Ilya Genkin Fine Art Landscape Photography, Travel Photography

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Okayama Prefecture, Chugoku region, Honshu, Japan


Okayama Okayama is the capital of Okayama Prefecture, and the largest city in the Chugoku Region after Hiroshima. The city is an important transportation hub, being the location where the Sanyo Shinkansen meets with the only rail connection to Shikoku. The city developed as a castle town during the Edo Period (1603-1867) and became a significant regional power.

Korakuen (Koraku-en) Garden is one of Japan's official Three Great Gardens (along with Kanazawa's Kenrokuen and Mito's Kairakuen) and hence Okayama's number one attraction. The name means "Garden of Pleasure After", a reference to a famous Confucian quote stating that a wise ruler must attend to his subjects' needs first and only then attend to his own. Korakuen was built in 1700 by Ikeda Tsunamasa, lord of Okayama. The garden's form almost had turned into the modern form in 1863. It suffered severe damage during the floods of 1934 and during World War 2 bombing in 1945, but has been restored based on Edo period paintings and diagrams. The garden was designed in the Kaiyu ("scenic promenade) style which presents the visitor with a new view at every turn of the path which connects the lawns, ponds, hills, tea houses, and streams.

Korakuen is about 1.5 kilometers or a 25-30 minute walk east of Okayama Station. Trams on the Higashiyama Line can be taken to Shiroshita stop (5 minutes, 100 yen, frequent departures) from where the garden's south gate can be reached in a 10-15 minute walk. Alternatively, a bus can be taken from Okayama Station to Korakuen-mae bus stop (15 minutes, 140 yen, every 20 minutes), which is located just beside the garden's main gate. There are two entrances to Korakuen: a main gate beside the Prefectural Museum and a south gate near the bridge that crosses to Okayama Castle.

Okayama Castle, also known as "Crow Castle" (U-jo) due to its black exterior, was built in 1597 in the style of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period. It is located in the Okayama city on the Asahi River, which was used as a moat, and next to the famous Korankuen Garden. The original castle was destroyed on June 29, 1945 during World War 2 bombing. The Tsukimi Yagura ("Moon Viewing Turret") and the Nishinomaru Nishite Tower survived the bombing of 1945 and are now listed as Important Cultural Properties. A reconstruction was made in 1966. In 1996 the rooftop gargoyles were gilded as part of the 400th anniversary celebrations. Today, only a few parts of Okayama Castle’s roof (including the fish-shaped-gargoyles) are gilded in gold, but prior to the Battle of Sekigahara the main tower also featured gilded roof tiles, earning it the nickname Kin Ujo, Golden Crow Castle. The reconstructed castle is a six story concrete building complete with air-conditioning, elevators and numerous displays documenting the castle’s history (with a heavy focus on the Ikeda era.) Unfortunately very little information is available in English. Access to the inner sanctuary is free. The Okayama Castle is one of Japan's three black castles along with Matsumoto Castle, which shares the "Crow Castle" nickname (but it is Karasu-jo in Japanese) and Kumamoto Castle.