OKAYAMA AREA: KORAKUEN GARDENS AND EDO-ERA KURASHIKI AND ITS MUSEUMS

CHUGOKU AND OKAYAMA PREFECTURE

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Taishakukyo Gorge
The Chugoku region, encompassing the whole western tip of Honshu, is mountainous, with many small basins and coastal plains. Also known as the Sanin-Sanyo, it embraces the prefectures of Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi and has a population of about 7.5 million people. “Chūgoku” literally means "middle country", but the origin of the name is unclear. The largest cities are Hiroshima (population: 1,200,000) and Okayama (population: 720,000).

The Inland Sea coast, an important area of industry and commerce, is the most populous part of the region. Large rice-producing areas are concentrated along the plains of the Sea of Japan and the Okayama Plain. The warm, dry climate of the Inland Sea coast is ideal for growing oranges. The last of the three most scenic spots in Japan, Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima, is an island in Hiroshima Prefecture. Famous for its torii gate, which stands in the bay, Itsukushima Shrine became a World Heritage site in 1996. Two cities in Japan—Hiroshima, in the Chugoku region, and Nagasaki, in the Kyushu region—underwent atomic bombings during World War II. Near the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima stands the Atomic Bomb Dome, which was registered as a World Heritage site in 1996.

Okayama Prefecture covers 7,114.5 square kilometers (2,760 square miles), is home to about 1.9 million people and has a population density of 270 people per square kilometer. Okayama is the capital and largest city, with about 720,000 people. It is in the Chugoku area on the southwestern part of Honshu island and has 10 districts and 27 municipalities.

Okayama

Okayama (about halfway between Kobe and Hiroshima) is small city with about 700,000 people. Okayama Castle, with its four-level donjon, is a 1966 concrete reconstruction of an original castle built in 1573. Yunogo Onsen features natrium and calcium springs and variety of baths, including a cave onsen, rock onsen and kama onsens that resemble large kettle drums.

Okayama is a seaport city and the capital of Okayama Prefecture. It developed from a jokamachi, or castle town, founded in 1573 at the same time its castle was, and is now a market center in an area with a large-scale mechanized farming. One of Japan's most beautiful parks, Okayama Korakuen, lies on an island in the Asahikawa River. The park, and a popular festival at the Saidaiji Temple in February are the city’s best-known attractions.

Okayama is also home of the Tsuyama Natural Science Museum, which housed a collection of taxidermic animals, formaldehyde babies and even the internal organs of the museum's founder. Other museums include the Hayashibara Museum of Art, the Okayama Prefectural Museum, the Yumeji Art Museum, the Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art.

Websites: Okayama Tourism okayama-japan.jp;; Okayama Prefecture site pref.okayama.jp Wikipedia Wikipedia Map: Map and Brochure Downloads okayama-japan.jp ; Okayama Tram Map: Urban Rail http://www.urbanrail.net/as/jp/okayama/okayama.htm"> urbanrail.net ; Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Okayama is accessible by air and by bus and by train from Tokyo (five hours) and Osaka (one hour) and other Japanese cities. Okayama is a stop on the main Shinkansen line between Osaka and Fukuoka. It is also a gateway to Shikoku Island, which can be reached by train crossing the Seto Inland Sea Bridge. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Okayama Castle

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Okayama Castle
Okayama Castle is a fairly impressive Japanese castle but like Osaka Castle was destroyed in World War II and now is largely concrete. The main original tower was completed in 1597, destroyed in 1945 and replicated in concrete in 1966. Two of the watch towers survived the bombing of Okayama in 1945 and are now listed as an Important Cultural Properties. In stark contrast to the white castle in nearby Himeji, Okayama Castle is black exterior and is nicknamed the Crow Castle

Okayama Castle was started in 1573 by Ukita Naoie and completed by his son Hideie in 1597. Three years later, Hideie sided with the ill-fated Toyotomi Clan at the Battle of Sekigahara, was captured by the Tokugawa Clan and exiled to the island prison of Hachijo. The castle and surrounding fiefdoms were given to Kobayakawa Hideaki as spoils of war. Kobayakawa died just two years later without leaving an heir, and the castle (and fiefdom) was given to the Ikeda Clan, who later added Kōraku-en as a private garden. [Source: Wikipedia]

In 1869 the castle became the property of the Meiji government's Hyōbu-shō (Ministry of War), who saw the 'samurai' era castles as archaic and unnecessary. Like many other castles throughout Japan, the outer moats were filled in and the old castle walls gradually disappeared underneath the city. On June 29, 1945, the castle was burnt to the ground in an American bombing raid. In 1996 the rooftop gargoyles were gilded as part of the 400th anniversary celebrations. The reconstructed concrete castle has air-conditioning, elevators and numerous displays documenting the castle's history but only a little of it is in English. Access to the inner sanctuary is free.

