Okayama City, the capital of Okayama Prefecture, is famous for Korakuen Garden and Okayama Castle and the legend of Momotarou (Peach Boy). It is located about halfway between Hiroshima and Osaka on Honshu and it is a little over half the size of Hiroshima with a population of over 637,000 people.
The city of Okayama's most distinct cultural phenomena from other cities in Japan is the sheer number of Italian restaurants. They dominate the culinary scene to the point that people from other parts of Japan associate Okayama with Italian food like they associate Hiroshima and Osaka with okonomiyaki.
Okayama's most famous festival, Saidai-ji Eyo (Naked Festival), is celebrated on the 3rd Saturday of February. Held at the Kannon-in Temple in the southeast of the city, the main event is a mad scramble by men wearing only a traditional loin cloth for possession of two sacred rods (shingi) that are tossed out by the priests at midnight.
Okayama Castle or Crow Castle is a shadow of its former self but it's still worth a look. The reformist Meiji government (1868-1912) authorized the demolition of the outer castle buildings with great cries of poverty in 1882. With outer walls and buildings demolished, allied bombing raids on June 29th, 1945 burned all but one turret to the ground. The moon-viewing turret (Tsukimi Yagura) is the only building which survives from before modernization.
The concrete reproduction (complete with an elevator) of the real thing was built in 1966. While horribly inauthentic feeling inside, the builders managed to replicate near perfectly the original's outside and its unique and imposing black figure with gold highlights. The castle area and Korakuen were declared an national historic site on May 30, 1987.
The castle today houses a decent museum about castle life. All the displays are decently labeled in English and the English pamphlet is well designed and contains a lot of interesting information about the castle's history and its rulers.
Korakuen Garden is considered one of the top three gardens in Japan. It is stunningly beautiful even in the middle of winter. The park can be walked around in an hour but it would take a full day to discover all the hidden little shrines, ponds and waterfalls. Its use of Okayama Castle as "borrowed scenery" is a very good example of the technique.
Okayama City is a major transportation hub in western Japan. Major expressways and local JR rail lines extend to: Tottori Prefecture in the north, Fukuyama City and Hiroshima City in the west, the island of Shikoku in the south and Osaka City in the east.
The Sanyo Shinkansen line passes through the city center and all classes stop at the station in the city. It takes under 45 minutes to travel to Okayama from Hiroshima by Hikari-class Shinkansen and just over an hour to reach Shin-Osaka Station. Both directions cost around 6,000 yen.
Okayama Airport which has a number of domestic routes to other major cities in Japan is located in the city's north. A small number of international flights leave and arrive each week from Shanghai, Guam and Seoul.
Submitted by mbystedt on Wed, 04/20/2011 - 20:34