Totally in contrast to the surrounding concrete jungle, Kurashiki’s historic center is a rare piece of old Japan that still exists. The quarter features narrow, flagstone streets, white-walled traditional houses lined along a delightful canal. Occasionally, a punt floats past propelled by an elderly local, giving us a glimpse into Japanese daily life centuries ago.
Nestled along a scenic canal at the foot of Mt. Tsurugata in West Japan, Kurashiki boasts one of the most picturesque merchant’s quarters in Japan. The town’s history dates back to about 300 years ago when the shogunate took control of the area.
They transformed this place into an important trade center for rice, sugar, and other goods. In fact, the name “Kurashiki” can be roughly translated as “town of storehouses”, in which Kura (倉) refers to the storehouses in which the goods were kept.
A Rare Piece of Old Japan
While many cities in Japan were reduced to rubble in World War II, Kurashiki escaped the war largely unscathed. Notably, its old town – the Bikan Historical District – remains in beautiful condition. Many of the original storehouses with grey and white trellis-patterned walls, elaborate ceramic roofs are well-preserved. The storehouses share space with drooping willow trees along the banks of the old canal. And at sundown, gentle lights appear along the canal, bringing delight to the remaining visitors.
Just a short walk from the canal district is Honmachi, once a thriving merchants’ and artisans’ quarter. With narrow, flagstone streets lined with machiya (wooden townhouse), Honmachi gives visitors a sense of where people lived and worked in the Edo era. Today, most of these atmospheric buildings are renovated into quaint souvenir shops, cozy cafés, or izakaya (pub-restaurant). But they kept the traditional storefronts to preserve the old townscape.
Tips for visiting Kurashiki
- The easiest way to Kurashiki is to take the train from Okayama Station. The trip takes approximately 15 minutes and costs 320¥ one way.
- Located on the Shinkansen Sanyo line, Okayama Station is well connected to major cities, such as Hiroshima (35 minutes), Osaka (1 hour), and Tokyo (about 3 hours).
- JR Pass holders are exempted from all charges.