Kirin Beer Factory Tour and Tasting

Kirin Beer factories are located in nine places (Chitose, Sendai, Toride, Yokohama, Nagoya, Shiga, Kobe, Okayama, and Fukuoka) . Each factory offers free a tour that last around 80 minutes. The Kirin Brewery Company is one of Japan's four leading beer breweries. It was founded in Yokohama, a city that played a major role in Japan's adopting beer from the West and spreading it the rest of Japan. [Source: yokohamajapan.com]

The brewery tours pass through a gallery with displays regarding the history of beer and Kirin and winds its way around parts of the factory, offering views from above through observation windows of various parts of the manufacturing process. As you watch, thousands of cans and bottles of beer go shooting through factory machines at incredibly high speeds! According to the guide, 2000 cans of beer are filled and packed each and every minute. Near the end of the tour, a series of panels of Kirin’s history are on display. Tours are usually conducted in Japanese, but an English guide may also be available.

Beer Production involves boiling down barley to make mash and removing the chaff so the wort can be squeezed out. The bitterness and fragrance of the beer comes from adding hops to the wort and boiling it down again. The entire process takes place in a preparation chamber installed with nine boiling kettles, each 12 meters in diameter. Top quality beer are often made using only the first press of the wort. Fermenting takes place inside 129 huge tanks for a period of one or two months. Visitors can try the first and second press of the wort for comparisons as well as up to three glasses of draft beer drawn straight from the fermenting tanks.

As the tour nears completion you arrive at the “tasting bar”. Here, you receive tickets that you exchange for three glasses of fresh beer—your choice. The selections on tap are “Ichiban-shibori”, “Lager”, and “Stout” (black beer). Location: 678 Mantomi, Seto-cho, Higashi-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken Tour Hours: Weekdays:10:00am, 11:00am, 12:00noon, 1:00pm 2:00pm, 3:00pm; Saturdays, Sundays, holidays: 10:00am, 11:00am, 11:30am, 12:00noon, 12:30pm, 1:00pm 2:00pm, 3:00pm, 3:30pm. Closed Every Monday (open if Monday is a public holiday), , year-end-New Year’s holidays, equipment inspection days, etc. If Monday is a public holiday, the facility will be closed on the following weekday. Getting There: Approximately 25 minutes from Okayama Station on the JR Sanyo Main Line to Mantomi Station, then approximately 10 minutes’ walk. Free shuttle bus operates from Mantomi Station on the JR Sanyo Line. Bookings are required for the shuttle bus. On the online booking screen, select Shuttle Bus as the mode of transport. Take the bus scheduled for your tour’s start time. The bus has a capacity of 23 passengers. Website: kirin.co.jp/entertainment/factory

Korakuen Gardens

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Korakuen Gardens(in Okayama) is one of the three most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan (the other two being Kenroken at Kanazawa and Kairakuen in Mito). Covering 13.3 hectares and built between 1687 and 1700 by the Lord of Okayama, it is a stroll garden with rustic tea arbors, rice paddies, vast lawns, lovely ponds, graceful groves, peaceful hills, lanes and streams---all tastefully arranged to harmonize with the surrounding hills and mountains.

Korakuen means "the garden for taking pleasure later." The best times to visit are November, when maple trees turn yellow and purple, April, when the cherry trees bloom and February, when Japanese apricot produce their colorful and wonderfully-scented flowers. Toko-en Garden, a early 17th century garden not far from the Asahi-gawa River, is less crowded.

