Japanese Tradition and Fabulous Art Kurashiki, OKAYAMA & Naoshima, KAGAWA 4 Days 3 Nights
  • Day 1
  • Okayama – Kurashiki
Take a shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto to Okayama, a 1 hour and 15 minute trip.
On arrival at Okayama station you will be met by your driver and transfer to Kurashiki.

On the way to Okayama, you may stop by Himeji to see Himeji Castle, which is undergoing a five-year renovation, expected to be complete in March 2015. Himeji Castle is also known as Shirasagijo (White Egret Castle) and Hakurojo (White Heron Castle) due to its blinding white exterior. It is known as the unbreachable castle as it was never destroyed. One of the great leaders of Japan, the shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi, once resided in this castle. It is now one of Japan’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Welcome to beautiful Kurashiki!

When the shogun took control of the Kurashiki area some 300 years ago, a magistrate’s office was established, and the town and its canal were developed into a center of trade. With its clusters of old-fashioned storehouses with their white walls and distinctive crosshatch pattern, and rows of townhouses with lattice windows, the town still hearkens back to its past as an Edo period commercial center. The beautiful Ryokan Kurashiki, an oasis of elegant calm in the bustling, history-steeped district, presents a special trip through the centuries, back to old Japan.

Check in at Ryokan Kurashiki
Situated amid the waterways and streets of the city of Kurashiki's lovingly preserved Bikan Historical Quarter, by the banks of a pretty, willow-lined canal, the beautiful Ryokan Kurashiki is an oasis of elegant calm in the bustling, history-steeped district. The ryokan was originally the home of a wealthy sugar merchant, who outfitted the house with exquisite craftsmanship and fine antiques. All of the furniture and décor have been carefully selected and blend into a lovingly preserved, centuries-old kura warehouse building. From the moment you step into this ryokan, you enter a nostalgic world. There are only five rooms, so you can be assured of friendly, attentive service.

If you arrive before check in time, you may enjoy exploring the Bikan Historical Quarter after checking your luggage at the ryokan. This national historical preservation district, nestled along a narrow canal and against the base of the low hill of Tsurugata-yama, is not at all large, but the townscape preserves a stretch of history from the Edo period (1603-1868), when samurai were still a common sight, to the Meiji and Taisho periods (1868-1926) when Western cultural influence grew.

Return to the ryokan and relax in your room, which has unique interior designs that blend traditional Japanese lines with an exotic touch.
  • Day 2
  • Kurashiki - Kojima

In the morning you will head for Kojima, in southern Kurashiki, a place renowned for denim goods. This trip by private car takes about 30 minutes. Kojima is the birthplace of Japanese denim, and lots of jeans shops can be found in the area known as “Jeans Street.” You may order an original pair – an excellent souvenir of Kojima.

Takashiro Senko is a traditional indigo dye maker, which has been in business for more than 80 years in Kojima. They dye their goods by hand, and you may have a chance to see how they treat the textiles in the traditional way. Seeing this technique still in use, having been passed down from generation to generation over the years, is fascinating. *Advance booking is required.
*Not available in winter.

After Kojima, enjoy a special tour of Yugasan Rendaiji Temple and sample its delicious vegetarian cuisine.

Yugasan Daigongen, the guardian god of oceans, is enshrined in the rugged and beautiful mountains of Yugasan and has been worshipped since ancient times. In spring, about 3,000 cherry trees at the temple blossom like a pink cloud. The temple grounds show a different kind of beauty every season – especially the fresh green of summer and the crimson and gold leaves of autumn. The temple was built in 733 AD, during the Nara period. Inside, in the reception hall, are 106 fusuma (Japanese-style sliding doors) with paintings that include "Chikkei-zu," the last work of Okyo Maruyama, a painter of traditional Japanese paintings in the 19th century and the founder of the Maruyama School.

