Venture just eastward from Hiroshima, or an hour beyond Kyoto, and you’ll find yourself in Okayama Prefecture, the ‘Land of Sunshine’. Boasting an abundance of elegant natural landscapes, and nestled between the calm Seto Inland Sea and Tottori Prefecture, Okayama is a peaceful, relatively undiscovered sanctuary at the tail-end of Honshu island.
Just like the rest of Japan, Okayama oozes with rich history, but what is perhaps most enchanting is its slow pace. Okayama is a welcome tonic to the dynamic and sometimes frenetic buzz of Japan’s bigger cities. It is the sanctuary that Japan’s visitors didn’t even know they needed. That being said, you won’t be wanting for things to do in Okayama.
Okayama: The Home of Momotarō
You’ll feel a palpable celebration of Kibi culture and folkloric heritage all over Okayama Prefecture, most notably embodied in local hero Momotarō (or ‘Peach Boy’).
As the tale goes, Momotarō was born out of a giant peach to parents who had long yearned for a child. He went on to befriend a dog, monkey, and a pheasant, and valiantly defeat demons with the help of his new companions.
Odes to Momotaro are dotted across the region—the most striking of which is a statue standing tall just outside of Okayama City Station. There’s even a whole museum dedicated to this boy hero in the charming town of Kurashiki.
What to see in Okayama, Japan
Travel back in time at Okayama Castle
Okayama Castle is an impressive sight to behold. Its black façade earned it the nickname Ujo, meaning ‘crow castle’. Originally constructed in the late 16th century, the castle that now looms tall is a reconstruction dating from 1966. Explore the castle’s interior, try your hand at popular Bizen pottery, and stroll through the grounds.
If you’re keen on capturing the beauty of this and other citadels on film, we’d recommend organising a photographic trip of the castles in Kansai and other prefectures.
Escape to Koraku-en Garden
Set against the backdrop of Okayama castle, this 300-year-old green oasis sprawls across an island on the Asahi River in Okayama City and is one of the ‘Three Great Gardens of Japan’. Meander through to discover manicured Japanese landscapes and unique expansive lawns. Typical of Chisen-kaiyu (stroll) gardens, a new view surprises you at each turn.
Immerse yourself in the stillness of this garden, enhanced only by the slow trickle and flow of water throughout the garden. The deep transient colors that shift from season-to-season mean that no two visits are ever the same.
Take in the cherry blossoms at Kakuzan Park
Built on the ancient ruins of Tsuyama Castle, Kakuzan Park is a magical place to enjoy cherry blossoms in the spring. Perched on the crest of the hill, Kakusan Park affords mesmerizing views of blossoms alongside Tsuyama city, making it a worthy addition to one of our favorite hanami destinations in Japan. The dazzling illuminations make a night visit just as worthwhile.
Slow things down in Kurashiki Bikan
Only 15 minutes from Okayama City Center, Kurashiki Bikan’s historical quarter has a persuasive power. Visiting this place feels like taking a step back in time—in the best way. As the willows sway lazily, and the canal water ripples, step into the slow rhythm of the ‘Venice of Japan’. Wandering aimlessly through the small winding streets is a magical way to explore this charismatic treasure of a town.
The canals recall a time long ago when rice was transported up and down these waterways. Today, you can enjoy a boat tour for an alternative perspective of the white-fronted merchant houses.
Peruse the shops and restaurants of the delightful Honmachi-Dori, or while your day away at the eclectic Ohara Museum of Art, an unexpected treasure trove of modern masterpieces at the heart of Kurashiki Bikan. The vast private collection of Kojima Torajiro impresses with pieces by Monet, Picasso, Matisse, and El Greco, to name just a few.
Cycle through the Kibitsu plains
Follow in Momotaro’s legendary journey and take a leisurely cycle across the vast Kibitsu plains. These rural flatlands, once home to the eponymous Kibi Kingdom, are now punctuated by picturesque rice fields, farmhouses, and temples. Cycle at your own pace, weave through your surroundings and liberate yourself from the tourist trail.
The 10.5-mile (17-kilometer) cycle path extends from Bizen-Ichinomiya Station, across the plains, to Soja station. A relief to many is the notable absence of any inclines or ascent, it’s a smooth cycle all the way.
Along the way, you’ll encounter the highly treasured Kibitsuhiko Shrine and Kibitsu Shrine, as well as Bitchukokubun-Ji, a five-story pagoda that is celebrated as the last to be built in Japan.
The real joy of this cycle path is that you can make it your own. Choose to admire these immaculate temples from afar, or take a rest stop and venture closer to appreciate their finer details.
Sun yourself at Kibitsuhiko Shrine
Also known as Asahi no Miya or ‘Sunrise Shrine’, Kibitsuhiko Shrine is famed for the precise solar alignment of its buildings that captures the summer solstice dawn and dusk. It is also claimed that you’ll find the tallest stone lantern in all of Japan here, standing at 37.4 feet (11.4 meters).
Admire the architecture at Kibitsu Shrine
Stop off at Kibitsu-Jinja to admire its impressive double-gabled roof and 1,312-foot (400-meter) covered walkway. Enshrined here is the hero prince who inspired the tale of Momotaro, and the shrine’s peach-shaped amulets and charms pay homage to this fact.
Relax and Reenergize in Okayama, Japan
Okayama Prefecture’s relaxed energy makes it the perfect place for some slower-paced tourism. A quiet sanctuary that feels a world away from the energetic vibrancy of Japan’s typical tourist favorites, this is a place to relax into a harmonious balance between exploration and enjoyment.
Take a look at our Japan Travel Guide for more stories about finding calm in the Land of the Rising Sun.
This content was created in partnership with the Japan National Tourism Organization and Japan Airlines.