Japan City Guides: Kurashiki 倉敷
Kurashiki is one of the touristic highlights of Okayama prefecture, thanks to the compact, well-preserved, Edo era merchants' quarter called Bikan-chiku (the Bikan district) - bikan literally meaning "beautiful views" in Japanese.
Kurashiki is the second largest city in Okayama prefecture. Kurashiki's eastern section is a huge agglomeration of heavy industry built on landfill in the Seto Inland Sea, while the Bikan area, with its quiet, willow-lined canal, is a pleasant reminder of how things used to be.
If arriving in Kurashiki by train, the south exit of the quite majestic-looking Kurashiki Station leads to the Bikan area.
The north exit leads to the large Ario Kurashiki shopping complex and the adjacent Kurashiki Mirai Park, which are pleasant enough, but maybe not worth devoting limited sightseeing time to.
There are many signs from Kurashiki Station pointing to the Bikan area. The entrance to the Bikan is 10 minutes' walk down the main road. You will encounter the very distinctive Bikan on your left: an island of charmingly preserved history in an otherwise blandly modern city.
The Bikan District
Bikan is set apart mainly by its architecture: tiled roofs, white-washed and black-tiled walls, which used to characterize the whole of Kurashiki. Most of the buildings were originally rice granaries dating from the late 18th century, now converted into facilities for today's sightseer.
Bikan lends itself to relaxed strolling. There are no cars to avoid, and none of the overhead wires that oppress most Japanese cityscapes. It is also easy to navigate as you essentially walk along the right side of a small canal for 300 meters and then return along the other side.
The canal is lined with willows. There are the requisite Japanese carp (koi) finning about in the river and several swans. Often there are artists sitting by the canal making and selling trinkets. From the entrance to Bikan and down to where the canal bends to the right, there are souvenir shops.
Ohara Museum of Art
A little along from the souvenir shops is the Main Gallery of the famous Ohara Museum of Art (Tel: 086 422 0005; 9am-5pm; closed Mondays) - a stone columned Grecian-style building behind a traditional tanizumi-style Japanese stone wall.
The Ohara Art Museum was founded in 1930 by the textile tycoon Magosaburo Ohara (1880-1943) and was the first museum of Western art in Japan. It houses a large collection of European art including works by Cezanne, Degas, El Greco, Gauguin, Monet, Munch, Picasso and other artists. The museum also has collections of local folk art and Chinese paintings.
The next landmark, a few paces further on, is the long, low classically Japanese building housing the headquarters of Kitada Securities. Outside is posted the famous blackboard with the firm's current economic prognostications written in impeccably even characters.
Bikan Tourist Information Center
On the next corner, where the canal veers right again, is the Kurashiki-kan, a two story light grey wooden Western-style building built in 1917 as the Kurashiki town hall and which is now a Tourist Center (Tel: 086 422 0542). It has information, coin lockers, a vending machine and public toilets.
Follow the canal right, and next is the Kurashiki Museum of Folkcraft (Kurashiki Mingeikan) showcasing the beauty in the everyday implements of the people of the region. Kurashiki Folkcraft Museum hours: 9am-5pm (last entry 4:45pm) March-November: 9am-4:15pm (last entry 4pm) December-February. Closed Mondays except when Monday is a public holiday, and open on Mondays throughout August. Closed December 29-January 1. 700 yen for adults.
About fifty meters on is the Japanese Rural Toy Museum with a large selection of traditional Japanese toys, great for souvenirs, on sale in the attached shop.
Bikan comes to an end at a road with traffic passing by. Cross the small footbridge to the other side of the canal and head back. Two stores before you get to a road off to the right, is the Jizake Dotemori liquor shop, founded in 1926 in a beautifully preserved building, specializing in local sakes and beer.
Taking the lane just along from Jizake Dotemori that goes right, away from the canal, beings you to Ivy Square.
Ivy Square is a hotel and cultural complex that was originally the first spinning mill in the area, with its layout based on mills in Manchester, England. Ivy Square, as the name suggests, has a plaza surrounded by the old ivied brick mill buildings. Music events and a beer garden are frequent features of the plaza.. In addition to the luxury accommodation available at the hotel, there are restaurants, a cafe, a handicraft souvenir shop, a Japanese-style communal bath house, and a British pub.
