Categories
Asia

Kurashiki, probably Japan’s cutest town

The hiking the day before was tough, plus all the walking around, so after my long hot shower I slept like a baby for several hours until 5:30 am. I packed my stuff, I had my breakfast and I went to the train station to head to Kurashiki. Honestly, I almost scratched Kurashiki from my list, the reviews I read sounded like the city was a total tourist rip-off place, but I decided to give it a try, why not? I like small places, probably I’ll enjoy Kurashiki a bit more. At least I know the hotel has good reviews, the Kurashiki Ivy Square Hotel.

Arriving there, my first sensation was that I was in a smaller city and I liked it! Big cities are not for me, so the first impact in Kurashiki was a good one. Still a city, the train station is big. The avenue is wide, and a lot of big buildings around the train station, but not as bad as I thought!

Wandering around in Kurashiki

The moment I got inside the inner city, the real Kurashiki I was visiting, I got in love! Really cosy and narrow streets, small shops and yes, a rip-off. With a very nice canal passing through the old town. According to what I read, they used that canal to make the rice transportation easier. Kurashiki also means warehouse village and the old houses we see were almost all storage houses for rice.

Time for some touring, I went to the historical center to walk around and discover a bit the town center. It seems that everyone is getting married this time of the year! Kurashiki indeed looks like a nice place for some wedding photos with its canal and cute bridges, they can take great photos from several perspectives if the weather is in favor.

Booking.com

It seems that I am really addicted to caffeine, I did another stop for coffee now at Kurashiki Coffeae-Kan, they have their own roasted coffee and apparently also their own kind of cappuccino. I have to say that it was quite good, but totally different from the traditional cappuccino I am used to, the foam was cold and thick (I think that was really cream) and the cup was quite small, but I liked it anyway!

While at the café I read about Kurashiki and what Frommers recommends to do, and one thing that they say that it is quite good, is the Ohara Museum of Art, one of a kind in Japan and with a lot of art and history. Indeed it is a great museum, but one spends A LOT of time inside, it is great if you want to do something different during your holidays or if the weather forces you to be inside. I really liked the museum and I totally recommend it, but beware that you’ll spend a considerably amount of time if you want to enjoy it properly. I am not going to spoil the details about the museum, it has some very unique pieces of art inside and some very well-known artists as well, quite surprising for a museum in a small city. Check it you if you wish to know more!

As I mentioned before, the museum has a lot to see and I had to take a break in between for lunch. This time I was looking for sushi but I ended up eating something else which I have no idea what. I ate at Kamoi restaurant, the food was good and the staff really nice! I like the way in Japan the staff are so nice when people get inside or leave a place, might be just robotic, but they always seem so nice when you arrive and after you pay…

Kurashiki, probably Japan's cutest town
Kurashiki, probably Japan’s cutest town

After lunch, I went for the round two of the museum tour, and with a lot of school kids… It gets harder to enjoy whatsoever with annoying and noisy kids around…, so, I needed to clear my head out of noise and I decided to detour to the top of the hill. According to the map that was also worth visiting and so I did it! The view was nice, over Kurashiki, but the temple just another temple.

One thing about Japan is that a lot of temples look-alike, some bigger some smaller, but one might get tired of looking at the same all the time in different cities. What’s worth spending time is inside, and you have to pay to get in. So far, that’s the interesting part about temples.

What to do in Kurashiki?

Kurashiki historical center is really small, in one long afternoon you can see the main attractions. After running almost all the old town I thought it was time for the check in and take a small rest at the hotel, not sleeping though. That’s when I asked about the tattoo…

One thing I also noticed in Japan, and maybe I noticed this because I come from a coffee consumption culture, is that the cafés close quite early, around 5:30-6pm and they kick their clients out. I forgot about this…, and a few minutes before 5 I went to the café El Greco, another cute café that’s worth the visit. The thing is, when I got inside there were just a few people, I made my order and I start reading a bit my book, a few minutes later I realized that I was the only customer inside. And I mean the “a few minutes” part, because I am sure I arrived a few minutes before 5 and I left exactly at 5pm.

Do not travel without Travel Insurance!

I highly recommend World Nomads, travel insurance oriented to travelers. Well detailed before the unexpected happens!

What else to do? A few more museums, Kurashiki is full of them, the Ohara that I mentioned before, and a few others. I got inside two or three after that, and at least one of them I have no clue what it was about, I swear I really have no idea at what I was look at! I guess the Japanese culture is very self oriented, even their own tourism strategies. Not that it is a bad thing, but I guess they could be a bit more open for foreigners.

Another detail I have noticed about Japan, in the not so big cities, is that people eat early, so kinda of doesn’t make sense to have restaurants open until late. In Tokyo I didn’t feel this, but I did a bit in Hiroshima and now in Kurashiki. It was quite hard to find a place for dinner around 7:30pm, so after a while looking around I decided just to get inside the first one open.

Something that I really can’t complain about Japan is how nice and helpful people are, and so it was again at this restaurant! The communication was complicated, but with some pointing I managed to get food to eat, and again, a it was really good.

