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KS Cover no. 75 2006 August

August 2006 :: 075

A visit to the Venice of Japan

Kurashiki, Okayama

A ten-minute walk from Kurashiki Station along the central avenue and the concrete modern buildings suddenly change to an extraordinarily picturesque village of old wooden warehouses known as the Bikan Historical Quarter. This ancient merchant quarter boasts one of Japan's best-preserved historical neighbourhoods and vividly reminds visitors of life governed by the Shogunate when Kurashiki was flourishing. Built around the old canal is a jewel of old white-walled wooden warehouses, converted for the most part into museums and art galleries. The Bikan Historical Quarter is an ideal place to enjoy some leisurely strolls and art craft shopping.

In the Yedo period (1603–1867), the Quarter prospered as a shogunal estate where the storehouses and merchants dealing with rice paid as land tax, lined up. At the beginning of the 17th century, an administrative office of the Shogunate was established in Kurashiki and the small village soon developed into an important marketing centre for rice, sake and cotton. The wooden warehouses (kura) painted white with traditional black tiles built along the Kurashiki River, gave the town its name. The area further matured as the centre of political, economical, and cultural activities in the area.

What to see and do
In 1889, the Kurabo Textile Company opened and the town became a centre for cloth. Magosaburo Ohara (1880-1943) became the local textile magnate and started gathering European art. In 1930, to commemorate Kojima Torajiro, a Westernstyle painter who died the previous year, Ohara founded the Ohara Museum of Art. Established in a neo-Classical building, this private museum is the oldest in Japan and contains masterpieces by El Greco, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin, and Renoir. The collection also has fine examples of Asian and contemporary art, as well as a collection of Mingei pottery.

Nearby, the ivy-covered redbrick Kurabo textile factory buildings can be visited at Ivy Square. These days they house a hotel, restaurants, shops and an open-air cafe.

The storehouse premise of Kojima-ya, known as the old Ohara house, was built in 1795. In this 2,000 square meter site, there are ten buildings including a main wing, a main guesthouse, and a storehouse, which have been designated as national cultural property. Unfortunately, the interior is not open to the public, though you can still walk around the moat to take a look at Kurashiki-mado (windows), Kurashiki-koshi (latticework) and other unique features of the storehouse premises.

Nicknamed the Green Palace, Yurinso, with its sparking, light green roof, was built in the early Showa period (1926–1989) by Ohara as his second house. Although it is not open to the public like the old Ohara mansion, the Green Palace is well worth a view. Make sure to look up in the trees to see the two sets of dangling legs. You can also visit the Ohashi House, the residence of the biggest merchant in the area. The Ohashi family were originally retainers to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. They gave up their samurai status and went on to become wealthy merchants in Kurashiki, where they built an elegant residence in 1796.

An old rice storehouse in the late Yedo period now houses the Kurashiki Museum of Folkcraft, where commodities and folk crafts from various places in the world are on display. The Kakei Museum of Art exhibits ancient European ceramics, sculptures, ornamentation, and coins. Stoneware, earthenware and swords, which were excavated from Kibi region, are displayed at the Kurashiki Archaeological Museum. Folk toys from Japan and around the world can be found at the Japanese Rural Toy Museum.

Yugasan Rendaiji Temple, the Temple of Yuga Daigongen, the God of Safe Water Travel, is worth a visit. Pilgrims from all over Japan visited this temple during the Edo and early Meiji periods. The Bizen feudal lord, Ikeda, worshipped there frequently and his room has been preserved, along with many original paintings on the screen doors.

Arts and Crafts
There are many arts and crafts shops. Be sure to explore the Bizen-yaki and Ohara-yaki ceramics, known for their simple burning method called yakijime. In many shops you can find pottery typical of the nearby village of Imbe, where wood-fired, natural pottery known as Bizenware, one of Japan's renowned ceramic traditions favoured by centuries of tea ceremony masters, is created.

An inviting destination for weekend away or even just a day trip, Kurashiki is indeed well worth visiting. For the ride home, make sure to stop by one of the many shops for sweet bean paste cakes (murasuzume), Kurashiki's tastiest souvenir.


Kurashiki Music Festival
Mid–end of March, at Kurashiki City Hall and in the Bikan Historical Quarter

Enjoy classical, pop, folk and other music at this 10-day festival, including concerts by leading national and international musicians, outdoor concerts by amateur performers, as well as some street performances.

Heartland Kurashiki
May 2–4, at Kurashiki Central Street and in Bikan Historical Quarter

In this annual event held around Golden Week (May), musicians in river boats travel elegantly along the Kurashiki-gawa River while on the street, the Kan Kan Bazaar selling hand made jewelry and antique goods is held.

Kurashiki Tenryo Summer Festival
The last weekend in July, at Kurashiki Stn street and in the Bikan Historical Quarter

A Kurashiki beauty contest, flee market, Tenryo-daiko (drum performance), and outdoor concert are the attractions carried on along Daikan-bayashi (folk tune) background music. The most popular among those is Ade-mikoshi, in which only women carry a portable shrine. These lively women wrap themselves with bleached cotton cloth and parade with high-spirited shouts through the town.

Text & photos: Laura Markslag

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I Scream, you Scream, everybody loves ice cream
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Ways & Means


Just 16 kms. west of Okayama in western Honshu, Kurashiki, is located near the coast of the Inland Sea.

From Shin-Osaka it's about an hour on the Super Express Sanyo Shinkansen Nozomi to Okayama. From Okayama take the JR Sanyo Line to Kurashiki (15 min, ¥320). The Bikan Historical Quarter is only a tenminute walk from the station.


Ohara Museum of Art (Ohara-bijutsukan)
Admission: ¥1,000
Open: 9am–5pm, closed on Mon

The Ohashi House
Admission: ¥500
Open: 9am–5pm, closed on Mon

Kurashiki Museum of Folkcraft

Admission: ¥700
Open: 9am–5pm, closed on Mon

Kakei Museum of Art
Admission: ¥800
Open: 9am–5pm

Kurashiki Archaeological Museum
Admission: ¥400
Open 9am–5pm (9am–4:30pm during Dec to Feb), closed on Mon

Japanese Rural Toy Museum
Admission: ¥310
Open: 8:30am–5pm

Yugasan Rendaiji Temple
Admission: ¥400
Open: 9am–4pm.

For more information: