Things to Do in Okayama Prefecture – Our Okayama Japan Guide

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Let’s talk about things to do in Okayama Japan. When most travelers plan their Japan trip, they think mostly of places like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. These are all great Japan destinations to be sure, but few travelers have discovered all the Okayama attractions on offer. With Hiroshima to the west and Osaka and Kyoto to the east, Okayama Prefecture is relatively unknown to the typical Japan visitor, but as I am discovering, it’s a place with lots of potential for fun. Here are a few suggestions on what to do in Okayama Japan.

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Things to Do in Okayama Japan

Okayama is a place of legends. It’s a place where one folk hero was born, and where another spent his last days. It’s a place of castles and gardens. And a place of both traditional farms and modern art. If you’re looking for what to do in Okayama, then you’ll have plenty to choose from. Here are a few of our recommended things to do in Okayama Prefecture.

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Okayama Things to Do

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Okayama prefecture is a more rural place than city centers such as Tokyo and Osaka. The pace of life is slower and there is more open space to breathe. However, that doesn’t mean it’s boring. In fact, there’s plenty of history, tradition, and creativity flowing through the prefecture, and these Okayama things to do are proof. Many believe the famed folk hero Momotaro was born in Okayama. In addition, the story goes that the Japanese legend of Kintaro, the boy with inhuman strength, spends his final days in the small town of Sho-o in the prefecture’s heartland. Okayama is home to traditional festivals and modern art — to caves and castles, to islands and museums. Here are just a few of the top Okayama attractions. 

Visit an Okayama Castle: Bitchu-Matsuyama & Okayama Castle

things to do in okayama castle

Originally built in 1597, much of the original Okayama Castle was destroyed in WWII bombing. What you see now is a reconstruction from 1966, with modern amenities like concrete infrastructure and air conditioning. Often referred to at the Karasu-jo (“Crow Castle”) thanks to its black exterior, it’s still an impressive and imposing structure. You can visit Okayama Castle easily from Okayama City as it sits on the river next to the traditional Japanese garden known as Okayama Korakuen.

Bitchū-Matsuyama Castle

closeup Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Okayama Prefecture Japan

In contrast to Okayama Castle’s central, riverside location, the Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle sits on a hilltop 430 above sea level. Often called Okayama’s “castle in the sky,” Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle was built here between the 12th and 17th centuries as a strategic post. At certain times of day, the castle looks like an island floating in a sea of clouds. You can visit this lofty Okayama castle via bus or shared taxi, but some of the best views are from the Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle Observatory, which can be arranged by shared taxi services at JR Bitchu-Takahashi Station.

Okayama Korakuen – Wander Through an Okayama Garden

A stroll through beautiful green spaces: that’s one of the best things to do in Okayama. Take, for example, the Okayama Korakuen. Spread out next to Okayama Castle, this is considered one of the three best gardens in Japan, with serene ponds, teahouses, and traditional stages. You may also see Japanese cranes strutting about, as they are bred in the area. Okayama Korakeun was built in the 17th century by a feudal lord and one of the few remaining Samurai-era gardens of its size left.

Step Back in Time: Kurashiki Bikan Historical District

kurashiki okayama things to do

The canal district of this historic town looks like a movie set for a period drama set in the Edo era. Restored storehouses flank a canal where wooden boats float by. Those storehouses today hold boutiques and cafes rather than a city’s supply of rice, but the area still has a lost-in-time vibe that’s hard to duplicate.

A few minutes on foot to the west is the Ohara Museum, Japan’s first repository of Western Art. To the east a few paces is Ivy Square, a former cotton mill now covered in green leaves and housing food, accommodation, and cultural events. If you want to make the experience even more memorable, then book a rickshaw tour of Kurashiki. Choose from tours that last as little as 12 minutes or as long as two hours.

Book Now: Reserve a Rickshaw Tour in Okayama’s Kurashiki Historic District

Soak up Contemporary Art & Architecture: Setouchi, Naoshima, & Inujima

tokyo to okayma to naoshima triennale

Home to one of Japan’s biggest contemporary art events, the Setouchi region of Okayama Prefecture is brimming with creativity. For anyone interested in modern art and architecture, then this is what to do in Okayama. The Okayama islands set in Japan’s inland sea host the Setouchi Triennale, an internationally recognized contemporary art fair held every three years.

Then there are numerous art museums on the islands. For example, on Naoshima Island, you can visit the Chichu Art Museum, designed by internationally acclaimed Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Then there are the famous polka-dotted pumpkin sculptures by Yayoi Kusama. On Inujima Island there is the Art House Project: five gallery spaces in a rural community that house artwork of some of my favorite contemporary artists such as Olafur Eliason and Kohei Nawa. These are just a few of the recommended things to do in Okayama’s Setouchi region.

Go Deep with Denim

Okayama denim shop in Ibara station

Okayama Prefecture is home to Japanese denim. Once where indigo was harvested, Okayama has long been one of the main hubs for Japanese textiles. Much of that is blue jeans, jean jackets and just about anything you can imagine made out of denim.

That includes kimonos, sport coats, handbags and more. Right in Okayama’s Ibara Train Station there is an impressive denim goods shop, with occasional workshops using the material a few feet away. For example, I made a picture frame using scraps of denim and will soon return for one of those sport coats. Some jeans manufacturers also have make-it-yourself classes, as well. 

Book Now: Hand Made Blue Jeans Experience – Things to Do in Okayama

Relish the Local Life in Sho-o Town

what to do in okayama food

Between Okayama’s Shogunate past and its artistic future you have its rural, aesthetically pleasing present-day. The prefecture has many farming communities where its famous agricultural products are grown and where local farmers and their families live. If you want to see how regular small-town Japanese people live, then an overnight trip to places like Sho-o is what to do in Okayama.

Sho-o is just starting to develop an infrastructure for travelers, but farmers like Takahashi Doi are developing farm-to-table activities where you can relish an amazing dinner made from fruits and vegetables you pulled out of the ground that day. There are cabins and family-run farmhouses where the cacophony of Tokyo street life hasn’t reached. The pace of life is different here.

Step Back in Time at Bitchu-Fukiya Furusato Mura

Okayama attractions Bitchu Fukiya Furusato Mura 1

Once a prosperous mining town, Bitchu-Fukiya grew rich through copper and a red pigment made from oxidized iron. Used in everything from paint and textiles to the ink in newspapers, the remote village was once home to wealthy families whose mines were a solid form of affluence in a different era. Times have changed, but the buildings haven’t. If you want to see an old traditional village, this is a great spot. The only issue is it’s far from any train station. 

See a Local Shrine: Kibitsu Jinja, Saijo Inari, & Saidaiji

Traditional shrines and temples are also interesting things to do in Okayama. The Kibitsu Jinja plays a role in the origin story of Momotaro, one of Japan’s most well-known folk tales. The Saijo Inari Shrine has some of Japan’s best architectural examples of the mix between homegrown Shintoism and imported Buddhism. Then there is Saidaiji, the 1,200-year-old wooden temple where every February thousands of nearly naked men compete for good fortune (more on this in Okayama Festivals below).

Enjoy a Meal at Yakageya

Lunch at Yakageya ryokan and restaurant in Okayama Japan

Once the resting post for feudal lords on their way to Tokyo, Yakageya is a restaurant and ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) near the Oda river. Kaiseki-style lunches here are fantastic, and for a fraction of what you’d pay in the capital today. 

Stare into the Cosmos

Okayama Astrophysical Observatory

Okayama Prefecture is home to the largest telescope in Japan. One of the country’s most important observatories is located on a hilltop here and is a great place for stargazing. If you’re interested in astronomy, then this is one of the best things to do in Okayama

Pose in Traditional Clothes

If you really want to go native, then a yukata or kimono fitting is what to do in Okayama. Packages include choosing your fabrics, the kimono fitting itself and then 15 minutes of hairstyling (optional). Then off you go to snap once-in-a-lifetime pictures on the streets and in local shrines. Select your kimono around 9 am, get fitted and then you’re free to visit the local sights until 4 pm.