Visitors can see sacred cranes and enjoy different flowers in each seasons. There are various structures like tea-ceremony room of Edo era. Near Korakuen-mae bus stop or 25 minute walk from Okayama Station. Address: 1-5 Korakuen, Kita-ku, Okayama Hours Open: 7:30am-6:00pm, 8:00am-5:00pm (October–March 19) Admission: ¥400 Websites: okayama-korakuen.jp/guide ; Japan Guide japan-guide ; Photos Reggie.net

Kibiji Bike Trail

Kibi Plain Bicycle Route(near Okayama) is a charming 16-kilometers (10-mile route) that passes a number of shrines and temples and follows bicycles paths much of is length. It possible to take the JR Kibi Line to Bizen Ichinomiya, rent a bicycle there, and ride to Soja, drop off the bikes and take the JR Habuki/Sanyo line to Okayama. Website: Japan Travel japantravel.com

Describing the Kibiji Bike Trail from Soja to Kurashiki and Okayama, Tadashi Yamauchi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “At the heart of Soja sits a Western-style architectural relic that was once a police station. The Meiji-era building is now home to a folk museum called Machikado Kyodokan. Soja was once an established center for the medicine trade along with Toyama and Omi known as 'Bitchu baiyaku,...The main thoroughfare in front of the building once flourished as the town of Sojagu shrine, which enshrines 324 gods from across Bitchu.[Source: Tadashi Yamauchi, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 21, 2012]

“I rented a bicycle in front of JR Soja Station. Before setting off down the trail, I headed north to Iyama Hofukuji temple, where sumi-e painter and monk Sesshu practiced Zen as a child during the Muromachi period (1336-1573).. On my way there, I came across cluster amaryllis, which must have been some kind of offering.

“The bike trail runs mainly through rice fields, where egrets graze among waves of bowing rice husks nearly ripened to gold. Cycling amid the rustic autumn scenery, I came across the magnificent five-story pagoda at Bitchu Kokubunji temple. Then I caught a glimpse of a stone coffin in the confines of a cavern at the Komorizuka ancient burial mound. I continued past the Tsukuriyama ancient burial mound, which looked like a satoyama--a village-managed forest area.

“About 16 kilometers from Soja Station, the roof of a shrine soon emerged from the wilderness. It was Kibitsu Shrine, a shrine of the highest rank, or ichinomiya, in Bitchu. I was overwhelmed by the presence of the edifice that stood before me. German literature expert Jiro Kawamura wrote about Kibitsu Shrine in Nihon Kaikokuki Ichinomiya Junreki, his travelogue about visiting the nation’s highest-ranking shrines. He writes: "If I were asked to name beautiful ichinomiya shrines in Japan, [Kibitsu Shrine] would certainly be in the top five. It might very well be the best." The roof of the combined honden-haiden (inner shrine and hall of worship) resembles wings swooping down from the sky. This traditional architectural style is known as hiyoku irimoya-zukuri (paired wing, hip-and-gable roof style).. The floating sensation of its grand hall is breathtaking.

“The palace hall known as Okama-den is where the myth-based ritual Narukama Shinji is held. According to the myth, Prince Ura of Kudara (Paekche), an ancient kingdom on the Korean Peninsula, wreaked havoc on the inhabitants of a village in this region. Prince Okibitsuhiko no Mikoto was dispatched to the village to defeat Ura, and he was later enshrined at Kibitsu because of his triumph. The myth is believed to have later evolved into the legend of Momotaro (Peach Boy).. Mikoto is said to have buried Ura’s severed head under a pot, or kama. The head is said to have continued to growl for 13 years. During the Narukama Shinji ritual, people learn of their fortunes according to how the pot makes sounds--or growls--when boiled.

“The ritual is featured in Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moonlight and Rain) by novelist Ueda Akinari (1734-1809), and the description sends shudders up the spine. I was allowed to observe the ritual from a corner of the hall. A priest read Shinto prayers before the pot, and female attendants known as azome performed the ritual. Soon after, I heard the sound of boiling water coming from the pot. It sent vibrations down to the very pit of my stomach. Shinto priest Kensuke Uenishi, 38, said: "However, you interpret the sound depends on your prayers. Recently, I've seen an increasing number of women coming here to pray for a good match for a marriage."

The next day, I went to the ruins of Kinojo castle, which is connected to the legend of Ura. The castle was built on a 400-meter-high mountain overlooking the Seto Inland Sea. From this vantage point, you can see the Mizushima industrial complex on the coast and Shodoshima island to the east. Getting to Soja: It takes 3-1/2 hours to travel from Tokyo Station to Okayama Station by Shinkansen train. From there, it takes 30 minutes to Soja Station on the JR Hakubi Line. For more information, call the Kibiji travel information center at (0866) 92-1211.

