After spending half the day in Okayama we were off to visit the old historical part of Kurashiki. Straight out of the car park we found ourselves in the streets of the historic quarter, called Bikan, Japan’s own tiny Venice.
Before going deeper into the old part we climbed the steep hill to the Achi-jinja shrine on top of Mount Tsurugata, a shrine which overlooks the town and offers some great views. The shrine was originally designated to worship the patron of Kurashiki and nowadays people come here to worship the gods for traffic, fortune and arts.
Chinese Zodiac Dial
We found the Chinese zodiac dial, which can be seen in one of the buildings, most interesting and unique. We could not work out it’s meaning and unfortunately there was no description anywhere to be seen. Leaving the shrine through the northern entrance gate, we walked down a winding path reaching the main shopping area of Kurashiki.
The Beautiful Ohashi House
Heading to the left we strolled on to the beautifully restored Ohashi house, which lies between the station and the Bikan area. It was built in 1793 and belonged to one of the richest families of Kurashiki. The owners used to be a prosperous merchant family and they claimed privileges, which had previously only been granted to samurais. The house luckily survived World War II and the structure was built of wood and clay as Japanese houses traditionally used to be. For a small entrance fee you enter through a small courtyard into the main building.
Inside the House
Inside the main building you find the kitchen and storage room and you will be asked to take off your shoes in order to walk through the tatami floored rooms. The thing that has always amazed me about Japanese houses are the many little court yards you find when walking through the buildings.
My favourite courtyard in the Ohashi house had a granite stone water basins, called a chozubachis, lush ferns, moss and other plants. The courtyards are a calm place to sit down on the wooden hallways and relax.
My Love for Engawa
The wooden hallways surrounding traditional Japanese houses are known as Engawa, which traditionally enclosed most of the Japanese houses, used as room connections and to let in light and air and in the hot summer months. It is rare to see houses of such overwhelming beauty and we definitely recommend making a little the detour to visit the Ohashi house.
The Bikan Quarter
Finding our way back to the Bikan quarter, Japan’s Venice, we passed lots of shops, cafes, restaurants and museums. One of the first shops we passed was a cat shop. Just by the entrance door we found a cat slot machine, where Jerome tried his luck and actually won a tiny cat after his second go. He probably thought that was 200Yen well spent.
The Pretty Willow Canal
We walked deeper into the Bikan quarter, where the main attraction is the willow-edged canal surrounded by picturesque black and white warehouses.
In the feudal era these warehouses were used to store rice. It was very pleasant to stroll, visiting the small shops and watching the boats with their passengers slowly floating up and down the canal in the Bikan Quarter.
Ride in a Traditional Boat
A 20 minutes ride in one of the traditional boats costs 500Yen for adults and 250Yen for children and tickets can be bought at the tourist information. We skipped the boat ride and the museums as it was getting late and most shops and museums were closing at 5pm.
Washi Paper Tape
In one of the side streets we found a boutique selling only one thing, colourful locally made tapes using Japanese washi paper.
Buying Gifts for Friends and Family
We spent a long time choosing which ones we wanted to buy as gifts for friends and family. There were too many different designs to choose from. Afterward visiting the Bikan Quarter, Japan’s tiny Venice, we had dinner in a small local restaurant in Kurashiki, chosen at random, and then drove back to Bingoya.
Where to Stay:
Kurashiki: We wish we could have stayed at the amazing Toutou Gallery right in the heat of the Bikan Quarter
Shin Kurashiki: Bingoya’s traditional rooms are dotted among a serene garden, a short drive from Kurashiki
Okayama: There is a real dirth of good hotels but one cannot go wrong with ANA Crowne Plaza
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