“I can honestly say I’ve never been more excited to write about a place before I even stepped foot on the plane to get there.” ~ Alyse.
Do you absolutely love wandering off the beaten path in your travels as much as I do? If you answered yes, you’re going to love Kurashiki, Japan! Only 15 minutes away on the JR Sanyo line from neighbouring Okayama city, you don’t need to venture too far off the beaten track in Japan to discover Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter.
Known as the “Venice of Japan”, there are some obvious parallels that can be drawn between Kurashiki, Japan and Venice, Italy: Both are incredibly well-preserved towns of historical importance. Both have picturesque canals. Both showcase unique local specialties in the form of cuisine and handicrafts. Both have a rich cultural history.
But what’s something they don’t have in common?
One is known to suffer greatly from overtourism issues, whilst the other is doing what it can to draw in visitors. I’m pretty sure without naming each, you know which one is which!
If you’re wondering about things to do in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter and if you should include a visit on your Japan itinerary, read on for more!
This guide to Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter will cover:
This post contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may receive a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Is Kurashiki worth visiting?
In a nutshell, absolutely! I’ve even featured it on my 3 week Japan itinerary. This hidden gem sitting on the Takahashi River near the Seto Inland Sea is practically begging to be explored. It’s one of the best lesser-known day trips from Osaka you could undertake, too!
You especially shouldn’t miss Kurashiki 倉敷 (pronounced “koo-rash-ki” ) if you’re an art lover like me. My video below will provide you with a little sneak peek into this intriguing town before we dive into the details (be sure to watch until the end! If you can’t see the video, just disable your ad blocker):
So, how did you first hear about Kurashiki, Japan? For me, I learnt about this little gem over on YouTube from a popular vlogger living in Japan. The breathtaking beauty of the willow-lined canals combined with the white washed kominka (traditional warehouse buildings) were something I hadn’t seen on my previous visits to Japan.
The moment I heard the words “no foreign tourists” and “old world charm” I knew I absolutely had to add Kurashiki to my next visit to Japan… Which, as someone who likes to be an invisible tourist when travelling, is exactly what I did.
TIP: As overtourism in Japan became a major issue, venturing somewhere that could greatly benefit from tourism is something I’m very passionate about.
Visiting Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter is like stepping back in time to old town Japan. Once an important rice distribution town during the Edo period (1603 – 1867) today the traditional warehouses have been converted into quirky museums, art galleries, shops, restaurants and cafés. With a rich cultural heritage, it makes the perfect place to spend at least one full day, even two!
How to plan a breathtaking visit to Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter
Despite doing thorough research before my visit, Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter still managed to surprise me in the most delightful way. I can honestly say I’ve never been more excited to write about a place before I even stepped foot on the plane to get there. By the end of this Kurashiki blog post I hope you feel the same way, too!
Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit to this delightful gem of a town.
Getting to Kurashiki from various cities using the Japan Rail Pass
Armed with a Japan Rail Pass (or simply JR Pass), visiting Kurashiki from anywhere in Japan is simplified. No need to worry about purchasing tickets between trips as the pass covers transport from major cities to Kurashiki. If you’re travelling to a number of stops during your Japan trip, it may be worthwhile to buy the pass to save you some hassles.
TIP: Did you know JR Passes are exclusive to visitors to Japan, and they’re much more expensive to buy when you’re in the country? This means it’s a great idea to get organised and purchase it in advance.
Where to buy the Japan Rail Pass
You can easily buy the JR Pass for the cheapest price through Klook. Is Klook legit?
Planning to visit multiple cities across Japan?
Only visiting one region of Japan and looking for a cheaper option to the Whole JR Pass?
What’s the difference between a Klook voucher, Exchange Order and JR Pass?
First things first, there are two train stations for Kurashiki that shouldn’t be confused:
- JR Kurashiki Station: The closest to Historical Quarter and serviced by local trains.
- Shin-Kurashiki Station: Serviced by the JR Sanyo shinkansen (bullet trains) and is located about 9 kilometres outside Kurashiki itself. Only the Kodama bullet trains will stop at Shin-Kurashiki Station so it’s likely you’ll need to switch at Okayama. If you’re interested, I’ve briefly explained the different types of bullet trains in my 2 week Japan itinerary.
How to get to Kurashiki from Okayama
JR Sanyo line in Fukuyama/Itozaka direction or JR Habuki Line in Niimi direction.
In each of the instances below, you’ll need to switch at Okayama Station to access JR Kurashiki Station.
How to get to Kurashiki from Osaka
JR Sanyo line on Kodama/Sakura shinkansen from Shin-Osaka station to Okayama, then as above. Planning to visit Osaka? Check my detailed 3 days in Osaka itinerary including info for a day trip to Nara.
How to get to Kurashiki from Kyoto
JR Sanyo line on Hikari shinkansen to Okayama, then as above. Depending on the time of day you may need to switch at Shin-Kobe from Kyoto to travel onwards to Okayama. Planning to visit Kyoto? Check my detailed 4 days in Kyoto itinerary for more.
How to get to Kurashiki from Hiroshima
Sakura shinkansen to Okayama, then as above for Okayama to Kurashiki. If you’re also planning to visit, I’ve written a detailed guide about meaningful things to do in Hiroshima, too.
How to reach Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter from JR Kurashiki Station
To reach the Bikan Historical Quarter, head to the station’s south exit and simply follow Chuo-dori for about 10-15 minutes walk.
Alternatively, you can take a bus for two minutes to the Ohara Bijutsukan bus stop (JPY 170).
Once you’re there, it’s very easy to navigate the old artisans quarter on foot. Detailed tourist maps are available from the Kurashiki Tourist Information Centre.
TIP: Keep your eyes peeled for the friendly local volunteer guides. They are super keen to practice their English and love sharing knowledge about their hometown with visitors! Some can even guide you on a free walking tour of the city. Be sure to pick up their booklet offering discount coupons and ask any questions you have about their beloved Kurashiki.
Traditional Japanese activities in Kurashiki to book in advance
If you enjoy being organised, there are plenty of traditional and creative activities you can enjoy in Kurashiki to learn more about Japanese culture and enrich your visit. These are possible to book in advance! Along with other things not to miss in Kurashiki, I’ll explain these and more in detail down the page:
Amazing things to do Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter
Voted as the most picturesque town in Japan in a national survey, if you’re observant you’ll notice there are no modern-day overhead power cables to detract from the centuries-old ambience. Kurashiki’s historical area has been preserved just as it appeared during the Edo and Meiji periods.
As you leisurely stroll along the canal, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been transported back in time. Local artists set up little stalls along the canal selling handicrafts as swans glide by below and rickshaws roll past. It’s easy to imagine life here centuries ago!
Here are some amazing things to do in Kurashiki, Japan in detail:
Visit the surprising Ohara Museum of Art
COST: Adults JPY 2,000
Kurashiki’s star attraction beside the canals is the surprising Ohara Museum of Art Ōhara Bijutsukan 大原美術館. Founded in 1930 by local entrepreneur Magosaburo Ohara, would you believe the small town of Kurashiki is home to the very first Western Art museum in the ENTIRE country?!
When I first looked into whether this art gallery was worth visiting I thought to myself, “here’s another regular Western Art museum in a tiny town. How remarkable could it be?” Besides, I didn’t go all the way to Japan to see artworks similar to what I could see at home.
But when I started digging a little deeper, I discovered the Ohara Museum of Art had a VERY impressive collection. Hosting a range of works by the Great Masters themselves, you may be surprised as I was to learn names such as Monet, Cezanne, Rodin, Gauguin, Picasso and Pollock grace the walls of this special art gallery.
Designed to house Magosaburo’s private collection of Western art curated by Kojima Torakiro, there’s also plenty of Japanese art and ancient orient artefacts on display.
