Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden are two side by side gems not to be missed in the Prefecture known as the ‘Land of Sunshine’ for its sheltered mild climate with lots of sunny days, protected by mountains to the north and west and the Inland Sea to the south and east. It is easily accessed, but still all too easily overlooked by international visitors.
Okayama Korakuen Garden
Korakuen Garden is another classic feudal era masterpiece, built right next to Okayama’s magnificent “black Castle” (see below) on an island in the Asahi River (sadly, despite the name, it’s not a rive of beer ..)
It’s so outstanding it rates as one of Japan’s three great gardens, with Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, Ishikawa and Kairakuen in Mito City.
Some 300 years old the garden covers 13 beautifully tended hectares with a more open outlook than many Japanese gardes – wide lawns are a feature, which are perfect to enjoy a stroll around in Okayam’s sunny climate.
For visitors it flows in a circuit with more expansive views to appreciate the unbeatable backdrop of the castle and the nearby mountains. The Enyo-tei House, built as a residence near the main gate, gives you a great panorama. Another is from Yuishinzan Hill as you continue along.
On warm days the Ryuten Ret House in the middle of the garden is the perfect cool spot to take a break. Built with a stream runnning right through it, where the feudal lord used to relax and watch the water flow past.
It’s one of several water features, including ponds home to the Japanese cranes bred in the garden itself.
The 100 tree plum grove is magnificent in early spring, then the cherry blossoms burst forth, and glorious bouquets of irises, azaleas and lotus flowers. Autumn colours are glorious too.
In late summer and early autumn the “Special Late-Night Garden of Dreams” event sees Korakuen lit up with thousands of candles and lanterns.
A tea house offers traditional matcha green tea, and the Shikisai restaurant offers washoku cuisine.
Dating to the 16th century, Okayama Castle is also known as known as “U-jo (Crow Castle)” for its crow-like black outer wall (from the use of boards painted with black lacquer on the walls of the castle tower) and rated one of Japan’s top 100 castles.
Hideie Ukita the founding lord launched a major project to divert the nearby Asahi River so it flowed along the eastern end of the castle to protect the rear. Hideie also gathered merchants and craftsmen around the castle’s domain to develop the castle town, setting the stage for Okayama’s subsequent growth.
After the Ikeda Family took control over the castle in the 17th century Okayama Korakuen Garden was built to the north across the Asahi River.
After the keep was destroyed in the war, the castle was rebuilt in 1966.
These days it’s fun for visitors to dress up for free as feudal lords or princesses, or have a memorial photo taken while riding a daimyo’s palanquin (sedan chair), to get a feel for lift in the good old days – if you were the one sitting in the palanquin, note those carrying it under the Okayama sun .. for a taste of life as a feudal warlord.
Pottery workshops are another option. The areas around the keep are open to all visitors free of charge and free English guide services are also available.
Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden Access / Info / Rates
Okayama Castle is 10 minutes by bus from JR Okayama Sta. to “Kenchomae,” and then 5 mins on foot; or 10 min on foot from “Shiroshita” via tram from JR Okayama Sta.
Hours 9:00am – 5:30pm (last admission 5:00pm)
- Okayama Korakuen Garden adults ¥410; students ¥260
- Okayama Castle adults ¥580; students ¥260
- Okayama Castle and Okayama Korakuen Garden: adults ¥580; students ¥260
- Okayama Castle, Okayama Korakuen Garden, and Hayashibara Museum of Art: adults ¥980
- Korakuen Garden + Okayama Prefectural Museum adults ¥580 NB: admission is FREE at the museums for children
JR West Rail Pass for Okayama area
JR West’s Kansai WIDE Area Pass is a great way to discover Okayma, from just Y9,200 adult Y4,600 child if pre-purchased overseas prior to arrival or 10,200 / 5,100 purchased from a JR West ticket counter in Japan.
The Sanyo Shinkansen line from Osaka is included. More pass info from JR West here
Okayama Accommodation: Hotel Granvia
JR West have 4 signature hotel brands. The Granvia brand offers affordable luxury accommodation perfectly located next to JR West Stations in Okayama, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Wakayama. Close to attractions and shopping they are also relaxed oasis.
Enjoy superb cuisine across French, Japanese, Chinese and casual styles. The 19th floor is our favourite – it boasts the Teppanyaki Bisei, French Prix D’Or, Applause Dining & Bar and Leaders Main Bar, all with superb views over the city, especially at night.
Room choices range from 17sqm singles through spacious twins and doubles up to 40sqm, and suites up to 169sqm. With special packages they are available at very affordable rates for the quality.
Check availability and current offers on the link here.
Okayama Tourism official English site on the link here