Shizutani School in Bizen Okayama

Shizutani SchoolThe Shizutani School is a historic Edo Period school that was the first public school in Japan. Shizutani School was created by Lord Mitsumasa Ikeda, the feudal lord of Okayama. It was during a visit to the area in 1666 he envisioned an academic utopia nestled in a quiet mountain area. The name “Shizutani” means quiet and peaceful valley in Japanese. A small school was established in 1668 and later Lord Ikeda’s chief vassal, Nagatada Tsuda was appointed to start the full school in 1670. The school was completed in 1701 and was open not only to samurai but also farmers, craftsmen and merchants. This was extremely rare during this period of time in Japan, where there was a feudal class system with samurai ranked first. Lord Mitsumasa Ikeda thought that it was important to raise excellent leaders in commoners as well as the class elite.

The school was opened to children in age from 8-20 years old. It was also a Confucian school. Dedicated to family, respect for elders and superiors, and discipline.

The school is now designated a national treasure, and is still in its original condition. The roof tiles are a main point of interest as they are made with Bizen-yaki, which is the oldest and most revered form of pottery in Japan.

The school is set in some beautiful surroundings and it must have been a pleasure to be able to study at this special school. The mountains are quiet and peaceful with a small creek passing by the area into the Shizutani River.

There is also an ume grove, cherry blossom grove and maple grove making this place especially beautiful during the spring and the autumn.

What to See at the Shizutani School

Hanchi

This rectangular pond is 7 meters wide and 11 meters long and runs parallel to a stone wall. A stone bridge crosses the pond and it was modelled after a school in China.

Hanchi with Bridge and Ume Grove

Ume and Cherry Blossom Grove

The area in front of the school features beautiful ume and cherry blossom trees making for a spectacular sight during the spring season in Japan.

Ume Grove

Ume Blossoms at Shizutani School

The Various Gates of the School

There are many different ways to enter the school including the main school gate and the Lord’s Gate.

Shizutani School Gate

Lord's Gate

Shizutani School Auditorium

The Auditorium is the largest building of the school and was the main classroom. It was made from Japanese cedar and is designated a national treasure.

Shizutani School Auditorium

The Famous Bizen-yaki Roof Tiles

The Bizen region has been renowned for its Bizen-yaki since the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). The pottery is the oldest and most revered in Japan. It tends to be earthy and subdued and gets its complex earthy reddish brown tones when the clay is fired.

Shizutani School Gate Roof Tiles

Bizen-yaki Roof Tiles

Tsubaki Yama

Tsubaki Yama or Camellia Mountain is a holy place where the schools founder Lord Mitsumasa Ikeda’s hair, beard and nails where stored after his death.

There are no English signs around the place, so it’s not the most tourist friendly place, but still worth a visit.

Tsubaki Yama

Opening Hours

The Shizutani School is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Entry Fee

Admission to the School is 300 yen

How to Get There

From Okayama you can take a local train on the JR Sanyo Line to Yoshinaga Station in about 36 minutes. The school is about 3km from Yoshinaga Station. You can take a taxi from the station and get there in around 10 minutes or walk in about 40 minutes.

Address: 784 Shizutani, Bizen, Okayama Prefecture, Japan


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Best Time to Go

The best time to visit Shizutani School is during spring for the ume and cherry blossoms or Autumn when the maple grove and surrounding mountains come alive with a blaze of colour.

Tip: Make a visit to Imbe to discover the Bizen-yaki which can be found around Imbe Station. It is a great place to pick up a souvenir from your trip. The pottery has also been prized by dedicated tea ceremony aficionados for centuries. According to legend, it improves the taste of anything you drink from it.

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Kurashiki

Stone lantern in Kurashiki

Kurashiki is a sight-seeing spot in Okayama that is famous for its beautifully preserved Bikan historical area. It was an old merchant town that prospered during the Edo Period. Walking down its narrow streets with picturesque black and white warehouses, framed by an old willow-edged canal, you can take a step back in time to this period of Japan. The area features many well preserved warehouses that were used as storehouses for rice during the Edo Period. Rice was as good as gold back in those days, so its easy to see why Kurashiki was one of the most important towns in the country. Many of the former warehouses have been converted into museums, shops and restaurants and the area can easily be explored in a day.

