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28 November, 2018

[TRAVEL] Okayama City (岡山市) Autumn Travel Guide

Welcome to my third day in Okayama Prefecture, Japan!

Sad to announce that this is my final travelogue for Okayama Prefecture before we continue our travelling journey in Tottori Prefecture. To recap, I have visited 2 cities in Okayama Prefecture so far:

Day 1: Kurashiki City (Blog: Click HERE)
Day 2: Maniwa City (Blog: Click HERE)

And on the third day, our focus is on Mimasaka City (美作市) and Okayama City (岡山市) – yes, finally we are back to the capital of Okayama Prefecture.

Here’s my 3D2N itinerary in Okayama Prefecture for your reference:

Day 0:
→ KLIA - Kansai International Airport

Day 1: Kurashiki City (倉敷), Okayama
→ Arrival at JR Okayama Station
→ Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter (倉敷美観地区)
→ Lunch: Hamayoshi (郷土料理店浜吉)
→ Shopping at Mitsui Outlet Park (三井奥特莱斯购物城) and ARIO (アリオ倉敷)
→ Great Seto Bridge Sunset Cruise (瀬戸大桥游観光船)
→ Dinner and accommodation: Washu Highland Hotel (鷲羽Hailand饭店)

Day 2: Maniwa City (真庭市), Okayama
→ Betty Smith Jeans Museum (Betty Smith 牛仔裤博物馆) & Jeans Street (兒島牛仔裤街), Kojima*
      (*Kojima is actually in Kurashiki, so we visited in the morning before departing to Maniwa City)
→ Lunch: Homemade Soba Noodles at Hiruzen Kogen Highland (国民渡假村蒜山高原)
→ Dessert making: Ice Cream
→ Hiruzen Winery (蒜山葡萄酒厂)
→ Yubara Onsen (汤原温泉地)
→ Dinner / Accommodation: Yubara Kikunoyu (湯原国際観光ホテル菊之湯)

Day 3: Okayama City (岡山), Okayama
→ Museum of Contemporary Toy & Hall of Music Box (现代玩具博物馆 / 八音盒馆)
→ Lunch: Yunogo Onsen (湯郷大饭店)
→ KUBO Grape Farm (KUBO農園 麝香葡萄)
→ Korakuen Garden (岡山 後楽園)
→ Okayama Castle (岡山城)
→ Dinner: AEON Mall - The Central Buffet, 6th Floor (永旺商场)
→ Accommodation: Granvia Hotel (Granvia 酒店)

Day 3: Mimasaka City (美作市) / Okayama City (岡山市)
Japan Museum of Contemporary Toy & Hall of Music Box
319-2 Yunogo, Mimasaka City 707-0062, Okayama Prefecture, Japan.
Phone: +81 868-72-0003
Opening Hours: 9.30am - 5pm daily

How to get there:
By bus: Take a bus from Hayashino Station on the JR Kishin Line and get off at "Yunogo Onsen Kami" (10 minutes) then walk for another 3 minutes.
By car: 10 minutes by car from Mimasaka Interchange on the Chugoku Expressway.

Admission Fee: 700 yen per adult / 300 yen per child

Our first stop of the day is a museum for toys and music. Initially I thought this place is a heaven only for children. But to my surprise, it is a pretty interesting museum with so many things to see and experience here.

This is definitely not your usual museum – it exhibits many music boxes of more than 100 years old, wind-up dolls and other creative toys that keep us entertained. However, the most fascinating part of our visit is the toys and music performances which are held multiple times a day.

The 25-minute toy demo keeps us glued on our seats as the performer shows us the little tricks behind those interesting wooden toys – we just wouldn’t want to blink our eyes even for a second when surprises come one after another.

It is then followed by a 40-minute performance relating to several musical instruments, but we have to leave midway as there is still a long list to go in our itinerary of the day.

If you are fascinated like I am, then you can consider buying some of toys and music boxes home from the museum shop.

Kubo Farm
2747-1 Mitsudori, Kita-ku, Okayama Prefecture, 709-2136 Japan.
Instagram: @kubofarm
Twitter: @kubofarm2017
Opening Hours: 9am - 5pm daily

How to get there:
 40 minutes by car from Okayama City Center
 15 minutes drive from Okayama Airport

Admission fee: 2,300 yen including grape plucking (1 bunch per adult) and eat-all-you-want grapes eating experience. For children between 3-12 years old, the entrance fee is 1,200 yen (excluding grape plucking).

While we are on our way to Okayama City Center, we make a quick detour to Kubo Farm which I have my first experience of plucking my own grapes directly from the tree and then enjoying a “grape buffet” – yes, you can eat as many grapes as you want from the grapes pre-picked by Kubo Farm (not those from the trees). No restrictions at all!

Just come early in the morning and chomp down all the grapes till evening. I’m sure that such experience is worth every penny.

Although November is considered the end-season of grape harvesting, we are lucky enough to make it here before the grapes overripe. Looking around us, there are more than 10,000 bunches of grapes hanging on these 20-year-old trees. Indeed a heaven for grape lovers!

Do you know that these grapes are also highly prized? Named as the “Muscat of Alexandria grapes”, it is one of Okayama’s special produce and is dubbed as the “Queen of Grapes” for its elegant fragrance, meat quality and nutrients. In fact, 95% of this grape species is produced in Okayama Prefecture.

