Kurashiki is a small city not too far from Okayama. Located just 15 minutes or so from Okayama Station itself, it is a popular place for both tourists and locals alike. Kurashiki was brought to my attention by one of my students when I said that I would be visiting Okayama. She told me that I had to visit Kurashiki as it is very beautiful. She told me that it was an old area that has remained relatively unchanged since the Edo era. From what she said, I did a cursory look into Kurashiki and decided that if I had the time, I would visit Kurashiki. After the Setouchi Triennale, I had a night in Okayama so I decided to make the day trip to Kurashiki and see what all the fuss was about. I was really happy to have made the side trip to see it as I was able to relax amongst the throngs of tourists as well as enjoy the local area.
I arrived in Kurashiki a little early and had a look around the station. For locals, the north side of the station must be pretty popular. There is a large outlet mall serving the people of Okayama and I’m sure they head to Kurashiki to enjoy a little shopping from time to time. Between the station and the outlet mall is a very curious square. The square is surrounded by a pedestrian overpass which provides good views of the square itself. The square is dedicated to Hans Christian Anderson, the famous Danish writer who is most famous for his fairy tales. The two most famous fairy tales from Anderson, for me, are “The Little Mermaid” and “Thumbelina”. The square was a very strange place as at first I couldn’t figure out the connection between Hans Christian Anderson and Kurashiki, Okayama, or even Japan. The square was very European with a large clock tower in the middle of a small fountain and 4 Norse Vikings on pillars surrounding the clock. You then have Hans Christian Anderson himself gazing at the clock with the little mermaid below in the fountain. I was completely dumbstruck by the strange square until I discovered why it was built. It was originally part of a theme park called Tivoli, a Danish theme park built on the north side of Kurashiki Station. It was akin to the huge Huis Ten Bosch theme park built in Nagasaki that replicated the Netherlands. It went out of business in 2008 and the only remaining thing left is the Hans Christian Anderson Square. Now the entire theme park has been replaced with an outlet mall which is sure to make money.
Most of the tourist activities lie to the south of the station. The best way to the historical Bikan district is to take a walk along the Ebisu shopping arcade. With a lot of Ebisu themed pictures and statues, it is hard to ignore the fact that it is an Ebisu shopping arcade. To be honest, it wasn’t very interesting but it is better than the main road. At the end of the Ebisu shopping arcade is the main attraction for Kurashiki, the old Bikan district with its famous warehouses. Kura, of Kurashiki, means warehouse, which is where the area gets its name. As you enter the Bikan district, you will notice a very distinct look to the buildings. They all look very old and majestic. The entire area is a little difficult to navigate with different streets wandering left and right and finding the main attraction can be difficult if you don’t know where you are going. I had a lot of fun getting lost in the small streets but you do have to be careful as there are still lots of cars travelling up and down the small streets. The tourists all seemed oblivious to the traffic as they all seemed to enjoy looking at the small shops. I also enjoyed looking at the small shops but didn’t get much of a chance to really check all of them out. I did check out a few of them and it was a lot of fun to see some of the small town trinkets. Unfortunately, I have been to so many small Japanese towns that all of the trinkets are starting to blur together.
The main point of interest in the historical district has to be the canal in the Bikan district. The canal is lined with large warehouses where rice used to be stored during the Edo era. Today most of the warehouses have been converted into museums for everything. There are typical art galleries but they also have a few obscure museums such as the Rural Toy Museum and the Senichi Hoshino Museum, a museum dedicated to an old Japanese baseball player who is currently the manager of the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Senichi Hoshino was born in Kurashiki and they decided to honour him with a small museum dedicated to his ongoing career. I never visited his museum but I did visit the gift shop of his museum and it was full of Hanshin Tigers and Rakuten Golden Eagles items. I didn’t get a chance to visit any other museum either as I was a little pressed for time to return to Tokyo but if I ever get a chance to revisit Kurashiki, I will definitely try to visit one or two of the museums. They all seemed to have a unique character and it seemed like it would be fun to see some of the museums. The only down side I could find is that the price of the museums were a little expensive for what they appeared to be.
The canal itself is a very beautiful place. I had the misfortune to visit Kurashiki before the trees had time to sprout leaves so the canal was not in the best shape. I’m sure it would have looked better if the trees were full of leaves rather than the barren trees that I did see. There are regular cruises in the canal in an old boat, similar to a canoe, where old men take a dozen tourists up and down the short canal. They give a little history lesson to the people and you can enjoy the district from a different vantage point. Unfortunately the tour guides are older gentlemen so don’t expect them to be able to speak English, and if they do it is probably limited. Also expect the cruises to be a little busy with many older people. I didn’t feel like taking the cruise as I could walk faster than the old men could paddle but it was nice to see them and all of the tourists enjoying themselves on a warm morning. The canal is also lined with many shops and I did do a little shopping. I have been on a ji-beer (craft beer) binge lately enjoying all of the local beers in Japan. In Kurashiki, rather Okayama, you can get Doppo beer. It is a craft beer that specializes in German style beer. You can find the beer all over at various gift shops so be sure to check it out if you can. I did enjoy the beer but I wouldn’t call it the best in Japan, but I wouldn’t say no if someone bought me some as a gift.