Also in Ivy Square is the Kojima Torajiro Memorial Hall of the Ohara Museum of Art. Torajiro Kojima (1881-1929) was a Western-style painter who worked with Ohara on his art collection, and Ohara founded his museum in Kojima's memory. The Kojima Torajiro Memorial Hall showcases Kojima's works.
Ohara Magosaburo and Kurashiki
Ohara Magosaburo, the founder of the Ohara Museum, made made his millions from the mill which has become Ivy Square. Kitada Securities, with the blackboard in front, manages his trust. The grand Grecian-style Ohara branch of the bank Ohara founded, the Chugoku Bank, is just a short walk across the canal from the Ohara Museum. In front of the bank is the grand, Japanese-style house where Ohara lived. Ario Kurashiki, the mall north of Kurashiki Station, and its adjoining park, are on land owned by the Ohara estate. Ohara worked to preserve the Bikan. Ohara also put up many of the plants in Kurashiki's industrial zone further east.In this way Bikan perfectly sums up the swirl of Japan: old and new, industrial and rural, foreign and native.
Returning to the road by the canal, where it bends leftwards is the Kurashiki Archaeological Museum with ancient artifacts from far back in Japanese history as well as from other countries, March-November 9am-5pm (last entry 4:30pm), December-February 9am-4:30pm (last entry 4pm), closed Mondays except if a national holiday.
Other museums of interest in Kurashiki are the Kurashiki City Art Museum (designed by the famous modern architect,Kenzo Tange), and the adjacent Kurashiki Museum of Natural History, just a few minutes walk west of Bikan, across Kurashiki Chuo-dori Avenue. Both museums are open 9am-5.15pm (last entry 4.45pm), closed Monday, except for national holidays
Accommodation in Kurashiki
Hostel Cuore Kurashiki is conveniently located in the heart of the historic Bikan district in Kurashiki. For travelers on a budget, this accommodation offers a range of options, from economical bunk beds in a dormitory to private rooms. All rooms are heated/airconditioned, and feature stylish interior decoration. Relaxing terrace area and onsite laundry for guests.
Dormy Inn Kurashiki is a mid-range hotel only 6 minutes' walk from Kurashiki Station. Has a restaurant, free wired internet and a public hot spring bath, as well as a coin launderette, massage services and sauna facilities. Refrigerator, air-conditioning, satellite TV in each room. English-speaking staff.
Yoshii Ryokan is in the Bikan district, right next to beautiful Achi Shrine, and offers a stay of traditional Japanese luxury for travelers seeking an authentic Japanese taste of Kurashiki. One-to-one hospitality, with exquisite local cuisine reflecting the best of the season. Lovely grounds in a serene location. Magical memories of Kurashiki - 100% Japanese-style.
Access - Getting to Kurashiki
Okayama Airport is the nearest airport to Kurashiki. There is a connecting bus service to the center of Kurashiki.
Kurashiki is 17 km from Okayama. Traveling west on the Sanyo Shinkansen line from Osaka (45 minutes), Tokyo (4 hours), Kyoto (1 hour 10 minutes), Nagoya get off at Okayama and take a local train to Kurashiki.
The shinkansen does not stop at Kurashiki. If coming by shinkansen, transfer at Okayama or Shin-Kurashiki Station which are the two shinkansen stations in Okayama Prefecture. One of the many local trains leaving from Okayama city takes around 20 minutes. From Shin-Kurashiki Station one must also transfer to a local train for the 10 minute ride. It is not recommended that you try and walk from Shin-Kurashiki station to Bikan, as it is not easy to navigate the route and much sightseeing time is likely to be lost.
There are long distance bus services from outside Okayama Station to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya and Nagasaki.
There are ferry and services to Shikoku and islands in the Inland Sea including Shodoshima from Shin-Okayama Port, 10 km south of downtown Okayama with buses from the Tenmaya Bus Center.