Famous for Bikan Historical District, Japanese weddings, and Bizen Pottery!
Kurashiki, - (Koo-rarsh-ski ) meaning "warehouse village" ,was a real surprise destination.After a few days travelling in Japan we had realized that while the shinkansen is fast, it was not fast enough to comfortably make our planned trip to Hiroshima worthwhile.
KURASHIKI CANAL BOAT
As the reason for our trip to Japan was to meet our new daughter-in-law’s family, we wanted to be in
, south of Kobe early in the day.
With a day and a half to fill in, we poured over the trusty Lonely Planet to solve our Japanese fascinating destination destination problem.
Kurashiki Bikan Historical District
immediately jumped out as interesting, and even better, it was only thirty minutes from Okayama.
Arriving in Kurashiki in the early afternoon, our first call was the Tourist Bureau.
These offices which are always near the train stations, are usually good places to arrange accommodation. In fact we found they will often negotiate on your behalf if you tell them how much you can afford, and decline anything more expensive.
Our negotiating skills on this occasion could have been better and the 12,000 yen ($120NZ) hotel room on the 9th floor of the
was somewhat expensive for what it was.
The bonus being it had an English menu in the restaurant and was just across the road to the historic
Bikan Historical district
which had attracted us to Kurashiki.
This beautiful town built during the
Edo period (1615-1868)
, was originally a store place for rice harvested from the surrounding areas. Now, the many
or buildings used to store the rice, have been converted into an interesting range of museums.
The white buildings with their black stone corners were very different to other buildings we had seen in Japan, and there was a distinct European feel to the area.
The Wedding Canal
The central Bikan Historical district of Kurashiki is divided by a willow lined canal, spanned by a picturesque concrete bridge. It is now a favourite place for weddings.
The photos usually include some shots taken of the bridal party, posed on narrow wooden boats on the canal –Japan’s answer to Venetian gondolas? The solitary white swan might glide into the picture if they are lucky.
A broad expanse of grey flagstones, borders each side of the canal, where pedestrians compete with cyclists, as is usual in narrow Japanese streets.
The many Kurashiki museums opening onto these boulevards, were architecturally impressive.
About to click a photo by the bridge, a young Japanese woman manning her jewellery stall near by, rushed up and arranged us together in a pose to her satisfaction.
Taking a couple of shots, she then assigned another friend to take her photo between the two of us, all with much laughing and joking banter.
A Promenade of Museums!
Walking the length of the canal you come first to the
- Ohara Museum of Art founded by Magosaburo Ohara. It is home to a number of works by great world masters, including Monet, Matisse and El Greco.
- Aslo the Museum of Folkcraft
- An Archeological Museum
- A Music Box museum
- Various traditional merchant’s houses
It is not surprising that this area has been selected as an important Traditional Structures Conservation area by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, with efforts made to conserve the distinctive character.
Beyond the canal you come to Ivy Square. Once a spinning factory in the Meiji period, it is now a red brick walled square. The high walls almost totally covered in rich, glossy green ivy.
Inside, the Ivy Academic Hall is at one end, next to a hotel with wedding reception areas, and Kurabo Memorial Museum, all fronting onto the square.
The outdoor tables and chairs by the lily pond were a welcome resting place for us, and other visitors. We sat a while and soaked in the atmosphere, before moving on.
It was here we got chatting with Gunki and his wife Hiroki. Gunki seemed keen to try his English, and translated our conversation for his wife as we talked.
Before we parted ways, Gunki took a photo of us with Hiroki, and has since emailed a copy to their "friends." This is typical of Japanese people who are invariably very friendly.
Leaving the Square you could be forgiven for thinking you had been transplanted to southern USA as you walk between a large two storied white wooden colonial house and the ivy clad walls.
Walking on through the narrow Kurashiki streets, we pass an older man. His graying hair tied into a sumo style pigtail high on his head, as he straddled a wooden bench seat, intent on his woodwork creation.
The well known local Bizen-yaki pottery, from the near by town of Bizen, fills the shelves of many shops. This pottery is very sought after for tea ceremonies. With such a variety, choosing must prove difficult.
Achi - The Shrine on the hill
Taking a road leading away from the main town we come to some worn stone steps, leading to another of Kurashki's treasures, Achi Shrine high on the hill above. Plodding our way up, we pass two monks perspiring from their work out efforts being directed by their instructor.
Passing through the entry draped with the first of many shimenawa – a straw rope with white zig zag paper strips, marking the boundary to something sacred.
We carry on into the grounds of the Shrine, which is deserted, yet somehow full of life. There are several more shimenawa pointing us to a variety of sacred objects within the peaceful, and very natural grounds.
You could feel this was a working shrine, rather then just a place to visit.
Omikuyi and Other Traditions
As we had seen in all the temples and shrines, there is the omikuyi, - white papers usually tied all over a small tree. This time tied to a structure with a dozen or so lines, built around a tree trunk.
Omikuyi are fortune telling paper slips. Randomly drawn, they contain predictions for good or bad luck. By tying them to the branch of a tree, good fortune should come or the bad fortune predicted can be averted.
As you learn more of Japanese cultural traditions and beliefs it becomes clear they are remarkably superstitious. Many of these old traditions still have a strong influence on their every day lives.
We were amazed that these many shrines and temples, with millions of dollars worth of historic and religious memorabilia are open to one and all.
Always pristine, clearly it is beyond comprehension that anyone might desecrate them in any way. Trust and respect by the Japanese people for their cultural treasures, ensures they are looked after, loved and revered.
Leaving the Shrine by a different route we passed an old house with a rambling untended garden, which somehow doesn’t fit with the rest of the surroundings, where all is so immaculate. But it was appealing in an unkempt way.
Spilling gorgeous red roses and wildly beautiful azalea bushes with their florescent pink flowers, mixed in with old implements and gardening paraphernalia.
It was an intriguing garden that fairytales are set in. Perhaps it belonged to the old woman bent over digging into the dry ground below, weeding the public face of the shrine.
Other Attractions Around Kurashiki
It was pleasant just ambling back through the narrow streets, in the warm sun, to our hotel, on the edge of this historic area.
We didn’t have time to
- Head out to the beach at Sami
- Visit tourist places of interest in the Seto Inland National Park
- View the worlds longest combined rail/road bridge "Seto Ohashi Bridge
Another day or two, could easily be filled in the area.
If you enjoy fun parks, there is a treat waiting at
Kurashiki Tivoli Park.
Modelled on the Danish Tivoli Park, they have combined flowers, greenery and water –to enhance artistically designed buildings and fountains.
With brass band performances, parades and music, along with a variety of attractions, you could easily spend half a day here.
Free Breakfast - You can find them in many parts of Japan
Next morning on our way to the station, a mere 8 minute walk, we enjoyed what was essentially a free breakfast. The Kohe kafe advertised free breakfasts with every coffee.
This consisted of bread rolls, plain and chocolate croissants with jam and butter, thick slices of white bread with a toaster for you to use, and hard boiled eggs.
I was amazed at the owner...... who clearly thoroughly enjoyed his job as he cheerfully served everyone. But.... I have not worked out how he makes a living!
The coffee was the usual price – about $3.50NZ Our son assures us there are many of these coffee with free breakfast cafes in Japan.
Kurashiki may be a little off the beaten track, but is easily reached by train via Okayama, where you can connect to the shinkansen. It proved to be a delightful surprise, you should include in your itinerary.
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