Reserve Now: Book a Yukata/Kimono Fitting in Okayama

Go Underground: Makido Cave

maki cave what to do in okayama prefecture

This limestone cave in northwest Okayama Prefecture is lit with colorful LEDs, giving the stalactites and stalagmites a psychedelic glow. It’s a small climb to the entrance, but worth it if you want to escape the summer heat, as it stays a constant 15ºC year-round.

Get Your Hands Dirty: Okayama Pottery Class

Bizen pottery has roots as far back as the 16th century. For anyone interested in ceramics or traditional crafts, this hands-on class is one of the best things to do in Okayama. The 2-hour lesson involves working on a wheel or designing a hand-built creation under the tutelage of a local potter.

Reserve Now: Book a Bizen Pottery Class

Watch Swords Being Made

sword making Okayama things to do

At the Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum, you can see blades from many eras. But the real attraction here is to see a sword-making demonstration. Metal is heated to 1300ºC and then pounded by blacksmiths, folded and then the process continues. Sparks fly, so be careful. Sword-making demos usually happen only on the second Sunday of the month. There are usually two demos that day: one at 11 am and one at 2 pm.

Eat Okayama Food & Okayama Fruit

Every region of Japan has its famous dishes, and Okayama is no different. On the coast near Setouchi, barazushi (“scattered sushi”) is famous, while the northern parts of the prefecture grow some of the finest peaches and grapes in the country. The region also produces lots of rice, which is used to make its signature snack and dessert, kibi-dango.

Experience Okayama’s Festivals

hadaka matsuri okayama festivals

Japan continues to keep traditional festivals alive all over the country, and Okayama prefecture is no different. There is the Momotaro Matsuri in August, where hundreds of dancers dress as colorful ogres and dance through the streets. Then there is the Kamo Taisai Festival. Dating back nearly a thousand years, the Kamo Taisai festival sees miniature shrines paraded through a mountainous region of Kibichuo.

Out of all Okayama festivals, however, the most famous is the Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri. Commonly referred to as the “Naked Festival,” the Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri is where nearly 9,000 men fight to grab one of two sacred wooden sticks that purportedly bestow twelve months of good luck. These 9,000 men are not fully naked: most wear a fundoshi loincloth (think sumo wrestler), but the frigid February weather makes it an additional challenge.

Rent a Car Camper

Okayama Camping Car

That’s right: Japan may have one of the most advanced rail systems in the world but you can still live out dreams of a Japanese road trip in Okayama Prefecture. Car campers like the one you see here sleep 5 comfortably. They also come with plenty of camping essentials (optional) such as sleeping bags, a lantern, folding chairs/table, a stove, and cooking utensils. The camping car also comes equipped with a sink and mini-fridge.

The hillside Kyogamaru campground has grassy car-camping spaces, toilets and a view of the town below. There’s also mini-golf and a large playground for kids. You can rent these at the Heisei Rental Car Stand a few minutes on foot from Shin-Kurashiki Station. Ideally, you should reserve a week ahead of time. Yet in a pinch, I think it can’t hurt to contact them as late the day before and see if any are available. Just remember that as in a Japanese home, shoes come off before entering the car camper.

At present, the cost is ¥52,800 per van, per night. That includes the RV, the security deposit, the camping equipment (optional), consumption tax, and one night at Kyogamaru Auto Campground.

Hotels in Okayama

naoshima galleries things to do in Okayama prefecture

Looking for where to stay in Okayama? Here are a few suggestions. First I cover a few ryokan and hotels in Okayama’s more popular spots: Naoshima, Kurashiki and Okayama City. After that a few more remote places.

Hotels in Okayama City

If you’re just passing through on the shinkansen, then hotels near Okayama Station are a good option. Okayama City offers plenty of shopping and dining, as well as quick access to the Korakuen Garden and Okayama’s “Crow Castle.”

Okayama Koraku Hotel

Japan shinkansen tokyo to okayama to tokyo

Easily one of the best hotels in Okayama, the Okayama Koraku Hotel gives you easy access to the shinkansen, the Okayama Castle/Okayama Korakuen area, and the Nishigawa Canal walk, which is right next to the building. Rooms run between 14m2 (for one) to family rooms that sleep up to seven at 48m2.

