South of Honshū Island, let's go to discover Japanese nuggets along Seto's inland sea: Okayama, Kurashiki and Onomichi, far from 80 km. You will be amazed by buildings and landscapes to discover on foot, on a boat or on a bike.
Okayama and his traditional garden
Okayama is the capital of the eponymous prefecture. It is said to be beautiful all the time, due to its geographical location, nestled behind the mountain chain separating the two parts of Chûgoku. At a crossroads between Kyoto and Hiroshima, on the north coast of Seto Sea facing Shikoku Island that a gigantic bridge links, it is an important commercial and economic hub of Japan. The city is known for its many delicious izakayas, where you eat very well. The stars in the region are, however, grapes and fisheries. The fishing that gave birth to a legend, one of Japan's most popular, that of Momotarō, a little boy who came out of a giant fruit for the joy of his adoptive parents. He is now the mascot of the city. Okayama is famous for Kōrakuen, its traditional garden, one of Japan's three most beautiful and Okayama Jô, his castle nicknamed the golden raven.
Kōrakuen was imagined in 1687 by Nagatada Tsuda, vassal of the Daimyô Tsunamasa Ikeda, feudal lord of Okayama at the Edo era. This garden is in Kaiyu style, that is, it offers several themes. Located in front of the castle and built on a sand bench near the Asahi River, it was originally intended for the reception of distinguished guests. He was truly open to the public only two centuries later, in 1884, when he was transferred to the city. Kōrakuen has retained its authentic and traditional character. The garden can be admired almost everywhere. Inside you will discover small trails that will lead you to the discovery of pavilions and sanctuaries.
Okayama-jō, the gold crow owes its nickname to its dark gray facades. Okayama-jō is not one of five castles classified nationally, and his dungeon was rebuilt in 1966 after damage from air raids during the Second World War. Some ornaments, like golden gargouls, were added in 1996 to celebrate the 400 years of its foundation. Okayama-jō remains a remarkable castle, especially seen from the outside, majestic, overlooking the Asahi River. Erigé during the Azuchi-Momoya period at the end of the sixteenth century, it was finished only two decades later by the feudal lord Ukita Hideie. Inside, it has the particularity of being composed of six floors but on three levels and has a lift… A museum with ancient armors, the view of the Kōrakuen and a space where you can enjoy appetizing fruit ice are its main assets.
But the tourist area of Okayama extends far beyond the city. So we particularly recommend the Kibitsu Shrine to the south of the capital, the Saidai-ji Eyo Temple for its festival of "naked men" on the third Sunday in February, the islands dedicated to contemporary art Naoshima, Inujima and Teshima, and of course the historic district of Bikan in Kurashia Ki, baptized slightly excessive, the "Nipponne Venice".
Kurashiki and his old buildings
The city located southwest of Okayama is an entrance to Seto's inland sea. Epargnée during World War II, Kurashiki retained intact his old Bikan district, classified as Japanese National Heritage, its sake warehouses and Kura (rice granaries), remnants of a past era. The architecture of these old buildings gave his name to the city, Kurashiki. These warehouse houses are characterized by their aspects, white brick walls and black tile roofs. For 300 years, under the control of the Shoguns government, rice and sake trade enriched the city until the Meji era. The most beautiful buildings of the city are naturally along the canal, surrounded by willows.
These restored warehouses still bear witness to the prosperity of the past. The former residence of the Ôhara family that can be visited today, the Villa Yûrin-sô or the Musée d 'art populaire Mingei-kan are perfect examples. But they are not the only ones. Other buildings, built in the nineteenth century, also contribute to the beauty of the city. The remarkable museum of Western Art, with its Greek style architecture, was very bold for its time. Founded in 1930, he became the first museum devoted to Western art in Japan. In the main building are sculptures of Rodin, works by Modigliani, Utrillo, El Greco, Renoir… and other more contemporary of Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol. Several other museums and galleries are established along the banks; The Archeological Museum of Kôko-kan, the Japanese Toy Museum, the Kojima Torajirô Memorial… The banks of the canal are the scene of charming scenes for the greatest happiness of amateur photographers. At the end of the day, when it is less hot and the sun declines, we advise you to take a little walk into the Bikan canals. A walk out of time.
Onomichi, Japan's Soul
The city is located south of Hiroshima, 80 km from Okayama. This port city of 140,000 souls enjoys a true reputation, especially with Japanese poets who declare that one night of full moon in Onomichi remains unforgettable. Several Buddhist and shinto shrines are hung on the flanks of Senkôji Hill, a cable car can even avoid the labyrinth of steep stone stairs to reach its peak. It is also said that it is like a miniature garden, where all the soul of Japan would be concentrated. It was finally chosen among the 100 places where the cherished cherry trees in Japan are the most moving. Thus, every year in October, 34,000 lampions illuminate the city and its 16 temples, including the Senkô-ji, the Jôshô-ji or the two-story pagoda Tadodo-ji temple. Another festival is recognized as Japanese heritage, Betcha, which takes place every year on November 3. Three demons «Beta», «Shôki» and «Soba» terrorize young children until they cry. They use bamboo sticks called Sasara. According to a popular belief, if tears appear, the child will be protected for one year. The city is separated from the island of Mukaishima by a channel and the other islands that make up this painting have served as the décor of Yasujirô Ozu: Travel to Tokyo. The history of Onomichi is ancient, its foundation dates back to 1169, but its international reputation, it owes it today to a cycling trail dedicated by CNN News among the most beautiful of the world. The Shimanami Kaido, whose starting point is in Onomichi, is 70 km long. The route connects six islands and runs the Seto inland sea to Imabari. The amateurs who travel this road that can be done in two days for the most contemplative, call it the holy land of the cyclist. You will have all the fun during this excursion to taste local specialties based on seafood or citrus fruit and why not explore these famous islands in deeper depth.
When? All three cities can visit the year. Spring periods, that of cherry trees in flower, are particularly popular. Winter is not particularly cold, but it can snow on the heights of Onomichi. Summer can be very hot.
Go there. There is no direct flight. You will need to go to Tokyo or to Ōsaka, then take a domestic flight, a train (with the Japan Rail Pass) or a bus.
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