During a recent visit to Japan, I was fortunate to explore several eclectic destinations around Okayama. Okayama is a Prefecture in southeast Japan that can boast its many wonders from the spiritual to the sedate—-world-class gardens, Shinto shrines that are National Treasures, a quintessential merchant village and the home to a contemporary art odyssey on the Inland Sea.

In the shadow of Okayama Castle, enjoy the beautiful garden of Korakuen, rated as one of the top three gardens in Japan. Completed in 1700, the garden was used as a place for entertaining important guests and also as a spa of sorts for daimyo. It’s colorful fauna and picturesque topography surrounds a pretty teahouse abutting a pond where I enjoyed a sip of green tea sitting on its veranda overlooking a beautiful pond. So very quaint and authentic.

A mere thirty-minutes away, I sojourned to Kibitsu Jinja, a shrine that has been revered widely since the remote past and a National Treasure. It is so unique and an unusual to experience the Corridor of Kibitsu Jinja. Imagine corridors covered with curving roofs extending straight through the wooded precinct for almost 360 meters on sloping ground. At the bottom of the precipice is the Kama-domo or Cauldron Hall where I experienced a ritual known as Narokama or cauldron divination in a sacred service held by a Shinto priest, called Asome. This is truly an existential moment to receive his blessings of good fortune in such a sacred setting. What a special experience!

 

Now off to Kurashiki, a small quintessential village to the south, , with its immaculately preserved merchant quarter that dates to the Edoperiod. Strolling along Kurashiki’s willow lined canals, hump-backed stone bridges and seeing dozens of whitewashed, black-tiled Kura or rice store houses was a real treat. Many small shops, sake breweries and restaurants to enjoy. Kurashiki is a perfect spot to have a relaxing evening at one of our favorite ryokans, Ryokan Kurashiki, perfectly situated in the middle of the village and offering the finest and warmest service.

Just a ten-minute ferry ride from the Port of Uno, I enjoyed a beautiful day seeing blue waters and rocky islands jutting out from the serene Inland Sea. Destination—Naoshima Island, a bastion of contemporary art and natural beauty. With colorful paintings, sculptures and photographic images abound, it’s an unforgettable journey “where one can enjoy enriching encounters with artworks in the changing light over the course of a day.” Naoshima should be at the top of any art-lover’s list of must-see places.

Let JapanQuest Journeys introduce you to Okayama and experience some of the very finest and eclectic spots Japan has to offer.

 

 

Scott Gilman


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