is considered the best lookout point in the Seto-Inland Sea area. From the top, on a clear day, you can see the entirety of the island-speckled waters and into Shikoku beyond. You can see The Seto Bridge - an expansive 13 km suspension bridge across four islands - connecting Honshu to Shikoku in its entirety from the top. The Seto Bridge holds the record for being the world’s longest two-tiered bridge as you can cycle across it!
There are several things to do at the top of Mt. Ojigatake (it is personally one of my favorite places in the prefecture).
Belk cafe serves locally made sweets as well as freshly ground coffee. It can be difficult to get a table inside on the weekends so plan accordingly. There are no other options for food on top of the mountain, so either eat before or bring food with you! From the cafe, you not only get great views of the sea but can also watch paragliders take off. You can find more information about paragliding here - all in Japanese.
You can climb to the top of the smiling rock or step out to other formations in the surrounding park to take pictures. Note that the area is filled with wildlife and you might just be met with wandering wild boars (really).
How to go: There is a parking lot at the top of the mountain for lucky drivers. But, public transportation does not go all the way up. It takes about two hours from Okayama Station by bus. Get off at Karakotoen-guchi. From there, expect about a 40-minute hike up 1000+ stairs. You could potentially call a taxi to take you up.
Recommended time: You can see the areas in under an hour, but it is worth it to spend a long time there with friends or family. Bring a picnic blanket and enjoy yourself! If you want to take pictures, waiting for golden hour will give you stunning shots.
Any beer enthusiast in Japan will tell you that Kirin is one of the most popular brands in the country. Kirin Ichiban has consistently been ranked in the top ten for over thirty years.
There are nine factories in the country open for tours - one located conveniently outside of Okayama City! The website is in English, but the tours will be conducted in Japanese. On the tour, you will be taken through the entire brewing process, and be treated to drinks throughout the day.
How to go: When you book your tour online you have the option to select a free shuttle.
Price: 500 yen for those 20+. Free for 19 and under, but must be accompanied by someone over 20.
In the Eastern part of the prefecture is the quiet seaside town of Setouchi. This is where you can feel the true peace of a rural Japanese fishing village. There is also an international guesthouse that runs monthly beach clean-ups and offers travelers affordable accommodation right by the sea - Uni House.
No traveler to Okayama should miss the Bizen Osafune Sword Museum. Thanks to the efforts of workers from around the world, there is an extensive guide in English, Japanese, and French detailing the Japanese Sword making process. Step through the doors of the museum and be face to face with hundreds of years of national treasures.
See here for an in-depth view of the katana-making process and a preview of what you can view in the museum.
While you’re in the area, stop by the Ushimado Olive Garden. You can relax the afternoon away by dipping bread in locally produced olive oil and be treated to a view of serene waters.
Bizen city is the Easternmost part of Okayama. Here you can take part in pottery workshops using clay specific to the region. Bizen Yaki is sold around the prefecture, and you will find several cafes that use Bizen-ware as servery. The richness of the clay slightly changes the flavor of teas. On a sweltering summer day, people in the prefecture enjoy drinking cold tea enhanced by a handcrafted teacup. It also makes for unique souvenirs.
Eat Fresh Oysters in Winter
After crafting your masterpiece, consider taking a side trip to the nearby Hinase. A part of Bizen City, Hinase, is famous for some of the finest oysters in the country in winter. Setouchi Finder has a descriptive article on how to satiate your seafood-loving palette!
Shizutani School, also in Bizen City, is the first school for the common people in Japan. It was established in the late 1600s by the lord of Okayama - Ikeda Mitsumasa - and heralded a Special Historic Spot in 2015. The school’s roof is created entirely from the local Bizen Yaki and the interior is expertly preserved.
In autumn two Chinese pistache trees ignite the surrounding area in fiery foliage. At night you can enjoy the trees illuminated after sunset.
How to go: Drive appx. 50 minutes from Okayama station. By public transportation, take the train to Yoshinaga station. From there, taxis will be available at the front of the station.
Recommended Time: The area is small and can be seen in 1-2 hours. Consider combining this in a day trip with another spot in the area.
The Kibitsu Region is worthy of its own post. Spanning from Soja City to Northern Okayama City, the Kibitsu Region is heralded as one of the most historically important regions in Okayama. You can explore the entire region via clearly labeled bike trails. The trail stretches 17km between Soja station and Bizen-Ichinomiya station.
Here you can cycle through the birthplace of local hero Momotaro, climb to the top of a key-hole-shaped burial mound, and explore shrines named National Heritage sites.
Go in spring to enjoy the paths of sakura trees, or in autumn to catch the plentiful foliage.
