The main reason for stopping off in the capital of Okayama-ken, OKAYAMA (岡山), 730km west of Tokyo, is to stretch your legs in its famous garden, Kōrakuen, considered one of Japan’s top three. It’s overlooked by the castle, Okayama-jō, around which the city developed in the Edo period, but aside from the intriguing Okayama Orient Museum there’s little else of note in this modern town.
Okayama is also the transport hub for trips out to surrounding attractions. Kurashiki has a well-preserved enclave of picturesque old merchant houses and canals. From there you can head inland to Takahashi to discover Japan’s highest castle, Bitchū Matsuyama, looking down from its mountain-top over a town of old temples. For a spectacular view of both the Inland Sea and the Seto Ōhashi bridge, aim for the mountain of Washū-zan on the southern tip of the prefecture, while fragments of the area’s ancient history can be seen along the Kibi Plain bicycle route, which runs past fifth-century burial mounds and rustic temples and shrines.