Check Availability: Okayama Koraku Hotel at Booking.com

Compare Prices: Okayama Koraku Hotel at HotelsCombined

Read Reviews: Okayama Koraku Hotel at TripAdvisor

Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama

Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama

Another top hotel near Okayama Station. The Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama has Western-style rooms and sits minutes away from Okayama Station on foot. Being near Okayama Station means you’re also close to lots of shopping and dining opportunities, as well. Okayama Castle and Okayama Korakuen are both about 10 minutes away via taxi or 20 minutes by train. Rooms have a private bath but a public onsen is downstairs and available for guests.

Check Availability: Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama at Booking.com

Compare Prices: Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama at HotelsCombined

Read Reviews: Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama at TripAdvisor

Hotel Granvia Okayama

Hotel Granvia - Okayama Hotels

This Okayama City hotel is actually connected to the station via underground shopping street, with plenty to shops and restaurants around. Rooms sleep up to seven and there’s an indoor pool for guests (additional fee). The front desk speaks English (not as common in Japanese hotels as you’d think), and the view from the top-floor breakfast buffet is nice.

Check Availability: Hotel Granvia Okayama at Booking.com

Compare Prices: Hotel Granvia Okayama at HotelsCombined

Read Reviews: Hotel Granvia Okayama at TripAdvisor

Kurashiki Hotels

The Kurashiki area is a great place for an overnight trip. Here are two recommended Okayama hotels that put you close to the Bikan Historic District.

Centurion Hotel & Spa Kurashiki Station

Centurion Hotel & Spa Kurashiki Station Hotels in Okayama

The bathrooms run small in this Kurashiki Hotel but the location is hard to beat. From here you’re a few steps from Kurashiki Station and a 10-minute walk to the Bikan Historical Quarter. If you’re traveling with kids and/or want a larger bathing space, then look into the twin rooms with bunk beds and an open-air tub.

Check Availability: Centurion Hotel & Spa Kurashiki Station at Booking.com

Compare Prices: Centurion Hotel & Spa Kurashiki Station at HotelsCombined

Read Reviews: Centurion Hotel & Spa Kurashiki Station at TripAdvisor

Hostel Cuore Kurashiki

Hostel Cuore Kurashiki Hotels in Okayama

For the budget-conscious, this is one of the best Okayama hotels in Kurashiki. There are cheap (for Japan) dorm beds but also an array of private rooms. Some private rooms have Japanese bedding. Others have Western-style. Some have a private shower, others have shared. Laundry service and bike rentals available.

Check Availability: Hostel Cuore Kurashiki at Booking.com

Compare Prices: Hostel Cuore Kurashiki at HotelsCombined

Read Reviews: Hostel Cuore Kurashiki at TripAdvisor

Naoshima Hotels

For contemporary art fans, Naoshima is one of the top Okayama attractions. The island is small and quite walkable, with loads of museums and galleries to take in. Here’s where to stay on Naoshima.

Hotel Wright Style

wright style hotel in naoshima where to stay in okayama prefecture

This two-star hotel on Okayama’s famous art island has moderate rooms and laundry service. Easy access to all the island’s museums and art attractions as well. Italian restaurant on site.

Check Availability: Hotel Wright Style at Booking.com

Compare Prices: Hotel Wright Style at HotelsCombined

Read Reviews: Hotel Wright Style at TripAdvisor

Sana Mane

sana mane naoshima hotels where to stay in okayama

And now for something completely different. Sana Mane is Naoshima’s glamping alternative to conventional hotels in Okayama. The geodesic dome tents are fairly simple and not soundproofed, but many face the beach and all have easy walkable access to the port and all the museums.

Check Availability: Sana Mane at Booking.com

Read Reviews: Sana Mane at TripAdvisor

Other Okayama Hotels

Yakageya ryokan and restaurant in Okayama Japan

Yakageya

Once a resting point for feudal lords, Yakageya (seen above) is a ryokan built into some of the same buildings from the Edo Era. They also have a beautiful public bath and fantastic food. 

Takahashi International Hotel

This is where I stayed the last time I visited. It has Western beds and great breakfasts. Also is a decent location for visiting many of the more remote Okayama attractions

The View Setouchi

Perched on a hilltop looking down at the inland sea, the View is one of the only hotels in the area that allows pets. Rooms are spacious and bright. Some have dog kennels. 

