Okayama’s two largest attractions are conveniently right by each other so once I had left Okayama Castle I would only need to walk a short distance and cross a bridge to reach my next bit of sightseeing. Before reaching the bridge I ended up in a conversation with an older Japanese man who stopped to ask me where I was from. It turned out that he worked for the Japanese office of Prudential Financial and had spent a few years in America, though I don’t remember which city he was posted in. We chatted for a few minutes and then went our separate ways. I then crossed the bridge to the far side of the river and made my way to the Korakuen, one of Japan’s premier landscape gardens.
The Korakuen Garden is considered one of the three best landscape gardens in Japan, along with the gardens in Mito and Kanazawa. It was commissioned in 1687 by Okayama’s feudal lord and finished in 1700. A few small adjustments were made to the garden in the years after that date but since 1863 no further changes have been made. Although the garden has been damaged by both natural disasters and World War 2, very accurate records of the garden’s design have been preserved which have allowed the Korakuen to be restored to it’s 1863 layout.
One of the first things I did after entering the Korakuen was to climb the hill in the middle of the garden to get a better view. The Korakuen looks similar to other Japanese landscape gardens in many ways but one of the things that makes the Korakuen unique is it’s large grassy lawns. Teahouses, sculpted plants, and carefully placed rocks are common in Japanese gardens but you don’t normally see this much open space.
In the eastern part of the Korakuen are groves of plum, maple, and cherry trees, as well as a rice field. The maple trees were starting to change colors but it looked like they would need at least a couple more weeks before peak colors set in.
The middle of the Korakuen is dominated by the garden’s pond. There’s a small island with a teahouse at the eastern end of the pond and on occasion the teahouse is open to the public. From the northern shore of the pond you can see the upper half of Okayama Castle peeking over the treetops and the tower makes for a nice addition to any photos being taken of the garden. If you visit Korakuen be sure to also keep an eye out for the turtles that are swimming around the pond.
Towards the western end of the garden are a few buildings that are used as venues for ceremonies and performances, as well as more sculpted landscape. The Okayama Prefectural Museum can also be found in this part of the Korakuen.
At that point in the day the sun was starting to get low in the sky and I climbed the hill in the middle of the Korakuen for one last look and before exited the garden. As I was walking along the river I also got a final view of the castle. The next day I’d be taking a day trip outside of the city but my time in Okayama had gotten off to a very good start.