Okayama & Kurashiki – Grapes and Gardens

Okayama Kōraku-en
The true colours of autumnal Japan

In November 2019, I took my parents to Japan for their first time – and my seventh – over two weeks. This series is to be read as a diary, and serves as a place to showcase the pictures taken and preserve the memories made.

Date of trip: 14/Nov/2019 – 28/Nov/2019

This post may contain affiliate links. Purchases made by clicking on an affiliate link may earn a small commission for me, but never at extra cost for you. Please visit the Affiliate Marketing Policy for more information.

All experiences – food, accommodation and activities in this post were independently paid for.

Series Contents (TBC)

Day 1 – Hiroshima (introduction)Day 2 – Okayama
Day 3 – OsakaDay 4 – Mount Koya
Day 5 – KyotoDay 6 – Kyoto
Day 7 – ArashiyamaDay 8 – Kyoto
Day 9 – UjiDay 10 – Hakone
Day 11 – HakoneDay 12 – Tokyo
Day 13 – TokyoDay 14 – Tokyo

Japan Day 2 – Okayama & Kurashiki

Okayama Kōraku-en
Okayama castle from Kōraku-en

Day 2 of the trip was spent in Okayama and Kurashiki, two neighbouring cities a 15min train ride from each other. As they are situated approximately halfway between Hiroshima and Osaka (albeit not isochronally: 45min from Hiroshima and 1.5hrs from Osaka), they make for popular day trips or overnight stopovers. That said unless you’re particularly knowledgeable or into Japanese culture, they unlikely to be on your itinerary as a first-timer, short of a ten-minute fly-by on the Shinkansen.

But Okayama and Kurashiki certainly compete for your attention, in a ‘there’s always something new to discover in Japan’ kind of way. Okayama is known for its peaches (alas, not during autumn – the other edge of the country’s hyper-seasonality sword), as well as muscats (fortunately in season!). The city also lays claim to the tale of Momotaro – a famous hero in Japanese folklore who was literally born from a peach, but you’re probably not here for that unless you’re into folkloristics (yeah, this is a word).

  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama
  • Okayama Kōraku-en

In terms of the visit list, Kōrakuen, one of Japan’s three great gardens (the other two being Kenrokuen in Kanazawa and Kairakuen in Mito), should be right up the top. Okayama Castle forms the backdrop to this fastidiously, beautifully maintained space, with the bright reds & oranges of autumn being the spectacular icing on the cake. Like any sensible Japanese-style garden, Kōrakuen espouses the ethos of natural imperfection, going with the flow and accepting asymmetry.

  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Kōraku-en
  • Okayama Castle
  • Kurashiki Canal
  • Kurashiki Canal
  • Kurashiki Canal
  • Kurashiki Canal
  • Turtles!

As for Kurashiki, a day trip to its Bikan Historical Quarter – similar to a Korean hanok village – was on the cards. You’ll only need a day trip for this, but make it count: explore the local neighbourhood dotted with traditional Kurashiki-style architecture bisected by a canal that’s unabashedly instagrammable; eat muscat grapes and drink muscat wine; visit the Ivy Square; take lots of photos. It’s a take-it-slow kind of day.

  • Kurashiki
  • Kurashiki
  • Kurashiki
  • Kurashiki
  • Kurashiki
  • Kurashiki
  • Kurashiki
  • Muscat jelly, muscat sorbet & muscat sparkling wine
  • Kurashiki
  • Food in Kurashiki
  • Food in Kurashiki
  • Kurashiki
  • Food in Kurashiki
  • Food in Kurashiki
  • Kurashiki

I should mention that at Kurashiki, we stumbled upon a cafe called Yuurin-an (有鄰庵) specialising in tamago-kake-gohan (TKG – yes it’s actually an acronym), as well as Japanese-style sweets. I opted for an inoshishi (wild boar – yeah wow) TKG in which the meat was actually kind of ‘eh’ (boar is leaner and chewier than pork, not quite my thing) but the rice, mixed in with the specially-smoked & soy-infused egg-yolk and liberally doused with TKG sauce was godlike. Man, we’re just talking about rice, yolk and sauce – back to basics never tasted so good! The desserts comprised an amazake (a low-alcohol sweet sake) zenzai, and a rather cute ‘shiawase (joy) panna cotta‘. A rare case of tasting even better than it looked.

  • Udon Noodles in Okayama
  • Udon Noodles in Okayama
  • Udon Noodles in Okayama

Something I quite enjoyed about this trip is that playing the tourist card meant not having to be overly considered regarding reservations at hard-to-get restaurants. For example, dinner was a walk-in at an udon-ya in Okayama called Oyobe (およべ). Curry, mixed veg & tsuke-udon variants were all delicious and sufficiently varied. Quite often the most ‘satisfying’ dishes aren’t the ones that get Michelin stars. You could find ‘bad’ food in Japan if you tried hard enough, but the odds are not in your favour.

Places like Okayama, Kurashiki (and to a lesser extent Kanazawa) provide a glimpse of Japan beyond the ‘big three’ metropolises. The bonus is that these are off-the-beaten-path destinations that are actually on the path! If like me, you’ve already been to Japan a few times and haven’t yet visited, you’re running out of excuses.

This post may contain affiliate links. Purchases made by clicking on an affiliate link may earn a small commission for me, but never at extra cost for you. Please visit the Affiliate Marketing Policy for more information.

All experiences – food, accommodation and activities in this post were independently paid for.

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