7D6N Okayama and Tottori Trip Part I


    MorningArrival to Kansai International AirportBetty Smith Jeans Museum, Kojima Jeans StreetBitchu-Matsuyama Castle, Fukiya Furusato Village - canvas painting experienceGosho Aoyama Manga Factory
    Kurayoshi White Wall Warehouses
    Sakaiminato Sakana Center
    Yumeminato Tower
    Morinokuni Forest Kingdom
    Tottori Sand Museum
    Tottori Sand Dunes
    Departure from Kansai International Airport
    LunchHamachikiSushi Making ExperienceHiruzen Kogen Center & Joyful ParkSeisuianMorinokuni Forest KingdomAjiroya
    Afternoon Kurashiki Bikan Historical Area - traditional boat tour, kimono experience, sweets makingOkayama Castle,
    cycling experienceTottori Flower Gallery
    Mizuki Shigeru Museum and Road
    Natural Farm Coco GardenUradome Coast Island Cruise
    TeaGelato at Kurashiki Momoko
    EveningMitsui outlet Shopping,
    Sunset Cruising
    Yoshino Kibi Cho (cycling experience)Kimendai Observatory Rest Stop,
    Yubara Onsen Street shopping
    DinnerWASHU BLUE RESORT KASAGOYamato Farm Stay DinnerYubara Kokusai Kankou hotel KikunoyuKaike Grand Hotel TensuiOOE Valley Stay
    StayWASHU BLUE RESORT KASAGOYamato Farm StayYubara Kokusai Kankou hotel KikunoyuThe Kaike Grand Hotel TensuiOOE Valley StayHotel Nikko Kansai Airport
    I must admit that I’ve never thought of going to Okayama and Tottori prefectures prior to this trip. However, after spending a week in both prefectures, I must say that Okayama and Tottori are THE BEST hidden gems in Japan that are not on your instagram but should be! Some of my best highlights were taking a traditional boat ride while cladding in a denim kimono in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarters, being in a public and outdoor and mixed gender onsen in Yubara Onsen, visited a small town of everything Conan, be in awe with the sand statue at Tottori Sand Museum, and many many more.

    Let’s start with Okayama Prefecture, shall we? One of Western Japan’s transportation hubs, Okayama is very conveniently located just 1 hour from Kyoto and about 35 minutes from Hiroshima by Shinkansen. We arrived to Kansai International Airport and started our self drive trip by having a 3-hours car ride to Okayama City.

    Okayama is also known as the land of sunshine, as this part of Japan experiences very little rain fall. Guess what? Okayama is famous for white peaches (mom0), muscat and pione grapes – my top three favourite fruits in Japan! The origins of momotaro 桃太郎 is said to be here in Okayama too.

    DAY 1
    We reached the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarters at around 10.30 am and were greeted by these beautiful swans that swam passed us.


    Kurahiski area is famous for streets lined with white-walled kominka (traditional houses) that is awarded 2 stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan.

    Map: Kurashimi Area

    The beautiful views of willow trees lining the banks of the Kurashiki River has also earned them the recognition as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings. Kurashiki prospered in the 1600s as an integral destination for the transportation of goods, and the area continues to offer a historically attractive atmosphere of a calm and harmonious life.
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    We started making our own murasuzume, a crêpe-like pastry wrapped with red bean paste. The fee is 600 yen to make 3 of these addictively delicious sweets on your own.
    Many shops in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter allow visitors the chance to make their own hand-made murasuzume. Remember to keep a look out for that.

    Map:橘香堂 美観地区店
    For many travelers, one of the most exciting parts of coming to Japan is the chance to put on a traditional kimono. Kurashiki Kimono Komachi has got an amazing selection, even denim kimono! Okayama is often associated with denim, because the first pair of jeans in Japan was produced here.

    We went for a mix of traditional and modern kimono, and the colour combination looked so great!!

    A particularly popular activity for tourists is the “Traditional Boat Tour of Kurashiki Canal.” This boat tour offers visitors a chance to admire the town’s white walls from a small boat along the Kurashiki River that flows through the center of town. Visitors are also recommended to experience Japanese culture firsthand by donning a kimono or a yukata before strolling through Kurashiki’s historic streets.

    Map: Kurashiki Boat Ride Boarding


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    How could we missed out peach and grapes fruits parfait or gelato when in Okayama? Kurashiki Momoko is a cute little dessert shop located right next to the canal at Kurashiki Bikan Historial Quarter. The gelato is so good, full of real fruity flavours.

    Map: Kurashiki Momoko
    Hamachiki is a restaurant that specialises in local cuisine here in Kurashiki. Remember to try mamakari (Japanese sardines) when you are here. Representing traditional Okayama cuisine, mamakari are said to be something delicious enough to make you want to ‘borrow rice’.