Perhaps its most important masterpiece is that of El Greco’s Annunciation (c.1590). The story behind how this 400-year old masterpiece ended up in Magosaburo’s collection in Japan is an interesting one I won’t give away here, so be sure to visit the museum to find out!
NOTE: No photos are allowed inside the art gallery itself, but feel free to snap away around the beautiful grounds! The gift shop also has a unique range of souvenirs.
TIP: You may notice many things in Kurashiki are named after painter Kojima Torakiro. He received financial support from Magosaburo Ohara to travel to Europe and select Western Art pieces at his discretion.
Enjoy a relaxing boat ride on the Kurashiki River
COST: Adult JPY 500
Sure, this is the stereotypical “tourist” thing to do but it’s very enjoyable nonetheless! Donning a traditional sugegasa すげがさ (conical Japanese straw hat) your “gondolier” will treat you to 20-minute tour of the main canal area, mentioning museums and points of interest as you glide along.
The gondoliers mainly speak Japanese but I found mine had a good grasp of basic English phrases so I could understand the attractions he was speaking about. Most of all, the cruise makes for some beautiful photos to remember your trip! I personally love getting shots from the water as they create interesting perspectives of a city.
Purchase tickets at the Kurashiki Tourist Information Centre beside Nakabashi Bridge. Choose your cruise time slot in advance (every 30mins), pay cash and you’ll receive a paper ticket. Ensure you arrive 5 minutes before your boat is due to leave so everything can run smoothly.
TIP: Watch out for koi fish leaping out of the water beside your boat, just like in my video at 00:43! Did you see it?
NOTE: The rides operate every day from March – November, with the exception of every second Monday. During December – February, the boat rides are only available on weekends.
Wander along Honmachi-dori 本町通り
This lengthy street has a great historical significance to Kurashiki. During the Edo period, the shogunate took control of the town and Honmachi-dori in the Bikan Historical Quarter was the beginning of the east-west route used to export rice and other goods to Edo (now Tokyo) and beyond.
Today many of the old townhouses and storehouses along Honmachi-dori are shops, galleries and restaurants. It has quite an old-town Kyoto feel to it! I’ve written more about where to eat in Kurashiki down the page.
Explore Kurashiki Ivy Square
Ivy Square is a complex of red brick buildings that once formed part of Japan’s first spinning cotton mill. Today these buildings have been converted into shops, restaurants and a hotel. In the warmer months, the red brickwork is almost completely covered by ivy, so it’s easy to see how the square got its name! The gardens are impeccably manicured. You may even be able to pick up some of Kurashiki’s famed Bizen-yaki (備前焼) pottery here.
Located within Ivy Square is the Kojima Museum. Entry is included with your Ohara Museum admission ticket. Kojima Torajiro was from Okayama and he purchased many pieces of Western art in the Ohara Museum’s collection. The Kojima Musuem is dedicated to his own masterpieces as he painted in Western style.
Create your own unique Japanese souvenir at a Daruma doll workshop
Have you heard about these little lucky charms? Representing perseverance, they’re one of the most popular Japanese souvenirs and would be really fun to make your own! Modelled off the founder of Zen Buddhism, the idea of a Daruma doll is to help the recipient achieve their goals. I’ve gone into more detail about the meaning behind Daruma dolls in my guide to traditional souvenirs from Japan.
On my blog, I always encourage spending time with locals and enjoy cultural experiences to help enrich your trip. This is one such experience that would be great for all ages to learn more about the little things that make up Japanese culture.
Classes are 40 minutes and can be booked in advance. I’d love to add another Daruma doll to my collection so I’m sad I missed the chance to do this during my visit to Kurashiki. But, you can bet it’s on my list of things to do when I get back someday!
Want to try your hand at creating your own Daruma doll?
Enjoy a rickshaw tour of the tour with a friendly local guide
If you prefer to put your feet up while exploring the town at the same time, a traditional rickshaw ride could be for you. Enjoy seeing all the sights Kurashiki has to offer and learn about the important role the town played during the Edo period from your fun local guide.
