Kurashiki was beautiful, but the real jewel of these trips and the not-so-secret rationale between my planning was CASTLES! Japan has 12 castles remaining with their original keeps. Matsumoto was one of them and we posted about that before Christmas. This trip we saw one more of the 12 and two other reconstructed castles– one of which was Okayama, day 2.
The Okayama castle is also known as the Crow Castle because of it’s “sinister” appearance. (Most castles are black and white or all plastered.) It was originally from the 16th century but didn’t survive WW2.
They look kind of bright and chipper, until you see some of them closer up:
The courtyard-like area showed the outlines of all the tea rooms and outer buildings that they didn’t rebuild and the two turrets that survived the war. And in a continuing theme for the trip, plenty and plenty of holes in the wall to drop rocks on your attackers.
The castle inside was mostly concrete and new exhibits. (Part of the reason I’m trying to hunt the 12, which have the cool hidden floors and secret entrances still). But the upside to the new model is that they can make room for touristy stuff like dress up! (I’ll have you know that ours are only 1/2 of the pictures of us… the Japanese tourists thought we were the best thing since Elvis.)
Okayama’s other big claim to fame was the garden associated with the castle. Koraku-en (roughly translated to the idea of relaxing after you’ve worked hard) is one of the top three gardens in Japan. It’s a sizeable garden just across the river from the castle, with a seasonal theme worked across a serious of pathways, tea rooms, small shrines, and lakes.
The plum and cherry tree gardens were just starting to bloom, but by June there are apparently azaleas, irises, etc to join in and in the winter, mountain cherry and Japanese maple trees on the far end of the garden. Fortunately in the end, it was freezing cold and drizzly for our visit, so we avoided the usual hordes of fellow garden-strollers and could almost get a sense of how peaceful it would be to just wander slowly, pondering military strategy or your next haiku between tea houses.
So there you have it, the hidden treasures of Okayama. Well… most of them: