Half day in Kurashiki and Kibitsu, Japan Review
From my review of Okayama City I wrote that I wished I had more time to explore the rest of the city after visiting the beautiful Korakuen Gardens and Okayama castle, but that I had chosen to visit the nearby Kurashiki and Kibitsu Shrine instead. I hope that didn’t give you the wrong idea that you should skip out on these two towns; in fact I can firmly say that it’s a mistake to skip out on Kurashiki especially in order to explore Okayama City more; exploring Okayama City should be an addition to your trip and not a replacement because Kurashiki is amazingly beautiful.
Kurashiki and Kibitsu Shrine Plans
When I was planning my one day exploration of Okayama there was one highly recommended area outside of Korakuen Gardens that kept cropping up: the Bikan historical quarter of Kurashiki which was a short trip away from Okayama Station.
The picturesque Kurashiki City is famous for this very pretty canal area and I am a sucker for bodies of water, even liking the Thames which is frankly a cesspit of bacteria, so I immediately pencilled it into my Okayama plans.
I didn’t think that visiting Kurashiki canal area would be enough for a whole afternoon visit so I hunted around for other nearby activities. I immediately crossed out Kibi plain due to its recommendation as a cycling route; I am such a bad cyclist that I sometimes walk faster than I cycle which is pointless. I also crossed out a few other places that I felt were too far away for an afternoon trip such as Kojima Jeans Street and Onomichi.
I chose to visit Kibitsu Shrine instead; a place linked closely to the Momotaro legend with an impressive 360m long corridor that is popular with couples.
Kurishiki Bikan Historical Quarter
We took a little while to work out where to go after leaving Kurashiki station, because the area immediately outside was mainly reserved for buses and cars and we had to fumble ourselves through subway networks to re-orientate ourselves. I think it would be a lot more tourist friendly to have some form of plaza outside with plenty of maps and helpful guides, as we had to hunt for the tourist centre hidden to a wing of external shops outside
Afterwards I realised it would have been easier if we kept to the underground section of the station for as long as possible before venturing into the sunlight outside. I knew I should have trusted my inherent hatred of excessive sunshine!
After we managed to escape the station area it was an easy 10 – 15 minutes walk to the historical quarter as recognised by the traditional buildings and canals. This area dates from the 1600s and was a major rice distribution area as evidenced by the abundance of preserved rice storehouses. Several of these storehouses have now been converted into stores and museums. I didn’t visit any museums as most places were closed or closing soon when we arrived in the late afternoon and opted instead to explore the pretty surroundings.
The canals were a busy area and there were a lot of tourists, especially Asian ones, to the point where we had to queue sometimes for photos. However, it was to a manageable degree in comparison to Himeji Castle for example.
I especially liked the weeping willows overhanging the canal and the area gave me strong Kinosaki vibes.
We stopped by a café named Kurashiki Momoko for a breather and to sample one of Okayama’s famous fruit parfaits.
We then wandered through several streets in search of Ivy Square and passed several traditional shops.
We then visited the nearby Ivy square area which is a congregation of red brick buildings which used to be the site of an 1889 cotton mill and is now a retail, communal and hotel area. The whole area had a very European flair to it but with a Japanese flavour and some of the shops sold Kurashiki’s famous denim items at pretty high prices.
We didn’t visit at the right time to see the brick buildings be covered in the famous green ivy of its namesake, but we did arrive punctually to see the local cherry blossoms bloom. This was a pleasant surprise as the cherry blossoms in Korakuen Gardens hadn’t bloomed yet when I visited earlier and I thought that ended my plan of cherry blossom viewing in Okayama.
Before we returned to Kurashiki station we visited the Mameshiba café to play with some Shiba Inu dogs.
The building also had separate cafes for owls and hedgehogs and the ticketing process for entry ensured that guests entered in timed intervals to avoid overcrowding.
There was a health and safety video to watch and a whole list of rules to read through to ensure the dogs’ safety.
The Shiba Inus were admittedly cute especially with their coloured scarves but they weren’t very interested in playing with any of the guests. Perhaps it was too late in the day or they were too used to humans, but they were much more interested in the staff members, sleeping, play fighting and smelling dog butts.
I enjoyed my time and the designated vending machine drink regardless of their disinterest, but felt that even with the timed intervals there were too many people there with ~20 humans vs ~15 dogs.
Mameshiba café was an average experience overall but the dog areas were nicely styled with tatami mats, were kept clean and the animals themselves appeared well looked after. It also surprisingly turned out to be a chain store and I saw the brand in other major cities such as Hiroshima and Kyoto; in a way this unfortunately made the experience less special. I’m not particularly interested in visiting this branch again; especially when the experience wasn’t particularly cheap at 880.00 JPY / 5.60 GBP for 30 minutes, but I don’t regret the experience of my first dog café.
We jumped on the train at Kurashiki station at round 6pm to try to squeeze in one more activity before dinnertime and arrived at the sleepy Kibitsu station within 20 minutes. It was late but I was looking forward to seeing this famous shrine.
The view along our route was picturesque, especially with the slowly setting sun.
Finally we saw structures typical of a temple.
It was closed.
End of review.
Although it’s a shame that the shrine was closed I managed to get some beautiful images of the sun setting on a smaller shrine nearby; these images along with the view of the sky made the journey worth it in my opinion.
We were also able to glimpse at the famously long covered corridor through the barriers before doing an about turn and returning to the station.
Unfortunately we had just missed our train and had to wait half an hour in the dark; did you know it gets really scary being in the middle of nowhere at night? Quite a spooky experience. Ultimately we managed to get back to Okayama station for dinner and return to our hotel to prepare for our trip to Naoshima Island the next day.
It was a shame that we didn’t get to see Kibitsu shrine and I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort of an additional special trip in such a remote location to do so. I can however see myself dropping by if I ever visited Okayama again in the future; maybe I will have some more photographs then?
Kurashiki city is worth the journey for the visit to its historical district alone and I recommend as an addition to any trips to Okayama. Considering that I hadn’t even visited any museums or galleries and can still recommend it is high praise indeed coming from me. The only downside is that it’s an area that can get crowded with tourists but not to an insurmountable degree in comparison to attractions in more famous cities. There is simply no reason to skip out on this beautiful place.
Kibitsu shrine is a more cautious recommendation considering that I only saw some of the exterior and arrived too late to enter it, but I think its worth a visit after the more famous attractions if you have time and it’s convenient; make sure to check the opening hours before you go and don’t make the same mistake I did!
Did this inspire you to visit Okayama?
Shiba Inu Cafe
Address: Japan, 〒710-0046 Okayama-ken, Kurashiki-shi, Chūō, 1-chōme−1−7 倉敷いろはに小路２階/〒710-0046 岡山県倉敷市中央１丁目１−7 倉敷いろはに小路２階
Opening hours: Weekdays 10:00 – 17:30, Weekends 09:30 – 17:30
Cost: Adults at 880.00 JPY / 5.60 GBP and children (6-12) at 580.00 JPY converts to 3.69 GBP for 30 minutes and one drink. Children under the age of 6 are not allowed to enter.