The start and finish times are flexible and completely up to you:
- 30 mins: Your local guide will show you around the old town alongside the canal and weeping willows
- 45mins: You’ll be shown mansions previously belonging to Kurashiki’s wealthy merchants as well as more shops along narrow streets
- 1 hour: As above and includes spending more time exploring old town shops and streets
- 2 hour: Explore all the old town and enjoy a ride to Mt Tsurugata (Tsurugatayama Park), and Ivy Square, the home of Japan’s first modern cotton mill.
Interested in taking your own rickshaw ride around Kurashiki?
Visit the Japan Rural Toy Museum
Cost: Adult JPY 400
The special thing about the Japan Rural Toys Museum is that is houses traditional toys from every prefecture in Japan from the 17th to 20th centuries. Over 40,000 of them, to be exact! Although they’re rotated every so often to display about 5,000 at a time. There are some toys available to play with, which would be a whole lot of fun.
Learn about ancient Japan at the Kurashiki Archaeological Museum
Cost: JPY 500
Once a storage warehouse for rice, this is an interesting place to visit. Although small, would you believe the Kurashiki Archaelogical Museum features 700 relics from Seto Inland Sea that date to Palaeolithic age (20,000 BC)?! The earthenware and pottery dating that far back is quite incredible. Randomly, the museum also has some artefacts from the Inca!
Kojima Jeans Street & denim stores
Kurashiki was the birthplace of denim jeans in Japan! This is why you may notice lots of stores selling jeans as well as interesting items and souvenirs made from denim. As with many things that are exported outside the country, denim from Kurashiki is internationally recognised as high-quality.
Betty Smith Jeans Museum is the only kind in Japan where you can learn about the manufacturing process and create your own pair of jeans. Select your pattern, rivets, leather and more in a dedicated class for a great souvenir.
Feeling crafty? Make your own customised jeans in Kurashiki!
Dress up in a kimono or yukata for the day
This is such a popular activity to do in Japan! Why not join in the fun and learn more about traditional Japanese dress? Staff at the Vasara kimono rental store will help you choose a design suited to your personality and a professional dresser will assist you in putting on your kimono. If you’d like your hair professionally styled this is an option, too. Then you’ll be ready to capture some amazing memories around Kurashiki’s old town!
Love to learn more about wearing kimono and yukata?
Catch the night illuminations
In the evenings, Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter is bathed in soft illuminations around the canal and Ivy Square areas. It makes for some pretty romantic scenery! The lights stay glowing until 10pm in the warmer months and 9pm when the weather is cooler.
More notable things to do in Kurashiki
- Kanryuji Temple: Located on the hillside beside Tsurugatayama Park and the Tsurugata Mountain Tunnel, the temple offers great rooftop views over Kurashiki!
- Museum of Folkcraft: Lots of traditional furniture, kimonos, fabric and pottery on display. Although, there’s not much English commentary so you may wish to brush up on some Japanese first.
- Piggy Bank Museum: Offers a huge collection of interesting types of piggy banks from all across Japan. A great place to pick up gifts!
- Ebisu-dori Shopping Arcade: This covered shopping arcade runs south between Kurashiki Station and the Bikan Historical Quarter. A morning market is held here on the 3rd Sunday of the month, just like during the Edo period. While the arcade itself had a bit of an 80’s feel to it, there were loads little clothing stores selling souvenirs, kimono and yukata, even for kids.
- Momotaro Karakuri Museum: In the mood for something a little quirky? Okayama’s favourite folk story from 230+ years ago, Momotaro or “Peach Boy” has an entire museum dedicated to his adventures. In brief, it features weird optical illusions, demon-infested caves and a bunch of Momotaro memorabilia. Great for all ages!
- Cycle the Kibi Plains: One of Japan’s most undiscovered areas by foreign tourists is the beautiful countryside of the Kibi Plains. There’s a 18km cycle from Kurashiki past rice fields, farmhouses and temples if you wish to get even further off the beaten path! The cycle is mostly flat and takes around 4 hours return. Alternatively, you can cycle around 2 hours one way, drop your bike off at a partner shop and catch a train back to Kurashiki. Bicycle hire costs JPY 1,000 and a map will be provided.
