Kurashiki – Historical place along the canal
The beautiful river-port town Kurashiki can be found in the relatively rural prefecture Okayama. When I first heard the name, I thought my friend was saying “crossedkey”, and though the spelling and pronunciation is simple, I personally still fail to pronounce the place name in a way that locals instantly recognize.
My first glimpse of the beautiful town was in photos on someone’s phone; a twilight canal was lined with dim street lights, it looked like a fairy tale setting. From that point I knew that I had to visit such a romantic place.
My first visit was heralded with heavy downpour. I stepped out from the train station, and forgot about looking for the sights, making a beeline to get a coffee from the shopping mall that is situated across from the station via a walkway. There stood a clock tower that made this part of town look like a scene from a model village.
It is not the most typically Japanese architecture, and stands as quite a contrast to the much more traditional buildings just a short walk away.
That short walk will take you through a shopping arcade; like many places in Japan, the town sectors are connected via commerce. This arcade was very sleepy and the whole place seemed very peaceful.I was invited into a tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) restaurant that I was told was simply the best in Kurashiki. I cannot argue, as it was probably the best katsu that I have had. There were many options, but I went for a simple curry katsu.
Kappa Tonkatsu (かっぱ) serves pretty typical tonkatsu at the standard rate of around 900-1000 yen. Like many Japanese restaurants, the kitchen is open, and I sat at the bar, watching my food be freshly prepared. It really builds one’s appetite. During this time I looked up to the news report on the TV screen.
“Huh” my friend said.
“The rain is a small typhoon.” I looked out through the doorway and recalled the hammering rain. Okayama is one of the safer places for staying away from natural disaster, but its position being so close to the ocean does beckon some wet and windy weather; luckily it is nothing anywhere close to disaster level.
The food was just as delicious as I had been told, and I was surprised to see such a long line had formed outside of what seemed to be a very humble establishment.
A place to go in Kurashiki – Achi Shrine
Fuelled on coffee and katsu, I was ready to face the rain and head into the historical quarter of Kurashiki. Leaving the shopping arcade you are instantly met with a pathway to Achi Shrine. This path wraps around Kanryuji – a nearby temple that I never found a way into – and gives you a scenic view over the city and a gravesite.
Stepping over the ancient doorway, I felt as though I was stepping through time. The rain splashed against the grey gravel and trickled over the roofs and prayer bells. Words cannot do justice to the beauty of Achi Shrine, it, like many shrines and temples of Japan, simply must be experienced firsthand. Though it is quite small, and not amazingly well known or special for any particular reason, it represented the gateway into the historical area of Kurashiki for me.
Must place to go in Kurashiki ! – Bikan Historical Quarter
Moving on from the shrine, you will find the most famous part of Kurashiki, and the part that I was first shown pictures of: Bikan Quarter, the market area that houses a beautiful canal. Once voted to be the most picturesque merchants’ quarters in Japan, you will find the characteristic white warehouse buildings, with their black roofs, and boats, rickshaws, and beautiful trees.
The Koi fish (Carp) that swim in the canal add to the fairy tale beauty. The stores sell many things, from tourist trinkets to tatami, local denim to local sundries. I tried muscat flavoured yogurt-coated beans. They were so delicious, and I had to make sure that I had two packs to take home.
Bikan Quarter is not globally famous, but it really ought to be; this is one of the most beautiful places I have been lucky enough to see, and the architecture alone is stunning, and very much what you might imagine when talking about Japanese life.
Many crafts can be bought in Ivy Square such as the aforementioned denim, which always has a smooth flow of customers and tourists. Though it is a little bit pricy, you will find lots of Okayama denim goods for sale. You will also find a candle shop that can make specialty candles upon request.
Bikan Quarter truly is a must for a relaxing day of shopping and historical sightseeing, rain or shine.