A visit to the Venice of Japan
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,
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
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.
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.