NOTE: There is a cat café in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, which may excite some visitors. Here on my blog I don’t like to promote controversial or unethical activities related to animals in tourism (as mentioned in my Tokyo itinerary). I can’t comment on the cat’s living conditions because I chose not to visit. Although if this is something that interests you, I kindly urge to do a little research into any animal welfare risks and reconsider if things don’t feel right.
Where to eat in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter
As mentioned earlier, many of the old buildings have been converted into eateries! You’ll find a cluster of them north-east of the canal along Honmachi-dori, as well as small handful of eateries in the canal area. My suggestion would be to just walk around and see what you’re in the mood for! The map from the Tourist Information Centre has tonnes of places marked out so that is also useful. Some examples that may take your fancy are:
- Kurashiki Ramen Masuya
- Teppanyaki Kanna
- Kaisendonya Katsumuri
- Soba Kazenotami
I enjoyed dinner at Kurou No Tojo, a local izakaya with an amazing selection of craft beers. I also had a quick snack of award-winning potato croquettes at Gold Medal Croquette. They were delicious!
Events in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter
There are a number of interesting events and festivals held annually in Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter. See if any will coincide with your trip:
|February/March||Kurashiki Hina Meguri (Hina Doll Festival)|
|March||Kurashiki Haruyoi Akari Night Illuminations & Kurashiki Music Festival|
|April||Kojima Textile Festival|
|July||Kurashiki Tenryo Summer Festival|
|October||Achi-jinja Shrine Autumn Festival & Sen’i Kojima Seto Ohashi Bridge Festival|
Tips for visiting Kurashiki, Japan
I can’t stress how important it is to “be invisible” during your visit. Because Kurashiki is so unspoilt, please be mindful of locals and the environment to avoid contributing to overtourism issues. No one wants “The Venice of Japan” to end up like its Italian namesake! Let’s visit this stunning treasure in a responsible, sustainable way and keep Kurashiki as pristine as it’s always been.
- It’s good to remember that many stores tend to close early in the evening so make sure you don’t leave museums and souvenir shopping until the end of the day.
- Many of the museums are closed on Mondays so be sure to plan ahead to avoid missing out.
- Stay at least one night, two if you can. Although Kurashiki is a nice day trip from Okayama city, spending one full day isn’t enough time to walk the Bikan Historical area, visit museums, enjoy some cultural experiences and cycle the Kibi Plains. Trust me when I say the locals will love you for staying longer and embracing their town!
- ATMs for withdrawing cash are scarce. There are two banks in town: one next to JR Kurashiki station and the other beside the Post Office within the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter. There’s a 7-Eleven within JR Kurashiki Station and another on Chou-dori near the entrance to the historical area if you need. As Japan is still quite a cash-based society, ensure you carry enough money with you to get through the day.
- White skin peaches are a specialty in Okayama prefecture. Try some peach ice cream during your visit to Kurashiki!
- Pick yourself up a map from the Tourist Information Centre. There are far more things marked on the map than you can find online. By the way, how cute are the little drawings of Kurashiki’s buildings?
Concluding a visit to Kurashiki, Japan
If you enjoy wandering off the beaten path and want to be treated to a rare slice of old Japan, Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter is definitely worth visiting! For such a small town, it really has a large heart bursting with pride and is a great destination for cultural experiences in Japan.
I’d personally love to revisit and spend more time exploring the many museums, temples on the city’s outskirts and eat my way along Honmachi-dori. Kurashiki’s interesting history and lack of foreign tourists make it such an appealing destination so if you end up visiting, I’d love to hear what you think!
Is Kurashiki now on your list of places to visit in Japan? Let me know in the comments below! If you enjoyed this article, I’ve written about many more off the beaten path destinations and hidden gems on my Japan travel blog to inspire you and help with your Japan trip planning.
Until next time,
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