How to go: You can begin your journey at either station. Bicycle rental stores are available directly next to the stations. The most popular starting point is Soja station. Follow the blue signs and labeled paths. Rental prices are around 1300yen for the entire day.
Recommended Time: The recommended time is between 3-4 hours. This could be stretched longer depending on if you plan to spend more time at the sites. Protip: pack a picnic blanket and enjoy lunch on the lawn of Bitchu Kokubun-ji.
Just to the north of Soja City plains is mountainous, rural Takahashi City. Takahashi stretches far into the outskirts of the prefecture, but the main area is pocketed in a valley on the Takahashi River. Takahashi station boasts a modern library and Starbucks.
However, the real draw of the town is one of Japan’s last original twelve castles - Bitchu Matsuyama Castle. It has withstood the test of time, towering over the town at 430 meters. Throughout the centuries, powers shifted and paved the way for several rulers of the keep. Now, the true king of the castle is Sanjuro - the regal, orange cat.
In the winter months, you can see a sea of clouds blanketing the surrounding mountains.
Also in the further reaches of the city is a picturesque preserved town - Fukiya Furusato Village. This area is famous for the copper-tinted homes decaled from the nearby (closed) mines.
A bit beyond that are the married rocks - meo-to iwa. Local bloggers - The Wadas On Duty - wrote about access here.
Another one of Okayama’s country theme parks is located in Akaiwa City. Doitsu no Mori - German Forest Park - is the perfect place for families and groups of friends to spend a day. The entire park is reminiscent of a quaint German town. Here you can spend the afternoon drinking craft beer and taking photos from the multitude of instagrammable spots.
Other features of the park include archery, a petting zoo, and go-carts. Blooming flower fields stretch as far as the eye can see, changing throughout each season.
How to go: Driving is the easiest, but for those without car access there are infrequent busses from Okayama station.
From Okayama station, ride the bus to Niborishimo stop. The trip takes about 1.5 hours and costs 710 yen one way.
Price: General adult entry is 1200yen. There are amenities in the park that cost extra.
Recommended time: Plan an entire day there!
Trails are plentiful in the mountainous northern reaches of the prefecture. There are courses for beginners to expert hikers.
The most popular trails are in the Hiruzen Highlands (see the cycling section for the path here, as well!). Here you can traverse across three summits - Mt. Kami-Hiruzen, Mt. Naka-Hiruzen, and Mt. Shimo-Hiruzen. The highest peak is 1,202 meters. On clear days you can see all the way to the Sea of Japan.
Hikers can go up to the first peak and back down to create a simpler course. In the summer Hiruzen Kogen is a popular campground.
Hiruzen is far enough North in the winter that snow can accumulate. There are a few different ski resorts, but Hiruzen Bear Valley is the best one.
If you are an avid winter sports fan, then it is worth it to drive an extra half hour North to Daisen White Ski Resort - read my guide here.
Swinging around to the Eastern part of the prefecture is Mt. Nagi in Nagi Town - famous for being the hometown of Masashi Kishimoto, the author of Naruto.
Mt. Nagi towers over the residential areas. You can catch a great view of it from the Nagi MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art). It is a modern museum featuring abstract exhibitions dedicated to the sun, moon, and earth. Visit the sun tunnel to take the perfect Instagram shot.
On the mountain, there are a few courses to choose from. See here for trail maps. The best time to visit is in autumn when the foliage is in full. From the peak, you can see the Seto Inland Sea in the South.
Bisei, a part of the larger Ibara city, is located in the western part of the prefecture on the border of Hiroshima. A local legend states that long ago three stars fell from the heavens onto the town, blessing the area. Shrines now exist in those spots. The name Bisei, meaning beautiful stars, was derived from this.
Three astronomical observatories - Hoshizora Park, Bisei Space Guard Center, and Bisei Astronomical Observatory - are scattered throughout the town.
Bisei has collaborated with the IDA (International Dark-Sky Association) to enact light ordinances in the town to preserve the beauty of the Milky Way. Now, Bisei stands as the first town in all of Asia to be IDA certified.
Arrive early as the parking lots can fill and are relatively small.
How to go: Access is difficult if you do not have a car.
The nearest bus station is Nakadani or Bisei Byoin Mae. Nakadani can be reached (infrequently) from Ibarasen Yakage Station. From the Nakadani bus stop, it is a 25-minute walk. See the official Bisei English website for information about Bisei Byoin Mae.
Recommended time: Arrive before sunset and stay into the night!
Price: The entrance fee for the Astronomical Observatory is 300yen.
Niimi city is a quaint, countryside town located in the northern part of the prefecture. It is known for untouched nature, quality Chiya beef, and limestone caves: Ikura-do Cave and Maki-do Cave. The caves are both lit in an array of lights and stay a temperate 15 degrees celsius year round.