What to See in Kurashiki

The Bikan Historical Area

The Bikan Historical Area features many beautifully preserved wooden warehouses with lattice windows in the old merchant quarter. The warehouses are painted white with traditional black tiles. Kurashiki Bikan Historical Area

Ohashi House

The Ohashi House is a beautifully restored house located between the station and canal area. It was originally built in 1793 and belonged to one of Kurashiki’s richest families. It is a great example of an 18th century samurai residence. Entry is 500 yen.

Kurashiki Canal Area

The Canal area dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867) and is around a ten minute walk from the south exit of Kurashiki Station. The canal is sometimes called “the Venice of Japan” by tourist associations. Kurashiki Canal Area

The Ohara Museum of Art

The Ohara Museum of Art was founded in 1930 and is Japan’s oldest museum for Western art. The museum features an impressive collection of art that was amassed by local textile magnate Ohara Magosaburo. The collection includes major works by Picasso, Renoir, Monet and Matisse. Entry is 1000 yen.

Kurashiki Ivy Square

Present day Kurashiki Ivy Square was once the site of a vast textile mill owned by the wealthy Ohara family. The red brick buildings date from 1889 and house a hotel, shops, restaurants and museums. Kurashiki Ivy Square

History of Kurashiki

The historic warehouses were used during the Edo period (1603-1867) to store rice that was brought by boat from the surrounding countryside. The name Kurashiki can be translated as “warehouse village”. It was during this time that Kurashiki did a lot of trade with the capital in rice, sugar and other goods. The town later became an important textile center during the Meiji Era. Kurashiki was fortunate to escape the war largely unscathed, and many of the original warehouses remain in beautiful condition.

Kurashiki Map

What to Eat in Kurashiki

A must try dish in Kurashiki is Bukkake Udon, a local speciality, where you pour the sauce over your udon noodles yourself.

Opening Hours

The Bikan Historical Area is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Note: Most of the museums and many of the stores are closed on Mondays.

Entry Fee

Admission to the Bikan Historical Area is free

How to Get There

Kurashiki is on the Sanyo Line between Okayama and Fukuyama. You can get there from Okayama by a local train, which takes about 15 minutes and costs 320 yen. If you have a Japan Rail Pass you can take either a local or limited express train. Most of the main sights in Kurashiki are located around the Bikan Historical Area. You can reach this area by foot from the south exit of JR Kurashiki Station. It is about a 10 minute walk down Chuo-dori.

Address:1-4-8 Chuo-dori, Kurashiki, Okayama

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Best Time to Go

Kurashiki can be visited at any time but can be very crowded. If you want to avoid the crowds and don’t intend to see the museums, visit on a Monday when they are closed. You will have a better chance to take that perfect shot of the canal or bridge with fewer crowds.

Tip: You can see most of the main sights of Kurashiki in a full day, but this place is really magical during the evening when it is illuminated. It is a good place to spend a night in a traditional Japanese ryokan to soak up this amazing atmosphere.

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Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Childrens Peace Monument from the Memorial Cenotaph

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a park in the middle of Hiroshima city that contains several memorials to the atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima. The park is a constant reminder of the tragic past when Hiroshima suffered the world’s first atomic bomb attack. Today the park attracts visitors from all over the world and the city of Hiroshima is a vibrant, green and attractive modern city.

What to See at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum overlooks the Memorial Cenotaph, and is dedicated to educating visitors about the atomic bomb. A visit here is a sobering experience of the destruction of the atomic bomb. The lower floor of the museum displays the history of the city of Hiroshima and the living conditions during the war years leading up to the devastation. The upper floor contains rooms with items salvaged from the aftermath of the destruction.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

The Memorial Cenotaph

The Memorial Cenotaph located near the center of the park is an arched tomb for the victims of the bomb. A stone chest below the arch holds a register that contains all the known names of those who lost their lives as a result of the bombing. It is designed in a traditional Shinto style, to provide protection to the souls of the victims. The cenotaph carries the epitaph, “Let all souls here rest in Peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.” A memorial ceremony is held here every year on the anniversary of the event on August 6th.

The Memorial Cenotaph frames the Atomic Bomb Dome across the river. You can look through the arch of the cenotaph to see the Flame of Peace and the Atomic Bomb Dome.

The Memorial Cenotaph

The Flame of Peace

The Flame of Peace is shaped symbolising two hands held palm upwards. It is designed to reflect the victims who were unable to satisfy their thirst for water. It was built to express the desire for the abolition of all nuclear weapons and has been alight since August the 1st 1964. It will be extinguished once all of the nuclear weapons on earth have been destroyed.