The last place to visit in Kurashiki is the Ivy Square. I stumbled upon this place by accident. I was mainly interested in finding a washroom, and I found it inside the Ivy Square. I didn’t care too much to visit it at first because it looked pretentious and to be very honest, it was. Ivy Square is a very nice place with its red brick buildings that are covered in ivy. Unfortunately I was too early to see the ivy and the red brick buildings just looked ugly with the brown vines all over the sides. I’m sure it is more beautiful in the summer but I was disappointed. The main square is also nice but considering it had a very European feel to it, I wasn’t too impressed. Japan has a strange obsession with red brick buildings and calling them romantic. While it isn’t bad, I wouldn’t call it terribly romantic, but they do play the romantic card and it extends to the types of shops that are in the Ivy Square area. The shops inside the Ivy Square area were designed to have a pretentious feel and the prices of the craft items such as dishes were a bit high. While the employees were friendly and the items were very beautiful, the prices were all suitable for high end items which meant none of them were within my own price range. If you are curious about the Ivy Square, there is no harm to spend a few minutes wandering around the area but I found it hard to highly recommend it to anyone
Kurashiki beat all of my expectations as a place to visit. I would love to visit Kurashiki again but I would have to take my time when I visit the area. I was a little rushed as I had an early afternoon train to catch to return to Tokyo. The historical area was lovely and the locals were friendly. It was a far cry from the way I felt in Okayama city itself. I could be a little skewed due to the sour taste Okayama left in me but I still think Kurashiki is a nice place. I doubt I would need to go back more than once, and if you aren’t rushing, I’d say a single visit is all you need. If you are just passing through Okayama so you can spend a couple hours to see Korakuen, there is no real need to visit Kurashiki. If you do have a little extra time, make the effort to take a look as you might be pleasantly surprised as I was.
- Kurashiki (Japan Guide)
- Kurashiki (Wikitravel)
- Kurashiki (JNTO)
- Senichi Hoshino (Wikipedia)
- Doppo Beer (Japanese Only)
- Hans Christian Anderson (Wikipedia)
Ah, theme parks. Ideal holiday: visit Europe without leaving safety Japan. I don’t get theme parks, but ignore me, I’m a savannah savage, in other words, I lived in a dinkum real theme park! 😀
Short comment, because I have to run off to work again! (+_+)
Now you make me want to visit one of those European theme parks (I’m sure I’d spend the entire visit laughing and/or horrified). 🙂
Ru: I only get theme parks if it is about an imaginary world, like Disney or Universal Studios. Otherwise, like Huis Ten Bosch, I don’t really get it.
David: I think horrified is a better word to use. 😉
I went to Huis Ten Bosch. Marvelled at why there is a need for a Dutch theme park but enjoyed the One Piece exhibits (that’s Japanese though. hahaha… ) immensely. Wouldn’t have paid the entrance fee otherwise.
You said it perfectly: Kurashiki, popular with the tourists and popular with the locals.
The tourists go south of the station to visit Bikan, the locals go north of the station and visit the outlet mall (and not only people from Okayama, it’s also a popular Sunday afternoon destination for the Kagawan youth).
Funny, I visited Bikan only once and it was also in winter, so I had the same feeling about the lack of leaves.
What’s interesting about Ivy Square is that it used to be a major factory (a spinning mill if I remember correctly, and actually fabric from Kurashiki is still somewhat famous, including jeans!) but yeah, the whole “fancy shops” thing is not my thing either.
Talking about shops, among all the more or less interesting museums and the trinkets/omiyage shops, there are also a few crafts shops that are very interesting (not always cheap though)
I’m still surprised at how cheap/close Kagawa is. Looking at tickets to go to Matsuyama, it is pretty expensive even though it isn’t THAT far.
Ivy Square used to be a fabric factory? That’s interesting. I wonder if I can get some jeans there, but then again they probably have Kurashiki prices. Way too expensive for my wallet, but it was all nice stuff.
I never really thought about it before, but from Kagawa, the “neighbor” prefecture really is Okayama is many people’s minds I think, much more than Ehime (Tokushima, I’d say that it depends), but Okayama city is much closer to Takamatsu than Matsuyama, Kochi or Tokushima city are. I even believe that some people commute between Kagawa and Okayama.
And yes, there is such a thing as Kurashiki jeans / denim, and yes, they are expensive (but then again, they weren’t made by third world country slave children). Actually, if you’ve noticed denim bags for sale at Onba Café, they come from one of Mr Oshima’s former student who now works in Kurashiki and makes denim products (not just clothes). I went to the workshop/store it’s pretty cool (and pretty expensive).