Travelling Tips:
Best time to visit for grape harvesting season: Early September - early November

How to pick the best bunch of grapes?
❤ Check the position of the grapes from the tree branch. The farther it is away from the tree branch, the sweeter and more aromatic it is.
❤ For the grapes hanging on the tree, the upper ones are sweeter than those at the bottom of the tree.
❤ Pick those in yellow tones which taste better than the green ones.

Each grape is so crunchy and juicy! It also exudes some sort of sweet aroma and very light sweetness in the flesh. Speaking of that, I am craving for a second bunch of grapes now.

At Kubo Farm shop, you can bring more grapes home, at only 1,500 yen per bunch (depending on the weight). Super good deal ya because the price easily goes up to hundreds of ringgit per bunch in our local supermarkets.

Apart from grapes, Kubo Farm also provides several agricultural activities for farm lovers such as potato digging, chestnut picking, camping, barbecuing etc.

A highly recommended place to visit if not because of the lack of public transportation!

Korakuen Garden
1-5 Korakuen, Kita-ku, Okayama City 703-8257, Japan.
Phone: +81 86-272-1148
Opening Hours: 7am - 6pm (20 March - 30 Sept) / 8am - 5pm (1 Oct - 19 March)

Admission Fee: 400 yen per adult / 140 yen per child or senior citizen above 65
Combined Admission Fee for Korakuen and Okayama Castle: 560 yen per adult / 260 yen per child

How to get there:
10 minutes walk from Shiroshita Tram Stop / 25 minutes walk from JR Okayama Station

Just 40 minutes’ drive from Kubo Farm, we are finally here in Okayama City, the capital of Okayama Prefecture. One place not to be missed is the Korakuen Garden, one of the 3 Great Gardens of Japan, registered in the world heritage treasure.

Upon entering the garden, I am totally blown by the beauty of natural landscape here. Can’t believe that this Garden was built about 300 years ago after 14 years of constructions. Yet it still manages to retain its original beauty from the Edo Period until today, except for few changes by various Japanese feudal lords. The Japanese effort is so applaudable!

Another mind-blowing fact about Korakuen Gardens is the Kaiyu Design ("scenic promenade") where visitors can enjoy a different view at every turn of the path which connects the vast lawns, ponds, hills, tea houses and streams. Wow, I mean like seriously?! The ancient Japanese are genius!

I am so fortunate to be here at the best time of viewing Okayama's quintessential autumn foliage scene! Surrounded by over 100 maple trees, I just can’t feel more blessed than this. Now I wish to come back for the romantic cherry blossom scenery in spring.

We can see the majestic Okayama Castle located just across the river.

Oh, and don't miss the night illumination that offers a completely different scenic view from daytime!  

Tea house located in the garden.

By the way, you can enjoy FREE Wi-Fi in every corner of this garden too. So must share the beauty of Korakuen Garden to your social media world ya!

Okayama Castle
2-3-1, Marunouchi, Kita-ku, Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture 700-0823, Japan.
Phone: +81 86-225-2096
Opening Hours: 9am - 5.30pm daily

Admission Fee: 300 yen per adult

How to get there:
10 minutes walk from Shiroshita Tram Stop / 25 minutes walk from JR Okayama Station

I must admit that the beauty of Okayama Castle is so admirable from afar. Now let’s take a closer look at this 400-year-old castle.

Okayama Castle is also known as "Ujo" (Crow Castle) because of its black-lacquered exterior resembling the crow's feathers but it appears more greyish in real life. Its elegant architectural design comes from Azuchi-Momoyama Period of the late 16th century.

Over the past 273 years (1597 - 1869), Okayama Castle was occupied by 14 feudal lords. In 1882, the government has demolished several buildings in the whole complex of the castle. What we see today is just the remaining 4 buildings including Tenshu-kaku (Castle Tower), the central building of the whole castle; but it is too huge for us to explore the entire area.

We only go up the main tower for a free kimono fitting session where we get to dress up like a feudal lord or a princess and take photos there.

Attire Fee: FREE
Time slot: 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm daily (limited to 5 pax per session)

AEON Mall Okayama
1-2-1 Shimoishii, Kita-ku, Okayama City
Phone: +81 86-803-6700

Our only night entertainment: Shopping! AEON Mall Okayama is one of Western Japan's largest shopping malls; a shopaholic’s heaven because it houses about 350 shops in this huge 10-storey mall.

Guess what’s the best part of this AEON Mall? It is connected with an underground route from the hotel we stay. How convenient is that! Another reason to shop more without worrying of carrying too many heavy stuff back to hotel…

Shopping tips:
Uniqlo and MUJI stuff are way cheaper in Japan (major price drops and minus 8% tax).
Definitely a must to shop here if you love minimalistic designs.

Where to stay in Okayama City:
Hotel Granvia Okayama
1-5 Ekimotomachi, Kita-ku, Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture, Japan.
Phone: +81 86-234-7000

How to get there:
By train: Directly connected to JR Okayama Station
By car: 30 minutes drive from Okayama Airport

Welcome to my crib in Okayama! This is probably the grandest hotel in Okayama City. Directly connected to Okayama Station, my Granvia single room designed with the concept of "Okayama Luxury" exudes an atmosphere of timeless elegance, comfortable and stylist rooms.

It is the only hotel I have stayed in Okayama so far that has English-speaking staff and serves pork-free and alcohol-free Muslim-friendly menu. Highly recommended for its excellent location, accessibility, impeccable services, and most importantly no language barrier for non-Japanese.

Overall Verdict:
The beauty of Okayama City is beyond words. I love how this city incorporates both old and new faces in one, making it a city worth exploring for everyone be it nature enthusiasts, cultural lovers or shopaholics.

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