Okayama Prefecture (岡山県 Okayama-ken) is in the western Chugoku region of the main Japanese island Honshu.
With more sunny days and fewer rainy days than most other prefectures, Okayama is nicknamed the Land of Sunshine (晴れの国 hare no kuni). When it's raining in the surrounding prefectures, it is not uncommon for Okayama to be merely cloudy or even sunny, which is great news for travelers. The weather has also made Okayama a famous fruit region. Muscat grapes and peony grapes are well-known local fruits. Peaches are also particularly famous. The prefecture has produced a handful of its own varieties of white peaches which are often considered to be the best peaches in the nation. Peaches are also special as Okayama is also known as the place where the Momotaro (Peach boy) folktale originated. Those with an interest in the story can visit many sites associated with it around the capital, and those with an interest in the fruits should seek out one of the many fruit parfait restaurants and cafes.
Okayama Prefecture was formed from the combination of three former provinces; Bizen, Bitchu, and Mimasaka. Bizen Province has been known throughout history for its high-quality swords. Bizen swords are still made in Setouchi where visitors can learn about, purchase, and even witness the swordsmaking process. It's also the home of Bizen Pottery. The modern city of Bizen is one of Japan's "six kilns", the six most famous and treasured pottery towns in the country. It was among the wealthiest provinces where most of the modern capital was built up around by the daimyo of Okayama Castle. The Bitchu Region makes up the western area of the prefecture and was historically considered to be part of an entirely different region than the other two provinces. Bitchu Matsuyama Castle from which the province was once ruled still exists as one of Japan's few remaining original castles. During the Edo Period, the city of Kurashiki emerged as the province's commercial center. The Bikan Area contains many of the old merchant buildings to this day. It's among the largest in the country. The Mimasaka Region, located in the north, is renowned for its nature and hot springs. Many of the area's historic sites are connected to the old Izumo Pilgrimage Route which cuts through the region. Musashi Miyamoto, the reputedly undefeated samurai master, is said to be from Mimasaka. Half of his remains are also buried here.
- 1 Okayama — The prefectural capital, known for its gardens, fruit, and folklore.
- 2 Asakuchi — Home to one of Japan's National Astronomical Observatories. A beautiful place to check out the Inland Sea, along with Hinase in Bizen and nearby Kasaoka.
- 3 Bizen — Pottery town designated as one of Japan's Six Kilns.
- 4 Kasaoka — A small port town known for its ramen and the rural, visitor-friendly 1 Shiraishi Island.
- 5 Kumenan — Small town in central Okayama with the peaceful atmosphere typical of the Japanese countryside.
- 6 Kurashiki — Old merchant town with a well-preserved historical quarter.
- 7 Nagi — A small northern town with a world-class modern art museum.
- 8 Niimi — A great place for nature-lovers, Niimi has two famous caves that visitors can enjoy.
- 9 Soja — Birthplace of the poet-priest Sesshu.
- 10 Takahashi — Home of Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, the only original mountain castle in the nation.
- 11 Tsuyama — A former castle town known as one of the best cherry blossom spots in West Japan.
- 2 Inujima
- Mimasaka — Birth city of the famous samurai Musashi Miyamoto
- 3 Ibara
- 4 Shinjo
- 5 Nishiawakura
- 6 Tamano
Most people of Okayama speak standard Japanese. There is an Okayama Dialect, but it is weaker than the Kansai or Aomori Dialects.
1 Okayama Airport (岡山空港 OKJ IATA). Has flights to Tokyo (1 hr), Sapporo (2 hrs) and Naha (2 hrs). There are also international flights to Shanghai and Seoul (both 1.5 hrs), Dalian, Beijing, and Guam.
Okayama is a major train hub in Western Japan. All trains on the Sanyo Shinkansen line stop at Okayama Station. Kodama trains also stop at Shin-Kurashiki Station in Kurashiki. Anyone traveling by train from Shikoku must travel through Okayama from Sakaide on the Marine Liner.