Near Okayama

Bizen (near Okayama) is famous for its unglazed Bizen-yaki ceramics which have been made for 700 years and are particularly valued by tea ceremony connoisseurs and beer drinkers in izakaya bars because the texture of pottery helps foam to form and allows the foam to last longer. At the workshops on Imbe street visitors can watch craftsmen at work or try their hand at making tea bowls, sake bottles, flower vases, tableware and various other ornaments.

Bizenyaki is often used to make tiles that are featured on many buildings in the town, most notably the Shizutani School. There are a number of ceramic museums around Imbe Street. These include the Okayama Prefectural Bizen Ceramics Art Museum and the Bizen Ceramics Crafts Museum. A number of kilns in the area allow visitors to try their hand at making their pottery for around ¥3,000 a head. Websites: JNTO article JNTO

Taishakukyo Gorge (2 ½ hours by train from Okayama) is a beautiful spot with a 90-meter-long and 40-meter-high natural bridge with 19 meters of its base submerged under water. The gorge was carved through 300 million year old limestone by the Taishakukyo River. A hiking trail that follows the gorge passes by a stalactite cave called Hakundi cavern. Lake Shinryu is created by a dam on the Taishakukyo River. Shinryibashi Bridge is longest remaining truss bridge built before World War II. Built in 1930, it is 84 meters long and was 300 meters downstream in 1985. Website: Taishakukyo site taishakukyo.com

Takahashi (reached by train from Okayama) is the home of highest castle in Japan: Bicchu Matsuyamjo. Located 430 meters above sea level, it lies on the upper reaches of Mount Gagyu. It is about an hour hike to the castle. Nearby Raikyuji Temple has a nice garden and some charming samurai houses.

Jeans Street (in Kojima, 30 minutes from Okayama) is hard to miss as everything — including the vending machines — is clad on denim. place. Browse more than 40 denim-related shops, many of which offer custom-made jeans, for that one-of-a-kind pair that fits and looks perfect on you! If you want to do the customizing yourself, drop by the Betty Smith Jeans Museum and ask to join a workshop. And no need to carry your completed denimwork with you: they ship internationally. After checking out the shops, indulge your "taste" for denim by trying the denim-blue blueberry ice cream. Getting There: Five-minute ride on a bus with denim seatsfrom Kojima Station, which is 20 minutes by train from the Okayama JR and bullet train station.

Maki-Do Cave

The Maki-do Cave (in Niimi, Okayama Prefecture, 80 kilometers northwest of Okayama City) is a limestone cave with some parts that are illuminated with blue and purple lights. Hiroyuki Nemoto wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: The inside temperature is about 14 C to 15 C throughout the year, creating a totally different world from the boiling heat outside.....The cave is 450 meters long and up to 25 meters wide. It was reportedly found by a local hunter of Japanese raccoon dogs during the final days of the Edo period (1603-1867).. The cave was called Maki no Ana after the name of the area. [Source: Hiroyuki Nemoto, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 25, 2016[

“In 1929, famed Japanese poet Akiko Yosano visited the cave with her husband and wrote a poem that read, “I will never forget [your] face lit by the glow of candles in the Senjojiki vast cirque of the cave of Maki.” The place was subsequently named Maki-do (cave) after the poem. After taking a rest, I moved deep into the cave, where I found a place called Senmaida, which looks like a terraced paddy field. This place appeared in the film “Yatsuhaka-mura” (Village of eight tombs).. It is believed that throwing a coin over your shoulder into Senmaida will make your dreams come true.

“I bent over because of the low ceiling and walked about 50 meters ahead, where I came to an underground lake called Iriumi. LED lights installed in 2014 illuminated the beauty created by nature over the ages. The lights changed their colors from pink to blue to purple within seconds, prompting cheers from the visitors. “After the previous lights were replaced by LEDs, it felt as if the temperature was one or two degrees lower,” said Mayumi Kunihiro, who works at the cave’s entrance reception.

I spent about 30 minutes in the cave. After my body cooled, I drove to the nearby Obara Kanko Kajuen (Obara tourist orchard), established about 30 years ago by about 10 local farmers. Japanese pears, plums, apples and other fruit are cultivated in the orchard, which comprises about five hectares. Peaches are currently in season. Thanks to the large difference in temperatures between day and night, as well as the well-drained soil unique to the Karst Plateau, fruit is sweeter and well colored. Admission to the Cave: The entrance fee is ¥1,000 for high school students and adults, ¥800 for middle school students and ¥500 for primary school students. Getting There: The Maki-do limestone cave is about 15 minutes by car from the Hokubo Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway and about 25 minutes from Niimi Interchange.

