While some parts of Japan remain closed off to foreigners, Kurashiki of Okayama Prefecture welcomes explorers with open arms. Overwhelmingly friendly, this small town is full of unique surprises and stores on every corner. Bizen pottery flows from the stores out onto the streets, and many unique food vendors offer samples everywhere you go. Mainly visited by Japanese couples and families looking to relax, Kurashiki recently added a fantastic tourist center at the top of the entryway to Historical Quarter. There are even tour guides available from 1PM-5PM that will walk around town by your side and make sure your one day in Kurashiki is a memorable one.
Guest post by Karen Kim
What’s the best time to visit Kurashiki?
Kurashiki is enjoyable at any time of year, but something to be mindful of are the typhoons that occasionally come through around June-October. Depending on the season, you will see a different side of the town. For example, spring brings blossoms, while winter brings illuminations! Choose wisely, or just return again and again!
One Day in Kurashiki Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in
Immerse yourself in the Bikan Historical Quarter
Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter is the place to be in this beautiful town. As soon as you enter it, the pavement changes, there are lamp posts on almost every corner, and the entire vibe is completely different from where your journey began. Lining the streets are vendors with mochi, chewy rice ball snacks, and the unique kibidango (きびだんご). This tasty snack comes in many different flavors and was used by Momotaro (the Peach Boy) in epic folklore tales of the past.
Weave throughout the town stopping at every street vendor you can, and if you are daring enough to try some Japanese, please do, since they love to talk and hear where you live. Almost every store is unique in some way, including the restaurants. Fortunately for many travelers who don’t speak Japanese, many of the menus are in English and sometimes even French, Chinese, and Spanish.
Learn about the fascinating Bizen pottery
Pottery is especially important here in Kurashiki. Referred to as Bizen pottery, the ceramics undergo a firing process where the warmth gives the pieces their own unique color. Therefore, they do not need as many ornate decorations and designs as you see in other cultures or areas around Japan.
Many of the shops will custom gift wrap purchases if needed, so be sure to tell them if the gift is a present or needs some extra care for the trek home. There is a truly unique pottery store (website: www.bizen-yaki.net) close to the town centre which you absolutely shouldn’t miss. Not only are the contents reasonably priced depending on your budget, but there is also a beautiful wall around the corner on the outside that is not to be missed.
The wall itself looks like a piece of art, with gray and bluish shades of stone framed by a raised, white tic-tac-toe type structure. Don’t miss the unique bathrooms across the small street and down a few stairs, but be prepared to use some leg strength when getting back up!
Stop for lunch and try something new
As you approach midday, settle down for lunch somewhere. Be brave and try something new! There will be a clipboard outside a few restaurants with a wait. Writing your name and the number of people in the party is always sufficient.
Check out the town’s fascinating museums
Ohara Musuem is among the many museums worthy of a tour on your one day in Kurashiki. It has a large gift shop, and inside you will see many artists’ recognizable works. If you are looking for something more off the beaten path, there is a Candy and Piggy Bank Museum, as well. The Momotaro Museum provides a great sense of Kurashiki’s rich past. Truly, the town has something for everyone.
Ride the boat in the canal
To rest your weary legs from walking, hop into a boat in the canal. Koi fish swim freely around you as you pass under the photogenic bridges of the town. Vendors line the canal banks and will always give a wave if they are looking your way. Opting to stay off the water means the rickshaw may be a better option. Greeters will try to sell you a short ride around the town as you walk over the canal bridges. Be nice, they are not pushy like those in other cities!
Visit the Achi Shrine
As dusk draws near, exploring the Achi Shrine is a good idea since it comes complete with a beautiful view of the town. There is a gorgeous staircase looking up beyond a torii gate, but there is also a ramp that curves along to the right which eases the journey a bit. Making it back downstairs in time to catch the colors of sunset is extremely recommended, and the canal lined by old buildings serves as a gorgeous framework for your shot.
Enjoy a beautiful evening
The evening hours bring a completely different feel to the streets of Kurashiki. Somewhat European-looking, the streets become blanketed in the champagne-like color coming from the lanterns. The canal creates a beautiful reflection, and on the clearest of nights you may even see some stars. There are many photographers lurking in the corners of every alleyway, so be careful not to block shots and for sure offer to take other people’s pictures since they are often too timid to ask.
Wrapping up your one day in Kurashiki, head to Salon De Rics for some evening cocktails. The Moscow Mule is served in a proper prohibition style mug! If a jazz cafe is what you desire, Kurashiki has that, too! Be prepared to pay a small cover charge at most places, think of it as the tip since you won’t need to throw down anything extra on top of the bill (unless you feel inspired).
Pressed for time? Make sure you visit Kurashiki for at least the boat ride in the canal and the Ohara Museum.
Where to stay in Kurashiki
While you can do Kurashiki in one day, for sure, you may choose to stay in a hotel. Be sure to check into your hotel so that you can freshen up and drop the bags before the adventure begins. A fresh face is required for the many pictures there are to take around this charming town.
The Dormy Inn Kurashiki
710-0055 Okayama, Kurashiki, Achi 3-21-11
The Dormy Inn Kurashiki, although a chain, has a beautiful Japanese style onsen/bath on the top floor and is right across the street from the entrance to Historical Quarter. One of the baths is even outdoors, so you are in for a treat if you come here during winter. Many tourists feel bashful in these public style bathrooms; however, once you get over the initial shock, it can be very relaxing.
Yoshii Ryokan or Ryori Ryokan Tsurugat
If Western style hotels are not your thing, consider one of the many ryokans strewn about the town. With these stays, breakfast and dinner are often provided for a cost that is worked into the room rate. Complete with a public bath, most likely, these stays really give you the complete Japanese experience since you stay on the tatami mat floor with dense pillows. Experience one of the two amazing ryokans in town: Yoshii Ryokan or Ryori Ryokan Tsurugat.
Day trips from Kurashiki
If you have the Japan Rail Pass, the world is your oyster. Kyoto and Osaka are nearby and quite legendary and easy to reach, but for those wanting to remain a little off the beaten path Okayama offers plenty to do. Home of one of Japan’s most famous gardens, Korakuen, Okayama is a charming town with its own electric car still operating. The gardens are attached to the well-known castle where, if you get there early enough, you can sign up to make one of five unique pieces of pottery. There are a few castles that lay on the outskirts of the town and are accessible by bus, local train, and taxis. Okayama has an abundance of small bars that open mostly after 7PM, Bar Legend, Sky Bar at Hotel Granvia, and Aussie Bar to name a few.
Still not sure what to do? Naoshima, the art island, is not far away!
Extra tips for visiting Kurashiki
Kurashiki is also known for its Kojima denim. As a matter of fact, it is the birthplace of Japanese denim. Many stores will display fun things in the storefronts, but do look beyond and enter into the shops. Keep an eye for the store that uses a pair of jeans as a noren, how clever! As with any Japanese town, be sure to check opening and closing times, since they vary more than you can imagine. Enjoy your day trip to Old Japan!
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Karen Kim is a former professional dancer turned yoga teacher and fitness guru. Currently moonlighting as an amateur travel blogger, Karen is spending every spare moment she has exploring Japan. Relocated from NYC, this is her second time living in Japan. She is passionate about sharing places to vacation that aren't the norm and, most importantly, ways to escape the draining city life. She believes that travel, whether physically or through other means like social media or television, is the gateway to understanding cultures outside of our own. Karen began a photo diary of her travels around Japan on Instagram to help other expats and tourists. IG handle: yoga_travel_happyhr_repeat.