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3-Day Model Trip Day3

3-Day Model Trip Day3 / East Chugoku Shikoku / Okayama - Kurashiki - sightseeing in the town

The Asahi-gawa River flows from north to south through Okayama City. In a part of bar, there is a large Japanese garden with an area of 133,000 square meters. This is called Korakuen, and along with Kairakuen in Mito, Ibaraki, and Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, it is one of Japan's three "Great Gardens" that have been nationally designated for their splendid views.

The garden was completed in 1700, and was designed so that visitors could wander round the ponds and wooded areas, enjoying various kinds of scenery. Though the garden is in a purely Japanese style, visitors sometimes get the impression that it is a little western - probably because one fifth of the area is lawn. It is said that because the garden is in the bar, where the humidity is low, it was hard to grow moss, so turf growing naturally on mountainsides was used instead. The garden contains several beautifully shaped waterways, ponds and waterfalls, all of which use water from Asahi-gawa River. Because the bar is higher than the river, the water is drawn using a siphon principle - a surprising level of construction technology for the time. On the side of Kayo-no-ike Pond in the southwest of the garden, is a giant stone called "Odate-ishi". If you look hard, you will see that it has several cut marks on it. This stone is highly unusual. When the garden was built, the stone was cut into 29 pieces, brought here from an island in Seto-naikai Inland Sea, then stuck back together. The highlight of the garden is Mt. Yuishin-zan, a mountain built near the middle. If you climb this, you can enjoy a picturesque scene centered on Sawa-no-ike Pond.

Now we have come to Okayama Castle on the opposite bank of Asahi-gawa River. The castle is also called "Ujo - Crow Castle" because its outside is painted black like a crow. It was built originally in the second half of the 16th century, but the castle tower was destroyed by fire in the war in 1945, and the present castle was rebuilt in 1965. Only two towers, Tsukimi-yagura and Nishimaru-nishite-yagura, were spared in the fire and have been preserved in their original form. The castle tower contains a museum with reconstructions of the history of Okayama Castle and the tenement houses from the middle ages. The fifth and sixth floors at the top have a view spot from which you can look down on Korakuen. The area surrounding Okayama Castle is a cultural zone with several art galleries and museums, which are definitely worth visiting if you have time.

Now we have left Okayama Castle and come out into Momotaro-dori Avenue so we can head for Okayama Station by streetcar. We have changed to the JR Kibi Line and come to Kibi-ji in the northwest of Okayama. This was a great cultural area in the past, and is full of old ruins. In the past, the ruler of this area was Kibitsu Hikonomikoto, who became the model for Momotaro, the "Peach Boy". Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto is enshrined in Kibitsu Shrine, which is estimated to have been built around the 5th century. The main building was rebuilt in the 15th century, and the roof of the main shrine is known as Japan's only example of a very rare architectural form. This adjoining double gable is called Hiyokuirimoya-zukuri, and is ranked along with the traditional Japanese Irimoya(a hip and gable roof) style as a national treasure. Behind the main shrine there is a beautiful 360-meter long wooden corridor that was rebuilt around the middle of the 16th century. If you go down the corridor, on your left you will find Okamaden Shrine, which is completely blackened by soot. This location is famous for a religious rite called Narukama, in which people say a Shinto prayer towards an iron pot ("kama") with rice in it, and guess from the way it rings ("naru") whether they will have good or bad fortune. It is a mysterious rite that has continued since the middle ages.

Now we have left Kibitsu Shrine, come along the beautiful shrine pathway lined with pines, and arrived once more at JR Kibitsu Station. We have come to Soja on the Kibi Line, changed to the Hakubi Line, and alighted at Kurashiki. If we walk straight along Kurashiki-chuo-dori, which stretches south from the Station, we can see the entrance to the museum district. The banks of Kurashiki-gawa River are lined with willow trees and are breathtakingly beautiful. There are also white-walled storehouses built for the daimyo feudal lords in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as Western-style wooden buildings. In the past, Kurashiki-gawa used to be a central loading and unloading point for goods such as rice, silk and oil. It is said the name "Kurashiki" came from the large number of fine storehouses that stand here side by side, as the characters in Kurashiki approximately mean "warehouse" and "mansion". The white Western -style building called Kurashiki-kan is a tourist information center. So let's get a map there and start to walk to the Ohara Museum of Art, which we have been looking forward to since a while back.

The Ohara Museum of Art boasts one of Japan's greatest collections of Western art, including El Greco's "The Annunciation" and "In Tahiti" by Paul Gauguin. About half of the roughly 3,000 items in the gallery are on permanent display. The main gallery looks like a Greek temple, and contains mainly European paintings, while the Craft Gallery next door contains ceramics, prints and dyeing by Japanese artists. The annex to the south displays Egyptian and Turkish artifacts, and is a must-see for art lovers.

Now we have come to the Kurashiki Folk Craft Museum, which features about 800 articles from the past and the present that were used in daily life. These include weaving, pottery and wooden implements. The building is worth seeing in itself. It consists of three converted rice storehouses built at the beginning of the 19th century, and has beautiful white walls with black tiles attached. There is an impressive view of the town of Kurashiki from the windows of the third building.

Now we have finished looking at Kurashiki Craft Museum, the hands on the clock are already pointing to 5 pm. By five o'clock in winter and six o'clock in summer, not only the public buildings, but also the shops in the museum district close. Unfortunately we could not go window-shopping as everyone had been hoping, but instead we have a romantic scene, with both the Ohara Museum of Art and the weeping willows along Kurashiki-gawa River lighted up. Let's walk round the area for a bit, and take in the beauty of the museum district at sunset. If we walk over Naka-bashi Bridge, the stone bridge across Kurashiki-gawa River, there is a beautiful 18th century storehouse on the other side with black tiles and white walls. This is Kurashiki Archeological Museum, and contains ruins dug up in the Kibi area, as well as relics from the Inca Empire and China. Walking along the path beyond this, we have come to Kurashiki Ivy Square, a redbrick building covered in ivy. This building was constructed in the later 19th century, and was a spinning factory. It is now a multi-function facility containing, among other things, an art gallery, a museum and a hotel.

Since I am a real glutton, so the conclusion of any trip for me is of course food. Okayama prefecture has long been known for its rice, and it is famous for "bara-sushi" - sushi made with fresh fish from Seto-naikai Inland Sea. Our return train will leave quite soon, so we must hurry to the station. But because there are so many railway lines in Japan, there are lots of lunch boxes called "ekiben" or "station lunchboxes". Most of these consist of local specialties made into lunchboxes, and as you would expect, there are ekiben at this station that contain bara-sushi. You can also buy a kind of candy called Kibi-dango, which Momotaro is supposed to have fed to animals on his way home. Kibi-dango are soft and sweet, and can be eaten by children and old people. So let's get on the shinkansen (bullet train) and start eating ekiben. Bara-sushi contains all sorts of food from the mountains and sea, including shrimp, giant clams, lotus root and mushrooms. As you eat, it will remind you of all the different scenery and places you have seen on this trip through Shikoku and Honshu.