After taking the train from Takamatsu to Okayama, I can see how people commute between the two cities. It just seems strange to me. I would have thought Tokushima would be more of a commuter town.
Somehow I feel like I saw that they had Kurashiki jeans. I’m used to either hearing about Edwin jeans or Evisu jeans. Next time I’m at Onba, I’ll look at their products in more detail.
This post reminded me that not only did I go on a school trip to Kurashiki, I also went to the Tivoli park, too! It was oddest park ever (especially when you’re used to Disneyland or Six Flags) but I think it was targeting younger children and senior citizens because the rides were quite tame and there were a lot of gardens to walk through. I didn’t even know it was Hans Christian Anderson themed until you mentioned it. But seeing as we were high schoolers, we had a blast anyways and I have fond memories of our time there! 😉
You went to Tivoli park? After learning about it, I wanted to see it. Not because I want to see it, but to see how “bad” it was. It did close down after all. Maybe you can dig up a photo or two for your own blog to share with us. 🙂
It wasn’t bad at all. I think the management had a lot of problems and didn’t put enough effort into the park. You just have to remember it’s more a park than a theme park. I hear it was really popular before they started slacking off on the park upkeep. I’ll have to dig through old photos to see if I can show you 🙂
I guess I am biased to be skeptical of “European” theme parks. 🙂 I wonder if they will make a Canadian one in Japan. I’d go just to check it out!
If you can find the old photos, I’d love to see them. Can’t wait. 😀
This, I want to see and experience! Love that canal shot!
Thanks. I was lucky with that shot. Maybe you can stop by on your next trip. 🙂
PS: If you aren’t on my FB Page yet, you can see more photos there too. Also on the G+ page, but I don’t think you are on G+…
Glad to see you enjoyed Kurashiki. It’s what every Japanese who knows Okayama will tell you to visit (somewhat annoyingly). They have nice evening light-ups that are very serene when all the shops are closed and surprisingly most of the tourists don’t stick around, so it’s nice like the morning.
I’m surprised you didn’t visit the Ohara Museum. I guess European museums are not of such a high interest if you just want to see the nice Japanese buildings, but it has quite an impressive collection.
The jean sites are in the Kojima area, not near the Bikan area. They are also major producers of school uniforms. The Kojima area also has a Brazilian Park, though I’ve never been there. Tivoli seemed to have been very popular. Every Japanese I know who had been there had fond memories and lamented the loss. Too bad for the mismanagement of funds.
The Okayama-Kagawa relationship is definitely there. The Setouchi Art Trienniale itself is an example of that, but every year they also have ‘Okayama-Kagawa Day Pass’ train tickets that allow you to travel anywhere on JR lines within and between the two prefectures. It pretty much pays off for anyone who travels across the Seto Ohashi Bridge from one prefecture to the other.
I didn’t visit the Ohara Museum mainly due to time. I only spent half a day there. I doubt I’ll go back, but I’ll try to check it out next time.
Kojima sounds like a nice place. I wonder if I’ll ever go there. Although I’m still worried about the price.
Tivoli was that well loved by people? From the looks on the old Google Maps, it looked like a nice park.
That day pass sounds great. You should spend a weekend in Takamatsu and check out the art in the city centre. From what David at ogijima.com is showing, it looks like a blast there.
I haven’t been to the Kojima area but I’d like to rent a bike and see the area. The list of places I want to go is long and ever-growing, a feeling I’m sure you are well aware of, as well! Everytime I check a place off the list, I feel like I discover 5 more.
I’m hoping to do Ogijima, Megijima, Takamatsu Port, and Uno Port before the end of the summer session since I have the Trienniale Passport and I don’t want to buy another for the fall session.
Please head over to Ogijima and Megijima before the end of the Triennale. It is a blast!
I know how you feel about adding new places all the time. I am proud to say I have been to over half of the prefectures in Japan. I can add a few more if you count flying through them on the highway without a stop, but I’m not. 🙂 Still lots to see and do, but that list keeps changing depending on what I’m hearing and seeing on the internet.
Hi! Just want to say that the main attraction of kurashiki is actually the Ohara museum before the canal. It was the first Western style art museum in Japan and is still known for being a fantastic museum overall. It’s why kurashiki want bombed during WWII as well.
Thanks for commenting!
I can see how the Ohara Museum can be the main attraction, but personally I’d have to disagree. Many people I talk to usually talk about the kura and the canal. I can see how an art museum can be the main attraction though, however growing up in the west, it would never be the main attraction for me.
Next time, I’ll try to check it out though! Thanks for a differing opinion.
I’m with Dru on that one.
The Ohara museum matters for Japanese people, but for Westerners, especially Europeans?
I’ve been to Kurashiki many times (I live an hour or so away after all), but the Ohara Museum never elicited more than a (Gallic) shrug when passing in front of it from me or the family members that I brought to the city.
I’m not saying that I’ll never visit it, but it’ll have to be with non-Westerners who really really want to see it.