Peace Flame with the A-Bomb Dome in background

The Children’s Peace Monument

The Children’s Peace Monument was built in memory of all the children who died as a result of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The monument features Sadako Sasaki holding a golden crane above her head. Who was Sadako Sasaki? She was a young girl who developed leukaemia from exposure to radiation from the atomic bomb at the age of 11 in 1955. She famously attempted to fold 1000 origami paper cranes in order for her wish to become healthy again. In Japan, the crane is a symbol of longevity and happiness, and it is said that the gods will grant a wish to anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes. Sadly, she died having completed her 644th crane, but her classmates folded the rest with which she was buried. The monument was built with donations from school children touched by her story.

Childrens Peace Monument

This story inspired the whole nation and even today you can see millions of origami paper cranes folded by students from Japan and from all around the world. They are displayed near the Children’s Peace Monument as shown in the picture below and are strung onto lines of a thousand.

Origami Paper Cranes Hiroshima Peace Park

Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Domu)

The Atomic Bomb Dome or Genbaku Domu in Japanese is a symbol and reminder of the devastation of the atomic bomb upon Hiroshima. The bomb is believed to have exploded almost directly above the building, and it is one of the very few left standing near the epicentre of the blast. It is located just across the river from the Peace Memorial Park. The building was originally built in 1915 by a Czech architect and served as the Industrial Promotion Hall. The building has been preserved as a memorial and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

The A-Bomb Dome

History of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is over 120,000 square meters and is lined with trees, lawns and walking paths. Before the war the area that is now the Peace Park was the political and commercial heart of the city of Hiroshima. That is why it was chosen as the target for the atomic bomb. Exactly four years after the bomb was dropped, it was decided that the area would be dedicated to peace and a memorial of the victims.

The Memorial Cenotaph was one of the first memorial monuments built in 1952. The park officially opened on April 1st 1954.

Opening Hours

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is open all year round
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is open
8:30 am to 6:00 pm (March – November)
8:30 am to 5:00 pm (December – February)
8:30 am to 7:00 pm in August during summer
It is closed from December 29 – January 1

Entry Fee

Admission to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is free
Admission to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is 50 yen

How to Get There

All of the sights around the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park can be visited by foot.
You can catch a tram from Hiroshima Station at the terminal in front of the station’s south exit. Take tram number 2 or 6 to the Ganbaku Domu mae stop. It takes about 15 minutes and costs 150 yen.

Address: Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 730-0811


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Best Time to Go

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park can be visited all year round but is especially beautiful in early April with the cherry blossoms.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony is held in front of the Memorial Cenotaph starting at around 8 am on August 6th to remember the victims of the bombing and pray for world peace.

Tip: The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is probably not a place to bring young children due to the graphic nature of the displays.

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Korakuen Garden

Naka no shima Island

Korakuen Garden in Okayama is a beautiful Japanese landscape garden. It is considered to be one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. The others are Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa and Kairakuen Garden in Mito. Korakuen Garden was constructed between 1687 and 1700. The name “koraku-en” is taken from a Chinese proverb and means ‘the garden for taking pleasure later’.

Korakuen Garden was designed in the Kaiyu Style (scenic promenade), where the gardens are landscaped around a large pond. This style presents the visitor with a new view at every turn of the path that connects the vast lawns, ponds, hills, tea houses and streams. It is famous for its expanse of flat lawn (rare in Japan), attractive ponds, running streams, pine trees, tea-houses and tea plantation and rice fields. You can also find groves of plum, cherry and maple trees.

The extensive lawn and various ponds create an uplifting and relaxing atmosphere that add to the charm of this magnificent garden. Korakuen Garden is located right next to Okayama Castle, which is incorporated into the gardens design.

Okayama Castle from Korakuen Garden

What to See at Korakuen Garden

Sawa no ike Pond

Sawa no ike Pond is the largest pond at Korakuen Garden. It contains the Naka no shima Island, Mino shima Island, and Jarijima Island.

Sawa no ike Pond at Korakuen

Naka no shima Island

Naka no shima Island features the Shima jaya tea-house.

Green Pine Trees on Naka no Shima Island

Jarijima Island

Jarijima Island features beautiful white sand and green pine trees.

Stone Lantern on Jarijima Island

Ryuten Pavilion

The Ryuten Pavilion is a wooden pavilion that straddles a stream. It has a simple appearance and was used as a resting place for the daimyo on his strolls through the garden.

Ryuten Pavilion at Korakuen

Seidan Rice Fields

The Seidan Rice Fields are just a taste of the rice fields that used to be spread through-out the garden. They were made at the end of the Edo Period.