The Chugoku Expressway passes through Tsuyama and Niimi in the north, and the Sanyo Expressway travels through the southern portion through the Bizen area (including Okayama City) and southern Bitchu area. The Chugoku Expressway begins in Nishinomiya and the Sanyo Expressway branches off from it in northern Kobe. Both terminate in Shimonoseki in the west.
Okayama Station is connected to nearly every part of the prefecture. The Tsuyama Line connects it to the northern Mimasaka Region, the Hakubi Line goes up to the northern parts of the Bitchu Region and the Sanyo Line serves the rest of the Bitchu area, as well as the Bizen area. Nearly every station in the prefecture can be reached either directly or with one transfer from Okayama Station. A vast majority of the prefecture's sites are accessible by train.
Many places in the prefecture that are not located near train stations can still be accessed by bus. Buses can be used to reach all three of the famous Mimasaka onsen. There are also buses to other famous areas, including the Hiruzen Highlands, Hattoji, and the historic village of Fukiya.
In spite of the implications of its name, which translates to mean "Hilly Mountains" or "Hills and Mountains", Okayama Prefecture has some great and very flat cycling options. The Kibi Plains are particularly well-known, connecting the northwestern part of Okayama City to Soja. The Katatetsu Roman Kaido is a cycling trail that goes from Bizen, through Wake and parts of Akaiwa, before ending in the northern town of Misaki. Most people just spend a day on these trails using rental bikes, but they are viable travel options for those who have their own bikes.
While most travelers should be able to get by using public transportation, as always, having a car gives you the most options and allows you to cover more ground in a day. Car rentals are available in many cities, such as Okayama, Kurashiki, Tsuyama, and Takahashi.
It's best to avoid the Sanyo Highway on weekdays when people are heading home from work. Traffic jams are frequent.
- Take a stroll through Korakuen Garden, one of Japan's top three gardens (Okayama)
- See the majestic Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, Japan's highest castle and only original mountaintop castle (Takahashi)
- Browse the shops and museums in the beautiful Bikan Historic District, one of the largest and best preserved historic districts in the nation (Kurashiki)
- Tour the Shizutani School, the first school in Japan to be open to all citizens regardless of rank or class (Bizen)
- Marvel at the world-class modern art museum, NAGI MoCA in Nagi or the art island of Inujima in the Seto Inland Sea.
- See how the famous Bizen swords, once among the best in the nation, are made at the Bizen Osafune Museum (Setouchi)
- Walk along Joto Street, the old Izumo Pilgrimage Route (Tsuyama)
- Visit the Yumeji Seika, the childhood home of artist Yumeji Takehisa in Setouchi and the Yumeji Art Museum in Okayama
- Wander the grounds of Saijo Inari, considered to be one of Japan's three great Inari shrines (Okayama)
- Visit Iyama Hofukuji Temple where the famous poet and priest Sesshu once studied (Soja)
- View the large collection of famous European artwork at the Ohara Museum of Art (Kurashiki)
- Explore the beautiful Ikura Ravine and Maki Cave (Niimi)
- Walk among the mysterious rock formations on Ojigatake Hill (Tamano)
- Enjoy the unique burnt orange buildings in Fukiya's historic district (Takahashi)
- Relax on Washuzan Hill and enjoy views of the Seto Inland Sea and Seto Ohashi Bridge (Kurashiki)
- Visit one of only five National Astronomical Observatories in the nation (Asakuchi)
- View the thousands of cherry blossoms as you stroll among the ruins of Tsuyama Castle (Tsuyama)
- Learn about the History of Okayama Prefecture and the story that inspired the tale of Momotaro as you bike (or hike) along the Kibiji District Trail (Okayama, Soja)
- Make your own Bizen pottery (Bizen)
- Partake in the festivities celebrating Momotaro at the Momotaro Festival (Okayama)
- Enjoy swimming in the Glass House or sports outside in Green Hills Tsuyama (Tsuyama)
The most famous hot springs in the prefecture are Yubara Hot Springs (Maniwa), Yunogo Hot Springs (Mimasaka), and Okutsu Hot Spring (Kagamino), all located in the northern part of the prefecture. Each of these make great getaway destinations to relax and rejuvenate.