Kurashiki

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Kurashiki (16 kilometers southwest of Okayama and 120 kilometers northeast of Hiroshima) is a former rice shipping port and is now home to 400,000 people and some first rate art museums. Known as a “jewel case of culture,” it contains a small preserved old town with narrow streets, tile-roofed houses, arched bridges, merchant houses, and willow-fringed canals and several large rice granaries which have been converted into museums. Kurashaki means "warehouse village." The nice thing about the old town is that it is separated from the modern town and is refuge from frantic Japanese everyday life. Only a few cars pass along the narrow streets. The biggest distraction are large groups school children and elderly Japanese tourists.

Kurashiki is home to about 480,000 people. It is so close to Okayama that the two cities blend together. Kurashiki was a rice-trading center in the Edo period (1603-1867), and many of the warehouses that is famous for were built to store rice during that period. Later textile manufacturing became an important industry and remains so today although China has taken away a lot of business.

The historic district is just minutes from Kurashiki Station. As you walk along the canal lined with graceful weeping willows, you will see warehouse buildings once used to store rice, featuring the unique local architectural style of white plaster with black tile. Stop in at the famous Ohara Museum of Art, just one of many excellent museums in the district. Take a boat ride along the canal. When you're ready to eat there are numerous cafes and restaurants in the Honmachi and Higashimachi neighborhoods.

The historic district covers 51 acres and embraces 500 or so structures, many of them traditional houses with black tile roofs, white-washed walls and latticed windows. In the old days rice and other foodstuff were brought in from the countryside and stored in the warehouses and then loaded on barges in the town’s canals and floated to the Inland Sea, about a dozen miles to the south. In the 20th century it became a prosperous textile and spinning town controlled by the wealthy Ohara family, who were known for providing good working conditions and benefits for their workers and pouring a lot of their money back into the town by building museums and providing generous funding to hospitals and schools.

Websites:Kurashiki Tourism Site kurashiki-tabi.jp; Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Hon-machi, Kurashiki's Bikan District setouchitrip.com Map: kurashiki-tabi Hotel Web Sites: Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Kurasaki is not on the shinkansen route. The shinkansen is 16 kilometers away in Okayama. Still, Kurashiki Station is less than 90 minutes from Osaka by train. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet ;

Sights in Kurashiki

Worth checking out in Kurashiki are the Japanese Rural Toy Museum, Kurashiki Ninagawa Museum (with Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities), the Kurashiki Archeology Museum (with Inca, and ancient Persian art), the Savings Box Museum (with a kitschy collection of more than 1,000 piggy banks) and some shrines and temples. In the Antique Mall a wide variety of things are offered in the flea market.

Kurashiki Folkcraft Museum is located in four two-story granaries. Among the 4,000 items in the museum's collection are ceramics, handblown glass, rugs, fancy mats, straw jackets, woodblock prints, wooden crafts and other folkcrafts. Most of the works are by unidentified craftsmen. Around the museum are traditional-style Japanese houses and shops selling traditional crafts such as pinwheels, mobiles, handmade paper objects, bizenware pottery, and wooden toys. It is worth the time to seek out the Kurashiki Spinning Works, an old textile site.

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Trivoli Park complex, which opened in July 1997, is modeled after the original Tivoli Park in Copenhagen. It contains a Ferris wheel, roller coaster and other rides like a typical amusement park but also is home to flower gardens, theaters with music and productions of fairy tales and European-themed restaurants and shops. It welcomes about 750,000 people a year but went bankrupt and closed in 2008. See Sports, Recreation, Theme Parks

Ohara Museum (at Kurashiki) is one of the finest Western art museums in Japan. Founded by textile industrialist Magosaburo Ohara, it contains Monet's Water Lilies, El Greco's Annunciation , Matisse's Cliffs Downstream on the Ertorta and works by Rodin, Picasso, Pissaro, Cezanne, Renoir, Toulouse-Latrec, Gauguin, Degas, Munch, Warhol, and Liechtenstein. There also collections of ancient artifacts from Asia and the Middle East and Woodblock prints, textiles and ceramic and other crafts from celebrated Japanese folk artist. On the lawn are sculptures by Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi. Websites: Ohara Museum of Art Ohara.or ;