Korakuen Seidan Rice Fields

Tea Plantations

You can see rows of beautifully trimmed tea trees at the tea plantation. They are an ancient variety of tea with a slightly bitter taste.

Tea Fields at Korakuen

History of Korakuen Garden

Construction of the garden began in 1687 by the ruling Ikeda daimyo (domain lord) as a private garden to Okayama Castle. It was completed in 1700 and has retained its original appearance even today. There have only been a few small changes by the various daimyo over the years, and these can be seen thanks to the many Edo Period paintings and Ikeda Family records that were left behind. The garden is 11 hectares (28 acres) large. It was built mainly as a place for entertainment and receiving important guests.

The garden was open to the public in 1884 when it passed into the hands of Okayama Prefecture. In 1952, Korakuen Garden was designated as a “Special Scenic Location”.
Korakuen Garden Map

Opening Hours

Korakuen Garden is open from
7:30 am to 6:00 pm (April – September)
8:00 am to 5:00 pm (October – March)
The garden is open all year round

Entry Fee

Admission to the Garden is 400 yen for adults and 140 yen for children

How to Get There

It is about a 25 min walk from Okayama Station
You can take the Higashiyama tram from Okayama Station to the Shiroshita stop (140 yen), or take an Okaden bus from bus stand 5 at Okayama Station to Korakuen mae bus stop (150 yen).

Address: 1-5 Korakuen, Kita-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama


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Best Time to Go

Korakuen Garden can be visited all year round but is beautiful in spring with the plum and cherry trees and autumn with the maple trees.

Tip: Okayama Castle is located close by and you can pick up a combined ticket for both attractions for 560 yen.

The Garden is lit up during the summer for 2 weeks, which make them a spectacular sight.

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Okayama Castle

Okayama Castle Main Keep

Okayama Castle also known as “u-jo” the “Crow Castle” is one of the must see castles in Japan. It was originally built in 1597, but the modern structure is a reconstruction. It is famous for its striking black colour due to the black planks covering the castle’s outer walls. Rumour has it the colour was chosen by the daimyo (domain lord) as a jest at Himeji Castle, which is pristine white. It is classified as a Hilltop castle.

The castle is located on the Asahi River, which served as a moat for the castle and just across the river is the famous Korakuen Garden.

Okayama Castle from the Asahi River

What to See at Okayama Castle

The Six Story Main Keep

The main building of Okayama Castle is the three tiered six story keep, which is a reconstruction of the original. The interior of the keep is modern and there is a display that outlines the history and development of the castle. An interesting fact is the walls were painted in Japanese lacquer for fireproofing, giving the castle its striking black colour and its name of the “Crow Castle”.

Originally the Main Keep featured gilded roof tiles, but today only a few parts of the castle’s roof are covered in gold.

Okayama Castle Main Building

Tsukimi Yagura

The Tsukimi Yagura (Moon Viewing Turret) is the only original building that remains from the original construction of Okayama Castle. It was built in 1620 by the 4th daimyo Ikeda Tadakatsu. It is designated as an important cultural asset of Japan.

Akazu no Mon Gate – Unopened Gate

The Akazu no Mon Gate is located at the bottom of a flight of stone steps, which led to the daimyo’s residence.

Okayama Castle Akazu no mon Gate

History of Okayama Castle

Construction began on Okayama Castle in 1573 by the daimyo Ukita Naoie and was completed in 1597 his son Ukita Hideie. In 1600 during the Battle of Sekigahara, Hideie sided with the ill-fated Toyotomi Clan and was captured by the victorious Tokugawa Clan. The castle was given to Kobayakawa as spoils of war and later passed to the Ikeda Clan who ruled until the Meiji Era, and added Korakuen as a private garden. Like many other great castles in Japan it was destroyed during WWII and was rebuilt in 1966. Only the tsukimi-yagura (moon viewing turret) survived the destruction.

Approach to Okayama Castle

Opening Hours

Okayama Castle is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
The castle is closed from December 29 to 31

Entry Fee

Admission to the castle is 300 yen for adults and 120 yen for children

How to Get There

It is about a 25-30 min walk from Okayama Station
Address: 2-chome Marunouchi, Okayama-shi, Okayama


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Best Time to Go

Okayama Castle can be visited all year round but is beautiful in spring with the cherry blossoms and fall colours of autumn.

Tip: Korakuen Garden is located close by and you can pick up a combined ticket for both attractions for 560 yen.

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