Kurashiki, Japan

Bikan Historical Quarter

The Bikan Historical Quarter in Kurashiki is my favourite part of Japan. I discovered it by accident as it wasn't, maybe still isn't one of the best known tourist destinations in Japan. I found it because of the Ohara Art Museum which is located in the quarter, I had read that it housed a collection of impressionist paintings including Monet's Waterlilies. (Later I discovered one of many paintings of waterlilies that Monet completed!) On my first trip I just came to see the museum and discovered this delightful area. Apparently recently voted the 'most picturesque' of Japan.

The Ohara Museum of Art in the background, it was built in 1930 to house a collection of impressionist paintings collected for the industrialist Magosaburo Ohara. Ohara had collected Japanese art and had sent a young Japanese artist to Europe. This young artist called Torajima Kojima purchased paintings which now make up quite a wonderful collection. The museum is the largest privately owned art museum in Japan and was the first to exhibit Western art. To see the paintings is terrific but the museum now also fascinates me as it displays paintings by Japanese artists done in the impressionist style.

Kurashiki, by the late 1800s had developed into quite a wealthy town due to the cotton spinning mill built in the town in 1888. The Japanese had adapted western style clothing and started to mass produce the materials required. These distinctive white with black tile buildings are from that era, they were the warehouses and villas of the merchants who lived and traded in the town.

Rickshaws were on offer for the tourist who wanted to view the local streets in a traditional manner!

Short sections of canals remain in the historic quarter, which makes the whole area very picturesque! 

And then there's the tourist option of a short boat trip complete with straw hat!

In 1888 the Kurashiki Spinning company set up a cotton mill and it was built to a western design, lots of red brick. The cotton mill operated until the end of World War II and then was mothballed until 1974 when a hotel was opened in the complex. The hotel still operates and there is a shopping area as well. One part of the old mill is now the Torajiro Kojima Memorial Museum, displaying the art works of the young artist influenced by western painting.

Ivy Square, part of the old mill, the pond contains waterlilies, unfortunately currently too early in the year for them to be blooming. (Plus some huge koi!) The waterlilies were donated by the Ohara museum who were given some from Monet's original pond. 

I generally try not to get other people in my photos but these girls were wearing their summer yukatas so I thought they added to the atmosphere. There were also quite a lot of school groups around!

Just missed the cherry blossom season, not so much as a stray petal anywhere! But found some blossoms, not cherry but blossoms none the less!

Kurashiki's Bikan Quarter is a lovely part of Japan to visit, many of the old buildings are now restaurants and souvenir shops, and international tourism has arrived. But it hasn't lost its charm, apart from the Ohara museum, there's also the Ohashi House to visit, it's a wealthy merchant's house still preserved in its original state. There's a folklore museum and a museum of traditional toys.

Kurashiki can be reached by taking the Shinkansen (the bullet train) to Okayama and then change to a local train, it's well signposted even for the non-Japanese reader! (Just note there is a Shin-Kurashiki station where the Shinkansen does stop, only it's further out from the town centre.) From the Kurashiki station it's a 10 minute walk to the Bikan Historical Quarter, again well signposted. Either through the covered shopping area (interesting in itself) or straight up the main street, not so interesting but more direct!