    Map: 浜吉 Hamachiki
    Shopping Time at Mitsui Outlet Park Kurashiki! The outlet is conveniently located within walking distance from Kurashiki Station. It’s a shame that we couldn’t spend much time here, so many great deals everywhere!
    Map: Mitsui Outlet Park Kurashiki
    We were rushing to be just in time for a sunset cruise at Kojima Sightseeing Boat Pier. Sightseeing boats departing from this pier go under the Seto Ohashi Bridge and out into the Seto Inland Sea, offering an unbeatable opportunity to enjoy its marvelous scenery.
    The view was indeed remarkable!!
    Map: 児島観光港 Kojima Sightseeing Boat Pier
    We checked into Washu Blue Resort located in Washuzan Highland. I would highly, highly recommende this hotel because it serves the best buffet dinner and breakfast, offers the best view of Seto Ohashi Bridge and the Seto Inland Sea, has the best pearl and honey onsen and the western style tatami room is super comfortable.
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    The buffet dinner spread is super good, with life cooking stations offering teppanyaki wagyu, nigiri, tempura, sashimi and many more.
    I remember that I ate so much I couldn’t move.

    Map: 鷲羽山吹上温泉 WASHU BLUE RESORT 風籠かさご

    DAY 2
    Rise and Shine! The outdoor onsen pool in Washu Blue Resort is overlooking this amazing view.
    I don’t usually eat this much for breakfast, except for when I’m in Japan and the the hotel offers Japanese style breakfast.
    Okayama is famous for denim so a visit to the Betty Smith Jeans Museum is a must. Founded in 1962, this museum shop is operated by the venerable jeans manufacturer Betty Smith.
    As the only jeans museum in Japan, the Betty Smith Jeans Museum not only introduces visitors to the jeans-manufacturing process but also allows visitors to work in the museum’s workshop customizing their own pair of jeans by attaching their choice of parts (buttons, rivets, etc.) as well as to try their hand at making mobile phone straps (fee required).
    okayama blogpost1-001I love the hello kitty denim strap that I made here.

    Map: Betty Smith Jeans Museum I
    Jeans history and culture are also both a part of the museum (located in another building), so fun and interactive!
    Map: Betty Smith Jeans Museum 2
    There is a nearby outlet shop, where visitors can purchase high-quality jeans, allows visitors not only to experience the process but also to go shopping.

    Map: Betty Smith Factory Outlet
    Kojima Jeans Street is such an insta-worthy spot! No wonder denim fans from all over Japan come to this shopping district of reformed older storefronts to visit about 30 shops, cafes, and general stores from jeans brands known around the world for high quality.
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    I love this denim themed cafe so much!
    Just 5 min from JR Kojima Station via rent-a-cycle (fee required), Kojima Jeans Street is conveniently accessible. Don’t forget to take a commemorative photo in front of the limited-service Jeans Bus (the exterior decorated with denim photos and interior with denim fabric) or underneath the numerous pairs of jeans hanging above the street!

    Map: Kojima Jeans Street
    Today, we got to work for our lunch at Kidoairaku (喜怒哀乐). It is a highly popular sushi restaurant in Okayama. The master chef, Namsa San taught us how to make nigiri and he is such a strict and perfectionist teacher.
    Hey look, I made my own nigiri! Perfect nigiri is definitely a work of art. I still remember how the sushi master kept asking us to practise before allowing us to start making our own. The final step of tapping the nigiri twice is an act of putting in your love to make it delicious, now I know! You can try this experience for 3,500 yen (lunch inclusive) at Kidoairaku Okayama.

    Map: Kidoairaku 喜怒哀乐
    Next up! We visited one of the top 100 castles in Japan – Okayama Castle. It was completed in 1597 after eight years of construction. Also known as “U-jo (Crow Castle)” for its crow-like black outer wall, Okayama Castle is a popular counterpart to the white outer walls of Himeji Castle.
    Visitors are welcome to dress up (free) as feudal lords or princesses here in the castle. Visitors can also attend workshops to make Bizen pottery, representative of Japan itself, and are encouraged to try Okayama Castle’s famous “Castle Parfait.”
    Just 5 minutes on foot from Okayama Korakuen Garden, the areas around the keep are open to all visitors free of charge. Free English guide services are also available.

    Map: Okayama Castle
    From the castle, it was a brisk walk to Kourakuen Garden. Along with Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen and Mito’s Kairakuen, Korakuen is ranked as one of Japan’s three best landscape gardens which I can see why.
    Korakuen is a spacious garden that incorporates the typical features of a Japanese landscape garden, including a large pond, streams, walking paths and a hill that serves as a lookout point. Rather unique for a Japanese garden, however, are Korakuen’s spacious lawns. Also found in the garden are groves of plum, cherry and maple trees, tea and rice fields, an archery range and a crane aviary.
    Map: Okayama Kourakuen

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    Do not leave without trying artisan matcha and seasonal parfait at Fukuda Tea House. They serve the best parfait!

