Soja (総社市 Sōja-shi) is a city in Okayama Prefecture.
You can travel directly to Soja from Okayama via the JR Kibi Line (¥410) or JR Hakubi Line (¥500) to Soja Station. The JR Hakubi Line connects to many more cities in Okayama. From Kurashiki, you can get to Soja for only ¥240. From Takahashi, it costs ¥410, and from Niimi it costs ¥970. You can also take the JR Limited Express Yakumo 16 from Yonago for ¥4420.
Route 180, which runs from Okayama to Yonago, cuts directly through Soja. The Okayama Expressway also travels through Soja. Those traveling from the north can connect in Maniwa via the Chugoku Expressway, and in the south it branches off from the Sanyo Expressway.
Thanks to the Kibi District Cycling Trail, Soja is a great place for biking. Most of the sites can be reached by bike, and the bike rental is located just outside Soja Station. Rent a bike for two hours for ¥300 or for a day for ¥1000.
- 1 Soja Shrine (總社, Sōja) (A five minute walk from Higashi Soja Station), ☏ +81 86-693-4302. The city was named after this shrine. Free.
- 2 Iyama Hofukuji Temple (井山宝福寺) (North of the Soja station, after a 2.5-km flat course along the railway track, on the west side). Priest Sesshu, one of Japan's most famous painters, studied here as a child. There is a legend that he painted a mouse using only his tears, and it is here that this event is said to have taken place. Very nice leaves colors in autumn. Worth the detour if you are cycling the Kibiji cycling trail. Free.
- 3 Komori-zuka Burial Mound (こうもり塚古墳 Kōmorizuka-kobun). Although the mound is quite small, this burial mound offers you the opportunity to have a look inside the tomb. This tomb is believed to date back to the sixth century. Aside from this, not much else is known about it. Free.
- 4 Bitchu Kokubunji Temple (備中国分寺). Kokubunji Temples are special temples that were designated by the Emperor Shomu as provincial temples. This is the provincial temple of the former Bitchu Province (western Okayama prefecture). The large five-story pagoda, constructed in 1844, is one of the highlights of the Kibi trail. The area surrounding the temple is known as the Kibiji Fudoki-no-oka Prefectural Forest Park. For those wishing to see this temple without travelling along the cycling route, you can take a bus from Soja Station. Free.
- 5 Tsukuriyama Burial Mound (作山古墳 Tsukuriyama-kobun). Not to be confused with the more famous Tsukuriyama Burial Mound nearby in Okayama, the burial mound in Soja is differentiated only by the characters used to write its name: 作山古墳. Like the mound in Okayama, visitors are free to walk atop this mound. Free.
- 6 Kinojo Castle (鬼ノ城 Kino-jō). 24h. This site is one of the sites linked to the Momotaro tale. It is said that the demon Ura used this castle as the base from which he would pillage the nearby village, and its name which literally translates to "Demon Castle" was coined from the legend. As a historic site, it is believed to have been constructed between the 4th-7th century and is one of the oldest castles in Japan. Earthenware and walls remain, along with a reconstruction of the west gate. There is a free visitor center that acts as a small museum about the castle and its history with models and artifacts.
- 7 Gokei Gorge (豪渓), Makidani. A scenic gorge that is particularly popular in the fall when the valley is painted in red, yellow, and orange.
- Kibiji District Cycling Trail (吉備路自転車道). The recommended course is to start at Bizen Ichinomiya Station in Okayama and bike towards Soja, but you could also begin at Soja Station and bike the trail in the opposite direction. The trail is well-marked for travel in both directions. You can rent a bike at Soja Station for ¥1,000 for the day. After you've finished cycling the trail, return your bike at the bike center just outside of Bizen Ichinomiya Station (a straight walk from Kibitsuhiko Shrine, the last attraction along the trail if coming from Soja). The trail is 15 kilometers long, and while officially it takes two hours, if you stop and enjoy the sites it can make an enjoyable half day. For a list of the sites, refer to the Kibiji Area of the Okayama guide.
- 1 Toron, Soja 2-4, ☏ +81 90-7121-1951. Basic tatami mats above a shop selling Thai ethnic merchandise, ¥1000.
- 1 Kitchen Taro (キッチン太郎), Ekimae 2-6-1 (Down the street from Soja Station, opposite Chugoku Bank), ☏ +81 866-92-6324. M-Sa 10:00-21:00. Nice place that makes bento similar to Hokka-ben, but higher quality. Mostly take out, but has a small eat-in area. ¥1000.
- 1 Sun Road Kibiji (国民宿舎 サンロード吉備路), 086-690-0550. Western and Japanese-style rooms. ¥8,550 to ¥13,275 per night including 2 meals.
- 2 Suntopia (サントピア岡山), ☏ +81 86-695-8811. A nice hotel with a large pool that feels like a small waterpark (the pool costs ¥1,400 for adults, ¥1,100 for middle and high school students, ¥700 for elementary school and senior citizens) ¥4,050 without meals.
- 3 Station Plaza Ikedaya Hotel (STATION PLAZA ホテル池田屋), 1-2-2 Ekimae (Across the street from Soja Station), ☏ +81 86-690-0100. Check-in: 16:00, check-out: 10:00. A nice hotel in front of the station. ¥5,250.
- Kurashiki — A charming city famous for its large, well-preserved historic district
- Okayama — Bike in via the Kibiji Cycling Trail or go into the inner city to explore Korakuen Garden, the castle, and a variety of museums
- Takahashi — Home to Japan's highest castle, which is also one of Japan's few remaining original castles