With its mild climate, delicious local food, excellent transport links to Kyoto and Hiroshima and an abundance of cultural attractions, Japan’s Okayama prefecture has lots to offer.
From 6 to 26 September Japan Centre and Ichiba are hosting Okayama themed regional fairs. This is a great chance to sample regional goodies galore and find out more about this beautiful part of Japan!
‘The Land of Sunshine’
Nicknamed ‘The Land of Sunshine’ due to its low rainfall and sunny climate, Okayama is a great place to visit all year round, especially if outdoor activities are your thing.
No trip to Japan is complete without a trip to one of the country’s beautiful gardens, and Okayama city (the capital of the region) just happens to be home to one of Japan’s ‘Top 3’. Dating back 300 years, Korakuen Garden boasts breathtaking views of nearby Okayama Castle and surrounding mountains, as well as a plum grove, noh stage, restaurant serving traditional seasonal washoku cuisine and a tea house where you can enjoy a cup of matcha whilst soaking up the atmosphere. The Ohaganishi no Tanada (rice terraces) are another spectacular local sight where you can find yourself immersed in a ‘sea of clouds’ during October to December and marvel at the hundreds of rice terraces spread out before you.
Cooking Okayama Style: Raise a toast to the beauty of Okayama by sampling some of the local sake. Enjoy a rare example of earthy and smooth sake with Toshimori Brewery’s premium junmai daiginjo, made from quality, Okayama-grown Omachi rice. Originating from the Okayama prefecture itself, Omachi is one of the few remaining pure rice strains used for sake brewing. Though notoriously difficult to harvest, the rich, complex flavour it creates in sake makes the challenge worthwhile!
If you’re planning on heading to Okayama during November you’ll be arriving at prime time to appreciate the stunning autumn foliage. If you want to see trees ablaze with red and golden leaves then your best bet is to head for one of the many parks, gardens, onsen, temples and castles.
Okayama Castle (nicknamed ‘Raven Castle’) in Okayama city has a striking black exterior and makes for an impressive autumnal sight, framed by rich red leaves. Head to the Okutsukei Valley for a scenic hike through a tunnel of maple leaves, stop off at Okutsu onsen (hot spring) for a relaxing soak, and perhaps a stay at a nearby ryokan (traditional inn). Iyama Hofuku-ji Temple is another hot spot for autumn foliage viewing and is the ideal place to enjoy the leaves illuminated at night.
Cooking Okayama Style: On a chilly autumn night, whether you’re at home or in Japan, there’s nothing better than sitting down to a hot, hearty meal. Japan Centre’s Okayama Konnnyaku Pasuta Yubakon noodles are a healthy, low sugar, gluten free and virtually calorie free alternative to pasta and wheat noodles and can be used in countless hearty dishes from sukiyaki hot pots to stir fries.
Life is Peachy
Okayama has the perfect climate for growing fruit and is famous for its sweet, juicy peaches. If you’re ever in the region then stop off at a local farm to do a spot of peach picking, or visit a local café for an indulgent dessert of peach parfait.
The legend of ‘Momotaro the Peach Boy’ is said to have originated in Okayama, and you’ll find a statue in his honour at Okayama City station, which is lit up every year during the Momotaro festival. Legend has it that a childless woman discovered a peach floating down the river, took it home to share with her husband and discovered a small child living inside. He went on to fight ogres, collecting an assortment of animal friends along who all offered their help in return for some of the delicious kibidango (Japanese sweet made from rice paste) that his mother had packed for him.
Cooking Okayama Style: Japan Centre’s peach jam is made from Okayama’s delicious Shimizu white peaches and is tasty on toast or added to a bowl of porridge for breakfast, glazed over pork and chicken for dinner or combined with your biscuits, cakes and trifle recipes for dessert. Peach jam is also perfect for pancakes, so why not try Okayama rice flour as an alternative to wheat flour and prepare thick, fluffy pancakes and sweet, crisp crêpes.
Beside the Seaside
Okayama prefecture is surrounded by the Seto Inland Sea, and the region is well known for its fresh seafood and seaside activities. Take a side trip from the mainland and visit one of the many small islands in the area to enjoy kayaking, fishing, sea bathing, coastal cycling and some spectacular sunsets.
Cooking Okayama Style: One of Okayama’s most loved foods is the sawara Spanish mackerel, and this tasty fish can be transformed into an umami rich dish by dressing it in Yuzu Kouji paste. Made from Okayama grown yuzu citrus fruit and miso this is not only the perfect compliment to fish, but also makes a delicious glaze for vegetables or tofu.
Korauken Gardens: Livio Barcella via Flickr
Momotaro statue: jpellgen (@1179_jp) via Flickr
Okayama in autumn: by Douglas via Flickr
Ushimado, Okayama by Cotaro70s via Flickr