Okayama is a large, modern city located approximately midway between Osaka and Hiroshima and not far from the scenic Seto Inland Sea, where cruise ships arrive. It is best known for its distinctive black castle and adjacent garden — considered one of the finest in the country — as well as several museums dedicated to both Japanese and Western art.
What We Love
Okayama Castle: The six-story castle got its nickname Ujo, or “Crow Castle,” because of its black exterior. Built at the end of the 16th century using a short stretch of the Asahi River as a moat, it was completely destroyed near the end of World War II when most of the city was leveled. The structure was faithfully rebuilt in 1966, and now its modern interior tells the castle’s history. Climb to the top to overlook the cityscape and Koraku-en Garden — the principal reason to visit.
Best Known For
Okayama Koraku-en Garden: Considered one of the top three gardens in Japan, Koraku-en is set on 33 acres alongside Okayama Castle on the Asahi River. Its grounds are a neatly manicured mosaic of green lawns, ponds fringed by walks, streams crossed by Japanese-style bridges, a tea plantation, and, of course, an abundance of trees, shrubs, and flowers. Its history is well documented by paintings completed over 300 years — a collection that aided in rebuilding the garden after World War II. Relax in one of the teahouses between your exploratory walks.
Fine Art: Visitors who appreciate art can easily fill a day in Okayama's museums. Two top options are the private Ohara Museum of Art — the first in Japan dedicated to Western art, with works by El Greco, Monet, and Matisse in its collection — and the Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art, which houses a wide range of works with a connection to Okayama.
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Who It's Best For
Anyone Interested in All Things Japanese: Okayama is a living lesson in how an almost totally destroyed city can reverse its fortunes and celebrate its history as one of Japan's most important castle towns — while also embracing its role as a modern urban center.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Don't Rush: Allow enough time to take in the complexity of Koraku-en Garden, as you will find something new at every turn. There are places to sit where you can rotate 360 degrees and begin to understand the genius of its highly calculated design.
Theodore W. Scull is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has written several books on crossings.