Korakuen and Okayama Castle

Our friends Mikki and Sumi live in the Osaka/Kyoto area, but they wanted to travel somewhere with us on this trip. We thought about meeting in Kanazawa, a more typical tourist destination, but we eventually decided on Okayama, mostly because of its location along the main train line on the route we wanted to travel.

This is not to say that Okayama doesn't have its attractions. The two main ones are Korakuen, reputed to be one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan, and Okayama Castle. The city is also close to Kurashiki, a touristy area with lots of shops, a scenic canal, and several museums.

The area even has its own fictional hero - Momotaro. According to the tale, an old woman plucked a large peach out of the river and took it home. That night when she and her husband cut it open, a small boy came out of it. They had no children so they raised him as their son. He grew to be the strongest man in the village.

Momotaro heard that some oni (demons) were terrorizing villages nearby and decided to drive them away. The old woman didn't want him to go, but finally relented and prepared some kibidango (Japanese dumplings made from millet flour) to eat on the way. He met a dog, a pheasant, and a monkey on his journey, and the three agreed to help him in exchange for some of the kibidango. Their strength grew when they ate the dumplings, and they easily vanquished the oni and returned all the treasures the oni had stolen to the rightful owners.

This statue of Momotaro stands outside the train station.

After breakfast, we met Mikki and Sumi in the hotel lobby and headed off to find the streetcar which would take us to Korakuen. In the picture below, if you look closely, you can see the castle in the background above the right side of the bridge.

Korakuen dates back to 1700, and it has retained its original appearance to the present day. It was initially used as a relaxation spot for the daimyo lords and as a place to entertain important guests. Although it was a pleasant place to be, I don't think I would rate it among the top 3 gardens in the country, but perhaps November is not the best month of the year to judge a garden.

The building in the picture below is the Ryuten Pavilion which was used as a resting place for daimyo when they strolled through the garden. On the day we were there, its roof was a resting place for a black and white cat.

The leaves were just beginning to change colors in Okayama, and there were still some hearty flowers in bloom. We experimented with our new macro lens.

Any scenic spot is a good place for picture taking in period costume.

You can enter the grounds of Okayama Castle from Korakuen. Toyotomi Hideyoshi directed its construction in the late 16th century. Like so many Japanese castles, it was destroyed in an air raid and reconstructed in 1966. Okayama-jo is also known as the black crow castle because of its black exterior.

I fell in love with a fluffy grey tiger kitten that wandered out as we stood admiring the castle. Other cats soon followed.

This is the view from the top of the castle.

The day was passing too quickly. We enjoyed a late lunch at an Italian restaurant back in the station, and then Mikki, Sumi and I headed to Kurashiki for some shopping. Later we finished off the day together at a traditional Japanese restaurant where we shared an exquisite meal and amiable conversation.