    Map: Fukuda Tea House
    After a cycling tour in Kibuchuo Town, we checked into a farmstay (minshuku) called “Yamato”. I was really excited because it is my first time experiencing minshuku in Japan.
    It is run by Mr. Nanba, who works to revitalize this town for tourism. There are so many seasonal activities for tourists to experience here.
    Preparing for dinner is also part of the experience. It was fun communicating with Mrs. Namba via sign language and I was glad that we managed to complete the tasks that she asked us to do.
    Dinner was a simple affair, but it was so cozy to dine with Mr. Namba’s family.
    Yamato Minshuku
    Address: 2242 Miyaji, Kibichuo-cho, Kaga-gun, Okayama Pref.
    Phone: 0866-55-5725
    Access: Approximately 10 minutes by car from Okayama Expressway, Kayo IC
    Room rate: Adults 7,000 yen, High school students 5,500 yen, Junior high school and Elementary school students 4,500 yen, (Dining is self or jointly prepared. Ingredients are provided.)
    Guest Room: Capacity 8 persons

    DAY 3
    We woke up early to catch a glimpse of Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle, also known as the “Castle in the Sky” floating on a sea of clouds. The castle is located atop a mountain at an altitude of 430 m, making it the highest fortress with an existing castle tower in Japan. Visitors who head to the observatory are treated to a spectacular sight, especially in the early mornings of fall and winter when the clouds spread out to form a “sea of clouds” around the castle. However, we were not able to see it on that particular morning, the view was still spectacular though!

    Map: Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle Observatory 
    Fukiya Furusato Village is one of my favourite attractions this trip. It was a copper mining town and now the village is famous as a major producer of vivid red “Bengara” color pigment made from oxidized iron. The whole village is washed in a hue of red, so beautiful! We also made our own canvas bag using the red dye and other colours. The village is not touristy at all, quaint with an old world charm. I love hidden gems like this.
    Map: Fukiya Furusato Village
    While heading to Hiruzen, we made a brief stop at Kimendai Observatory Rest Stop. The view from the observatory is absolutely stunning.
    The susuki field located near to the observatory is such a nice spot for photo too!

    Map: Kimendai Observatory Rest Stop
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    We have arrived to Hiruzen, a famous resort spot in Maniwa City that is famous for its jersey milk. The jersey milk quality is indeed one of the best in Japan, it is so creamy and rich.
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    There were so much to see, buy and eat at Hiruzen Kogen Joyful Park. There is an amusement park at the centre of the facility too. We had a delicious Gengkhis Khan Mongolian BBQ here too.

    Map: Hiruzen Kogen Center & Joyful Park
    I took the opportunity to cycle around the facilities and farm too. What a perfect farm scenery with a backdrop of autumn foliage.
    Meet the friendly resident Jersey cattle. The Jersey is a British breed of small dairy cattle from Jersey, in the Channel Islands.
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    Don’t leave here without trying/buying the famous peony wines at Hiruzen Winery.

    Map: Hiruzen Winery
    Finally, we are here at Yubara Onsen, but why is there statues of the giant salamander everywhere? It is said that the water here is so pure and clean, making it the perfect habitat for giant salamander. Known as the Hanzaki in Yubara area, there is even a Hanzaki Centrer that display histories and information about these amphibians. There is also Giant Salamander Festival, held at the beginning of August, is a large annual area event that celebrates both its celebrity amphibian and the success of the town.

    Map: Hanzaki CentreIMG_9110
    Free foot bath? Why not? This centrally-located foot bath is free-of-charge for anyone visiting the Yubara Hot Spring area. The water in the bath is natural spring water from the larger Sunayu hot spring, and flows at a rate of 60 liters per minute. This alkaline water is naturally mineral rich and will re-energize your body with its electrical properties. Great for relaxing your feet after walking around town!

    Map: Yubara Foot Bath
    We checked into Yubara Kokusai Kanko Hotel Kikunoyu, a budget friendly onsen ryokan in the area. Onsen pools are located on the 4th,5th and the roof top. The ryokan is also very close to the famous outdoor public bath in Yubara Onsen.
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    The kaiseki dinner was exceptional. For about 10,000 yen per per person per night (breakfast and dinner included), it is really great value for money.
    Map: Yubara Kokusai Kanko Hotel Kikunoyu

    DAY 4
    Rise and shine! We woke up really early just to avoid the crowd at “Sunayu”, one of the most famous places in Yubara Village.
    This place is Rotenburo (public, outdoor hot spring) for men and women located on the banks of the Asahi river. Men will go down naked while women are recommended to rent a bathing suit from their hotels.
    We rented ours for 500 yen. Against the backdrop of a dam, Sunayu is a 24-hour outdoor hot-spring bath surrounded by rocks located in the riverbed of the Asahi River.

    What an experience to be surrounded by naked ojisans!! I would highly recommend you to experience this though, the surrounding view is just stunning, and the healing properties of the onsen is so well known amongst Japanese.
    That’s about it! Stay tuned to my detailed write up on Tottori.

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