Kurashiki Ivy Square Hotel
Kurashiki Ivy Square Hotel

Long day, a lot of walking, so time to try something Japanese that I heard so much about, the onsen! And…. Nope, I didn’t find it nice at all, it was a funny experience and I felt totally an outsider. I don’t know if the staring was due the bandage covering my tattoo or the fact that I don’t look Asiatic. According to what I read, both can be the reason to be looked at… And I learned another thing, I needed another shower, but with my soap! I hated the smell I had on me!

My staying at Kurashiki Ivy Square Hotel

My hotel’s build was even better than the rest of the other buildings. I followed Frommers recommendation and it is indeed something really nice. Kurashiki Ivy Square, originally built as a cotton mill it is a red brick building with a very gorgeous square where we can have a nice drink outside if the weather is in favor. The name Ivy Square is due the fact that the whole building is covered with ivy making it even more beautiful in a mix of red and green.

My staying at Kurashiki Ivy Square Hotel
My staying at Kurashiki Ivy Square Hotel

The recommendation was indeed really good, once again Frommers didn’t make me regret. Just one thing I think it might be worth mentioning, there is nothing on the hotel’s regulations that you can’t use the onsen if you have a tattoo and at least my bedroom also didn’t have a shower. So I had to use the public baths (onsens) anyway.

Naively I asked at the reception if my tattoo would be a problem, they speak very bad English. Their reaction was of pure discrimination as they pulled me apart to show me another room with shower. I was on my way to town, I didn’t want to have a shower then, so I kindly refused. Afterwards I used the onsen anyway, I just covered my tattoo with tape.

Leaving Kurashiki towards Kyoto by train

Ok, let’s give another try to the onsen in Kurashiki. I woke up early and since the shower is something that must be done, let’s try it again. My experience was a bit different this time, way more relaxing (probably because I was still sleepy) and my expectations about the onsen were now gone. Maybe that’s the way to do it, don’t overthink about your travels, what is good for some might not be good for you.

Preparing to leave Kurashiki

One detail about Japan that Elma mentioned is the trash, there are very few trash cans around, and oddly enough for an European, there isn’t litter either! So basically, if you can create trash you also can take it with you until the next trash can. We, westerns, have a lot to learn with these fellas!

And another interesting thing I noticed is, that when you buy food at a convenience store, they always give you a wet tissue for cleaning! This seems so normal, and though, in most places I know you should be happy if you get a piece of paper that won’t even take the dirt from your face!

Just Married in Kurashiki
Just Married in Kurashiki

Again, back to a train station… Having the JR pass means that one will use the trains quite a lot… Another odd thing I realized, the repetitive sounds of birds. Not the enjoyable sounds you hear when you are in the country side, but instead a very repetitive sound of a bird tweeting! I guess they do this to help people to clear their heads… Big cities, lack of nature, so they create their own artificial nature… This indeed might sound interesting, but for me, nothing can replace real nature!

Inside the train

On my way to Kyoto from Kurashiki, with my reservation made way in advance because of the Matsuri festival I intended to see.

I tried to book the next places, Koyasan and “the next one”. Not only book, but also trying to decide what to do next. And having a HUGE déjà vu with all those tunnels and the double bookings I ended up doing, and then I had to cancel. Thankfully all of them wouldn’t charge a cent for cancellation in advance. Still, annoying though!

My trip from Kurashiki to Kyoto by train
My trip from Kurashiki to Kyoto by train

Koyasan is one of the places I have high expectations, and the onsens with the monks is an experience to try, don’t ask why, that’s what I read! But there is a detail…, I have a tattoo, and while reading all the reviews I felt the discrimination towards people with tattoos, there is a good reason for that here in Japan, but still, it is a discrimination.

Usually people in Japan don’t have tattoos, and if they do, they are small ones. The exceptions are for the yakuza, that’s where this discrimination starts, to avoid having yakuza at their onsens, they decided to forbid people with tattoos. Again, this is what I read, not sure if this is the real reason, but there is not doubt that there is a stigma.

Arriving at Kyoto Station

And now in Kyoto, hugeeee station with several floors, shops, platforms, restaurants, a huge mess! Basically, a small city there, I think I even saw a hotel inside the train station! I just had to figure out how to get to the train station closer to my hostel. Luckily I had the Hyperdia app on my iPhone, that tells me which line and which direction to take! But still, Kyoto station is really big and a bit scary for a hillbilly like me!

Finding my hostel was really easy, the instructions the host provided on Airbnb were quite straight forward, and google maps also took a big part helping me finding it. The entrance isn’t that obvious, but his instructions were clear. The place is great, a more than 100 years old house, renewed from inside but still with the classical Japanese style. Not the best for people with reduced mobility due the stairs and the Japanese futon, but I loved the place and I would definitely go back. I surely recommend it!

The only not so good thing is the distance to the city center, I thought it was closer than it actually is. Though the transportation in Kyoto is really good and there is a bus stop a few seconds away from the hostel. However, I have to admit that at first I actually considered to rent a bike for the next two days…

Where is Kurashiki?

Kurashiki is a coastal city in Okayama, halfway between Hiroshima and Kyoto. A perfect mid-way stop if you are traveling between those two cities.

By Gil Sousa

Portuguese expat in Cork, traveler and food enthusiastic.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.