In the afternoon you may join a special tour by the Okami-san (the proprietress of Ryokan Kurashiki). You could visit the Morita Shuzo sake brewery, which was established in the Taisho era (1912-1926), or a tour of the Institute of Dyeing and Hand-Weaving, which trains students in the techniques of hand-woven materials as well as teaching the traditional Japanese way of life. These are special guided tours, as both places are usually closed to the public.
*Advance booking is required.
*Subject to availability of Okami-san.
*The sake brewery visit is only available from the middle of April to October.
*The Institute of Dyeing and Hand-Weaving is closed on Sundays.
  • Day 3
  • Kurashiki
Today is at leisure – you are free to relax at the ryokan, or explore the town. Some suggestions:

Ohara Museum of Art – One of the world's most comprehensive private museums. Ohara Magosaburo, an entrepreneur born in Kurashiki, opened this private museum in 1930. It was the first museum to feature Western art in Japan.
*Closed on Mondays
* A VIP tour escorted by the Curator can be arranged.
Kurashiki Museum of Folkcraft – Here you can encounter objects finely crafted to bring beauty to everyday life. The museum was built by renovating rice granaries that date from the late 18th century, and is the second-oldest craft museum in Japan.
*Closed on Mondays

Hayashi Genjuro Shouten Design Market – Opened in 2012, this is a market that focuses on products from Kurashiki, such as foods, clothes and crafts. Hayashi Genjuro was the 11th master of the Hayashi family, who has been running a pharmacy in Kurashiki for 350 years. You will find the Hayashi Genjuro Pharmacy Museum inside the market. You may have a tea break and look down from the rooftop and enjoy the view of the town of Kurashiki.

River cruise – In the Bikan Chiku historical area, two small boats ply the river where, during the daytime, you can enjoy a view of the riverbanks while experiencing a gondola-style boat ride.
*Tickets can be arranged by Ryokan Kurashiki
*Operates every day except for the second Monday of the month, March ~ November.
*Operates Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays December – February.

Ryokan Kurashiki has several other special activities for you to choose from:

Option 1 – Sakazuyaki pottery studio visit
Sakazuyaki originally began its history in the land of Kurashiki in the Meiji era. You will have a chance to visit artisan’s studio, and watch them create the special lustrous glaze for which these ceramics are famous.

Option 2 – Matsuri-sushi (Festival sushi)
A demonstration by the chef of Ryokan Kurashiki can be arranged, in which he will show you how to make Matsuri-sushi (sushi decorated with seafood and vegetables on top, and traditionally served at festivals). This experience will help you get to know the real Kurashiki.

Option 3 – Shakyo (tracing the Sutras) class
For the first thing in the morning before you have breakfast, why not experience a peaceful Buddhist practice? Shakyo, the practice of tracing the sutras, calms your mind and brings a feeling of harmony of your body and mind. No special knowledge is needed, just a willingness to try it and purify your mind.
  • Day 4
  • Kurashiki-Naoshima
Check out from the ryokan and transfer to Uno pier by private car, a 1 hour trip. Upon arrival, a ferry takes you to the remaining 20 minute cruise to Naoshima.
*Boat charters can be arranged by advanced booking.

The island of Naoshima is a special place, famous for its long history and beautiful natural setting, as well as for its numerous contemporary art galleries. Located in the Seto Inland Sea between the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku, the island is a paradise for art lovers. The best-known facility is the Benesse House art complex, which integrates a respected art museum with a hotel, both designed by architect Tadao Ando.

Just a few of the other museums on the island are the Chichu Art Museum, which boasts a number of installations as well as paintings by Claude Monet and others; the Lee Ufan Museum, dedicated to works by the acclaimed artist Lee Ulfan; and Miyanoura Gallery 6, converted from an old pachinko parlor and turned into a relaxation space as well as a venue for art exhibitions.

Two other fascinating initiatives are the Art House Project, which rescues empty houses in the area and turns them into works of art; and Naoshima Bath “I♥湯”, an installation in which visitors can actually soak in a lovely hot bath. The motto “I♥湯” is a playful pun – it includes the Japanese character for hot water, “yu,” so it is pronounced “I Love Yu,” a play on the English “I love you” and the Japanese “I love hot water.”

* A VIP tour escorted by the Curator can be arranged.

You may spend a few nights here or take a ferry again to Uno pier, then continue on to Okayama.