Getting to Okayama / Getting Around Okayama

Japan shinkansen tokyo to okayama to tokyo

Thanks to the JR Rail and other train lines in Japan, access to Okayama City is easy. Some of the things to do in Okayama that I’ve mentioned above will require a taxi or bus, but top destinations like Okayama Castle and the Korakuen Garden can easily be reached from Okayama Station. If you’re looking for how to get around, here’s a quick breakdown.

If you plan to explore Western Japan and don’t have a JR Rail Pass, then you might want to consider getting a pass specifically for the area. The JR West pass costs a fraction of the country-wide ticket, but you can get a lot of value out of it after just a few uses. Seriously: just one round-trip from Okayama to Yamaguchi and the pass pays for itself. These are so cheap that they’re only sold to non-residents.

Buy Now: Reserve Your JR West Pass

Or read our Buyer’s Guide to the Full JR Rail Pass

Okayama to Naoshima

From Okayama Station, take the JR Uno line all the way to Uno Station. This is covered by the JR Rail Pass and should take an hour or less, depending on if it’s a local or express. From Uno Station, follow the signs to Miyanoura Port, where you can catch a 20-minute ferry to one of Naoshima’s two ports.

Okayama City to Kurashiki

There are a number of ways to get from Okayama to Kurashiki, but the best for JR Rail Pass owners and others is probably via the JR Sanyo Line. Take between 15 and 30 minutes.

Okayama City to Takahashi (for Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle)

Take the JR Hakube Line to Bitchu-Takahashi Station. It takes about 40 minutes on the Yakumo limited express or about an hour on a local train (which is less than half the price).

Tokyo to Okayama / Okayama to Tokyo

The fastest most efficient way to get from Tokyo to Okayama (and vice versa) is via Shinkansen (JR Tokaido & JR Sanyo lines). If you’re using the JR Rail Pass, then make sure to take the Hikari (4 hours) which the JR Pass covers. The Nozomi (3.5 hours) is not covered. You can also fly from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Okayama Airport in a little over an hour. Night buses leave from Tokyo Station’s Yaesu Area and take around 9 hours.

Buy Shinkansen Tickets: Tokyo to Okayama *OR* Okayama to Tokyo

Osaka to Okayama / Okayama to Osaka

The Sanyo Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station reaches Okayama in around 45-60 minutes. Just make sure to take the Hikari Train if using a JR Rail Pass since the Nozomi Train is not covered. Alternatively, you can take a bus (3-4 hours) from the JR Bus terminal at Osaka station.

Buy Shinkansen Tickets: Osaka to Okayama *OR* Okayama to Osaka

Kyoto to Okayama / Okayama to Kyoto

Like Shin-Osaka above, the fastest way between Okayama and Kyoto is via the JR Sanyo Shinkansen. Just make sure to take the Hikari if you’re using a JR Rail Pass. The Pass doesn’t cover the Nozomi trains. Buses from Okayama and Kyoto take around 3-4 hours.

Buy Shinkansen Tickets: Kyoto to Okayama *OR* Okayama to Kyoto

Hiroshima to Okayama / Okayama to Hiroshima

The bullet train from Okayama to Hiroshima takes about 40 minutes. Like Tokyo and other cities above, take the JR Sanyo, and make sure to take the Hikari if you want a JR Rail Pass to cover it. Buses using Ryobi Buses take 2 to 3 hours.

Buy Shinkansen Tickets: Hiroshima to Okayama *OR* Okayama to Hiroshima

Know More Things to Do in Okayama?

Do you know what to do in Okayama? Have we missed something? Let us know!

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Disclaimer: These Okayama travel tips post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you book an Okayama tour or a hotel in Okayama through our links, then we might get a small commission. You pay nothing extra. Also, everything you see here is just my personal opinion. I only recommend places, activities, and gear that I believe will genuinely help you find what to do in Okayama Japan. 

Photo Credits via Creative Commons CC-BY or other Royalty-free image sites. Some images may have been altered slightly via cropping or color enhancement: #1, #2, #4, #5, #8, #11, #12, #25, #26, #27, #32, #33-#39, #44, #46

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