If these are too far out of the way, you can also try Niimi Chiya Hot Springs in Niimi or Asagiri Onsen in Takahashi. The Seto Ohashi Spa Resort in Kurashiki also offers a variety of baths and ways to relax. The first onsen established in Yakage in 2015, the Yakageya has become a popular respite for locals and travelers alike.
- Okayama's Muscat grapes and peaches are the tastiest in the nation.
- Indulge in the award-winning Hiruzen Yakisoba in Maniwa.
- Kibi Dango is a famous treat that originated in Okayama and is enjoyed by Momotaro in the famous Peach Boy folktale.
- Try the pork of Okayama black pig, raised and bred in Nagi.
- Taste Bizen's Bizen Curry, a more spicy variety than the typical Japanese curry.
- Tsuyama Manju and Tsuyama Senbei are sweet snacks from Tsuyama.
As you might expect from a grape-growing region, Okayama is famous for wine (at least in Japan). The Sapporo Okayama Winery in Akaiwa is a popular place to sample and purchase local wines. There is a Kirin Beer Factory in Okayama, as well, which can be toured.
For hotels, Okayama has an abundance of choices, with options for all budgets. Kurashiki also has many options. For most tourists in the southern part of the prefecture staying in one of these two cities will be most convenient, although there are accommodations available in most of the other cities, as well. In the northern region, Tsuyama has the most options. There are also hotels and ryokans in each of the famous onsen areas for those who want to relax in a more traditional setting.
- Okayama International Villas (岡山国際交流ヴィラ Okayama Kokusai Koryū Villa), firstname.lastname@example.org. Those looking for cheap accommodations outside of the hustle and bustle of the cities should look into Okayama's international villas. There are two villas, each offering a very different and unique experience. Shiraishi Villa is on Shiraishi Island, off the coast of Kasaoka. The island has beaches, Buddhist temples, and excellent hiking trails to keep visitors occupied. Hattoji Villa is located in a quaint, isolated farming village in Bizen. The surrounding homes have traditional Japanese thatched roofs, offering visitors a glimpse of traditional Japanese life and the chance to experience what it's like to stay in such houses. The International Villas are located in more remote areas so that visitors can enjoy the local culture. When making reservations at the villas, it is best to stay only as long as you wish to explore the areas surrounding the villas themselves. It is not recommended to try and use the villas as bases to explore other areas. Those wanting to see more of Okayama after their villa stay should change accommodations to a more convenient location, such as Okayama City. You can make reservations on the website, by mail, or by inquiring at the International Center in Okayama City on the 6th floor.
- Shikoku Okayama is the main point of access to Shikoku from Honshu via the Seto Ohashi Bridge and the Marine Liner. Kagawa Prefecture features the breathtaking Ritsurin Garden and the historic Yashima Island, where the Battle of Yashima took place during the Gempei Wars in the city of Takamatsu. Throughout the island of Shikoku are the famous temples of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. In Marugame lies one of Japan's original castles, Marugame Castle. From Kagawa Prefecture, you can travel onward to Kochi Prefecture, Ehime Prefecture, or Tokushima Prefecture.
- Hyogo Prefecture located to the east, is home to Himeji, a city most famous for its well-preserved white castle. Further travel will take you to Kobe, a harbor city.
- Tottori Prefecture to the north is most famous for its natural sites, including the Tottori Sand Dunes, the only dunes in Japan, located in Tottori City. In the eastern region lies Daisen, home to Mount Daisen, a popular place for climbing, hiking, and skiing (in the winter). Daisen-ji Temple is also located on this mountain. The Mitokusan Nageiredo is a mysterious temple built on a cliff in Misasa in which to this day nobody knows how it was built.
- Hiroshima Prefecture lies to the west of Okayama Prefecture. The nearest city is Fukuyama, featuring a variety of art and historical museums, as well as Fukuyama Castle. The most famous sites in this prefecture are Genbaku Dome in Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Memorial Museum in the city of Hiroshima and Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island. Onomichi is another interesting destination with its own 88 Temples of Innoshima, inspired by the famous 88 Temple Pilgrimage of Shikoku. It also has many places to view flowers and the Innoshima Suigun Castle.