By Kenji Chida
Most travelers visiting Japan wouldn't know of Okayama's existence. Some would recognize it as an important transportation hub and the place where the Sanyo Shinkansen links with the rest of Shikoku Prefecture. A few might even recognize it as the birthplace of Momotaro a hero of Japanese folklore; however at large Okayama has been neglected from the common tourist trail.
To fully experience all that Japan has to offer, it is essential to get off the tourist track, literally speaking in the case of the Shinkansen; and explore some of Japan's lesser known attractions.
Here is a guide on how to spend 24 hours in Japan's most underrated city:
Start the day early and purchase the economical triple-tourist ticket which permits entry into the Korakuen Gardens, Okayama Castle and the Hayashibara Museum of Art. Tickets can be purchased at the entrance to either one of the sites and costs only ¥960.
First, pay homage to the stunning Korakuen Gardens, which has a reputation as being in the top three most beautiful gardens in Japan. As with most sites in Japan it is best visited during the cherry blossom, however the fall also provides picturesque vistas as the maple trees loose their leaves.
Following the visit to the gardens, take a breather stop for lunch at Okayama's iconic Okabe restaurant. The street corner eatery is housed in a traditional building and offers three different set menus all of which have tofu as the primary ingredient. The tofu is hand made on site and served in a variety of ways with seat meals priced reasonably at ¥850. The restaurant is run by three elderly ladies and opens daily for lunch, however, get in early as its popular among locals.
After lunch, return back to the banks of the Asahi River and visit the towering Okayama Castle. The castle is famed for its unusual black weather boards and exhibits items from its Edo period history. For panoramic views of central Okayama, head to the top of the castle where binoculars are available to rent. After visiting the castle, make a brief stop at the Hayashibara Museum of Art, located at the rear of the castle's grounds where further Edo era exhibits are on display.
Spend the evening as you see fit; rent out a swan pedal boat and follow the tide of the Asahi River, ride the cities famed street cars or simply traverse Okayama's array of small bars and restaurants.
If you want to escape the tourist trap or just want to discover something new, step of the Shinkansen a few stops early and start exploring the real Japan.
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