Preserved historic warehouses, now converted into museums, boutiques and restaurants, make up the scenic historic area of Kurashiki.
Not far from Okayama, Kurashiki has an atmosphere that has largely been preserved since the Edo period (1603-1867), when it was a major exporter of rice and sugar, before later becoming known for its flourishing textile market. It is well worth a visit for historians, or those who appreciate historical Japanese design, as many buildings of this era survived WW2 and have been kept intact for visitors to enjoy in the Bikan Historic Area of the town.
A multicultural history
Old factories, black tiles and old mills, they all carry a story related to the industrialization of Japan after the Meiji period, in the wake of its opening to the West. It's also no coincidence that Kurashiki's location enabled its port to be one of the factors of developing the town, as well as helping to create its unique character.
Wealthy and famous, the town prides itself on the European fine art associated with the area since the opening of the Ohara Museum in 1930, which houses paintings by Monet, Matisse, Renoir and more... names that seem out of context in Japan, but are interesting to view here, knowing as we do the influence that Japan had on Impressionism.
Kurashiki has other works of art hidden in its many museums and galleries waiting to be discovered in the old buildings of the city, such as the Kojima Torajiro Memorial Hall (Ohara Annex, in the Oriental Antiquities room) or Ivy Square (housing the Kurabo and Kojima Museums).
A practical and symbolic role
Kurashiki roughly translates as "the town of warehouses". These warehouses were used to store rice, the trade of which flourished in the city. Visiting the Bikan district you'll soon see the typical architecture of the warehouses and their incredible condition. Most have been converted into museums, cafes and galleries, which give a special touch to the area.
Although perhaps calling Kurashiki canal area the "Venice of Japan" is an exaggeration, to really get a feel for the area it's nice to end a visit here with a ride in a traditional Japanese boat. It's a great opportunity to be guided through the canals of the old town in a timeless journey, admiring the preserved remains of a time gone by. There's also the opportunity for a romantic cruise, or to capture the area through photos by the light of street lamps.