Be prepared to climb stairs, and be on the lookout for slippery floors!
While you are in the area, get to know Niimi for being the heart and soul of rural Okayama. A former expat in Niimi, Johnny Foster, wrote a detailed guide of the city here!
How to go: Both are best reached by car. The parking lots are expansive and free. You can ride to JR Ikura Station, but keep in mind that the trains are infrequent and if you do not time things right you could be left waiting for hours for the next one.
Price: 1000yen admission for each cave.
Okayama has no shortage of museums, but the most unique is any cat lover’s dream. Located in Northern Okayama City, deep in the heart of the countryside, is the secluded Manekineko Museum. This museum is ranked as one of the smallest museums in Japan! Inside, you will find over 700 lucky cat figures.
Once you finish your walkthrough, the hospitable workers provide you with complimentary snacks and tea.
Cadycorner to the museum is a mini-workshop where you can paint your own manekineko! You can choose from one of three statues. When I went I chose the curled-up cat with a smiling face.
Each color represents a different type of fortune you want to bring into your life.
How to go: It is a 20-minute drive from Okayama station and there is no direct public transportation to the museum. The cheapest way to go is to take the train to Bizen-Hara station on the Tsuyama line. From there it is a 9-minute taxi ride.
Price: The museum admission fee is 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for children. If you opt to create your own manekineko it is around an additional 2000 yen.
Kanba no Taki in Maniwa City is one of the tallest in Western Japan - stretching 110 meters high and 20 meters wide. It is in the top 100 waterfalls in Japan.
More famous than the towering falls or the fiery autumn foliage are the roughly 200 monkeys that inhabit the park! When the park staff sprinkles food on the ground the monkeys come out in droves - right next to you.
Be careful because the monkeys are wild animals and therefore should be treated with respect and not played with.
How to go: It is quite difficult to get to the falls by public transportation. The nearest station is Chugoku Katsuyama Station, and from there you can take a taxi.
Price: 300 yen admission fee.
Okayama, known as The Land of Sunshine, is also commonly known as “Fruits Kingdom”. This is because the prefecture’s mild climate allows for an array of quality fruit to grow year-round. You can expect to find the highest quality fruit you have ever tasted!
Fruit picking is a common activity for groups to do throughout the seasons. Each time of year boasts its own type of fruit. Okayama is most famous for white peaches (paying tribute to Momotaro - Peach Boy!), pione grapes, muscat grapes, blueberries, and strawberries.
Fruit picking sessions typically last around 45 minutes - 1 hour. Each facility has its own pricing and rules.
See the official Okayama, Japan website here for an official list of farms and reservations based on fruit.
Okayama is home to some of the most unique festivals in the entire country.
In August the annual “Uraja Odori” festival is held across the entire city. Dance teams perform from Okayama castle all the way to Okayama Station and Aeon Mall (even going through the streets!) This festival is the true heart and soul of Okayama, and residents take great pride in it. The fun of the festival almost makes you forget about the scorching August heat - almost. Food stalls selling cold beer and ice cream are scattered around the downtown area and near performance venues to help prevent heat stroke.
See local content creator Q2 Japan’s thorough video on Uraja here.
Perhaps the most famous, and notable festival, is Hadaka Matsuri - otherwise known as Naked Man Festival. It is exactly what it sounds like. Every year on the frigid third Saturday of February, approximately ten thousand men donning only mawashi gather at Saidaiji Temple to run laps around the temple complex and purify themselves in water. The main event happens when all the runners gather on the main stage in a heated clash (literally, you can see the cloud of sweat and hormones) with the hope of grabbing one of the Shingi sticks for good fortune.
Other local festivals include Kibichuo’s Kamo-Taisai Festival, one of the most sacred festivals in the prefecture. The main eight shrines around Kibichuo Town carry portable shrines - mikoshi - to the main Sojagu Shrine every year on the third Sunday in October.
These are some of the most famous regionally, but there are a plethora of other festivals occurring throughout the year. See the official event calendar here and keep an eye on SNS feeds to make sure you do not miss anything!
Deserving of its own article entirely is how to experience the seasons in Okayama. Spring brings life to the whimsical sakura trees, and autumn is when the mountains turn ablaze with the rich foliage.
Okayama is home to some of the top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan. The best places to spend an afternoon with friends under the cherry trees are Tsuyama Castle, The Asahi River, The Botanical Gardens, Sakazu Park, Daigo Cherry Tree, and Gaisen Sakura in Shinjo.
Be on the lookout for a more extensive list of all locations coming soon!
For more information on things to do throughout the prefecture, see below for the official website for each town. Note that they are all in Japanese, but will ensure that you never miss an event!