Taneya Club Harie at La Collina Omihachiman is famous for its sweets and architecture. Since 1872, the Taneya Group has been producing sweets based on local agricultural products, recipes, and nature. Architect Terunobu Fujimori designed the company headquarters “La Collina”, and the giant facility includes restaurants and shops surrounded by rice fields. Grass grows on roofs and walls curve like mushrooms. Location: 11-16 Hon-machi, Kurashiki-shi, Okayama 710-0054 +81-90-7999-6682 Okayama

Machiya Traditional townhouses with clay tile roofing are disappearing. To preserve them in them in Kurashiki, the Kurashiki Machiya Trust restores historical buildings and turns them into guesthouses – like Onsaka no Ie (house on Onsaka slope) – a great alternative to staying in a conventional hotel room. Modern facilities and a contemporary design blend into traditional interior, make experiencing Japan both comfortable and unique. Onsaka no Ie stands on massive granite blocks arranged like a castle fortification that bear witness to a long history. Inside, however, the atmosphere is light because of wood and paper walls and the high, sloped ceiling with exposed beams.

Seto Inland Sea Coast of Kurashiki

Seto Inland sea coast of Kurashiki (near Okayama) is a charming area. Mt. Washu (Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture) offers great views of the magnificent seascapes of the Bisan-Seto dotted with numerous islands and islets of the Shiwaku Islands. The scenic beauty found here was decisive factor in designating the Seto Sea area as a national park. The Shimotsui area encompassing Mt. Washu prospered as a port of call for ships awaiting better wind and current conditions. Mt. Ojigatake (Kurashiki City and Tamano City, Okayama Prefecture) has a distinct appearance and is lined with gigantic granite rocks and oddly-shaped granite rocks. There are good views of the Bisan-Seto Strait from the summit. Shibukawa Beach situated at the base of the mountain is a beautiful stretch of sandy seashore dotted with pine trees and used as a bathing beach. [Source: Ministry of the Environment Government of Japan]

Kiyotaka Sato wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Inspired to see the sea, I drove to Mt. Washu in southern Kurashiki, a scenic spot at the tip of the Kojima Peninsula from which visitors can look down on the Seto Inland Sea. When viewed from the northeast, the mountain looks like an eagle spreading its wings — a shape that gave Mt. Washu its name. After passing along a narrow and winding road, parking my car and climbing stone steps through pine trees, I found a stone observation deck. As I inhaled a subtle salty scent, I was finally greeted by a superb view of the calm sea with more than 50 large and small islands scattered around, and the Seto Ohashi bridge stretching over them. You can also see Shikoku on the opposite shore, with a snow-dusted mountain range. Smoke was rising from an industrial complex across the water in Sakaide, Kagawa Prefecture. [Source: Kiyotaka Sato, Yomiuri Shimbun, March 02, 2017]

“You can hike to the top of Mt. Washu along a trail. Halfway up the mountain is the Washuzan Visitor Center, another superb viewing spot. The center, which is currently run by a group of local residents, exhibits documents about constructing the Seto Ohashi bridge, among other items...While waiting for the sunset, I went down to the foot of the mountain for a walk at Shimotsui Port, which was once prosperous as an anchorage site for cargo ships on their way to Osaka from Hokkaido, as well as as a departure site for worshippers traveling to Kotohiragu shrine in Kagawa Prefecture by boat.

“In the port town, which has a nostalgic atmosphere, is a facility named Mukashi Shimotsui Kaisen Donya, a building that housed a shipping agent. The building, which shows how prosperous the port town was in the early years of the Meiji era (1868-1912), was purchased by the prefectural government to refurbish as a museum. Items on display include furniture and everyday items from those days, while on the shelves are dried octopuses, among other local specialties.

“Mt. Washu was visited by 3 million people in 1988, when the Seto Ohashi bridge opened, but the number has fallen to about 1.8 million in recent years. The community faced stagnation, but now sees hope in an anime movie titled “Hirunehime” (Napping princess)...The story is set in Shimotsui. The Washuzan Visitor Center (086-479-8660) is open year-round. Mukashi Shimotsui Kaisen Donya (086-479-7890) is closed on Tuesdays. Admission is free for both facilities. Getting There: To reach Mt. Washu by car, it takes about 10 minutes from Kojima Interchange of the Seto-Chuo Expressway. From nearby JR Kojima Station, it is a half-hour trip by bus or a 10-minute ride by taxi.

Image Sources: 1) 5) 6) 7) 8) 10) Wikipedia 2) Okayama City 3) Reggie.net 4) Hiroshima Prefecture 9) Ehime Prefecture

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020


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