I love big cities but here's the deal with travel...you can't beat the small towns. The small cities. Travelers complicate the off-the-beaten-path discussion. It's simple. Stop in places like Okayama. Okayama is mid-way between Hiroshima and Osaka. People speed by on the Shinkansen. If they stop, they see Okayama's Black Castle, which is a cool looking castle, then hop back on the train.
Takahashi is a small town. I spent a lot of time in major cities and was looking to see the Japanese country. Takahashi is home to a castle and a former samauri house to at least there'd be something to see after the train ride. Having taken numerous trips along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I thought the rolling green hills of the Japanese countryside reminded me a bit of the drives out to Lancaster. There's nothing in Takahashi and that's what makes it wonderful. I barely remember seeing a car pass as I walked through town from the train station. Clean. Quiet. A trip back in time.
Why Bitchu Matsuyama? It's one of Japan's original castles. This may come as a surprise, but most, if not all of Japan's castles are reconstructions. Bitchu Matsuyama is a countryside castle on a hill. After walking through Takahashi there's another uphill walk through the woods to the castle. There's not much to the castle but there's also nobody else here. I had the castle to myself.
In addition to the castle, there's also a samurai house in Takahashi that I enjoyed walking through. Unlike the castle I'm pretty sure the samurai house is a reconstruction but it was fascinating to see. I've always enjoyed Japanese architecture when I've seen it in movies or images and it was wonderful to see the designs in person. I'm a simple person. I don't like clutter. I don't like things hanging from the walls. Or tables with sculptures. I find the simplicity of the Japanese design intoxicating. No wasted space. No frivolous accent pieces.
So on to Okayama. After spending two months in China, I became accustomed to the Chinese approaching me for a friendly conversation. They had a genuine curiosity and enthusiasm to learn more about Americans. The Japanese could care less who you are. I tried to strike up conversations and locals weren't interested. There were times I felt unwelcome. But...I had a dinner in Okayama that was one for the books. And maybe that's why I liked Okayama so much. I picked a random restaurant for dinner. It had a teppanyaki grill. I grabbed a seat and the two guys sitting next to me started walking me through the menu. It wound up being the best meal I had in Japan. I spent the next twenty-five days searching for a similar meal. No such luck.
Not only was it the best meal of the trip but I had the best hotel stay of the night at a local business man capsule hotel. I've stayed in many types of hotels, this capsule hotel was the most unique. My luggage was stored in a locker room. I shared a bathing experience with two business men. Good times.
Okayama has a couple of attractions. There's Korakuen Gardens, a serene environment to walk through on an early morning. There's also Okayama's Black Castle. I believe I was here before the castle opened so I took a few photos then caught the train to Osaka.
When I visited Japan, Himeji Castle was under construction. But since it's the most impressive castle in Japan, I still made a quick stop to take a few photos from the outside. And yeah, it's the best castle in Japan. Matsumoto Castle was impressive but Himeji dwarfs over that castle and includes a few more attractions behind the wall.
For additional Okayama photos see FLICKR ALBUM.