Today I got up bright and early to say goodbye to Fukuoka and take the shinkansen to Osaka! I’ve actually already been to Osaka, but my flight back to Paris leaves from there so I decided to use it as my base of operations for day trips around the region. And hey, I can always end the day with okonomiyaki at Dotonbori!

I hadn’t booked a ticket for the shinkansen, so I was a bit apprehensive about seat availability, but I needn’t have worried. With a JR Pass, you can simply get onto one of the three non-reserved cars in the shinkansen. A bit of a queue formed while we waited for the train to arrive, but I had no problem finding a place for me and for my bag. The bliss of travelling by train in Japan: the shinkansen covered the 600 km between Fukuoka and Osaka in less than three hours!
When I got off in Osaka, I only had to walk five minutes to my hotel, the vaguely-named Shin Osaka Station Hotel Annex (a lot of Japanese hotels have Annex in the name). For a new challenge, I did the entire check-in process in Japanese only! The lady didn’t offer any English, so I didn’t ask, and she explained to me that check-in was only after 14:00 but that they could keep my bag while I went off to do my thing, so all’s well.
So I went back round the way I came, and got onto another shinkansen. Again, I just waved my JR Pass and got on a bullet train like nobody’s business. The pass is expensive but it pays for itself as soon as you take two shinkansen; plus it’s the height of luxury to get on one of the world’s fastest trains just for 40 min so you can cover the 180 km to Okayama -which is what I’m doing right now, so I can then take a train to Kurashiki.
In looking for a half-day trip to fill this afternoon, I came upon Kurashiki, a small town with a picturesque canal and a quarter of traditional Edo houses. It’s not enough to fill a whole day of sightseeing, but it looked like the perfect plan for a short visit on a day of travelling, so off I went!

First thing after leaving the Kurashiki station, I had a hearty lunch at a misokatsu place right on the main avenue: it’s a tiny place with maybe three tables and three seats at the counter, where they serve a special type of katsu that is baked, not fried, and has a miso-based sauce. It was delicious, but quite heavy! It’s a good thing I had worked up an appetite by now!

Just a two minutes walk further down the road, I arrived at the Bikan old quarter. As advertised, it has a beautiful canal where tourist rowboats go up and down, and all the houses seem untouched from the Edo period. Apparently this town was an important rice storing and trading spot at the time, and a lot of those stores and merchant houses have been preserved or restored. It’s for sure a touristy spot (here I saw a few Westerners here and there, even), and the stores are almost all for omiyage and cafes, but even most of these are tasteful, and the surroundings are very photogenic.

I walked into the Ohara museum, which occupies an incongruous neoclassical stone building (with columns and everything) and houses a collection of European art and European-influenced Japanese art. At JPY1300 (€10.6) it really feels expensive in comparison to the other museums I’ve been visiting, but I had to remind myself that back in Europe I wouldn’t bat an eye at any museum charging ten bucks, and truth be told they have a pretty impressive collection: they have one painting each of Gaugin, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Kandinsky, Modigliani, and even a Rothko from the dark years! Not to mention, a bunch of Rodin sculptures. Who knew?

The museum spans three buildings, although the third one (focused on pottery and other crafts) didn’t hold my interest and I walked right through. I did peek into Shinkei-en, a gorgeous tatami hall from whose veranda you could take in the beautiful garden in front of it. This was a quiet oasis far removed from the crowds strolling just a few metres away, and it’s free!

After taking in a good dose of culture, I went back to walking along the canal, peeking into some of the stores in the nearby streets. Against one’s expectations, turns out that one of the local signature trades is… denim, as in jeans, so there were several stores selling clothes, bags, and other items made of Japan-produced denim.

Eventually I felt satisfied with the visit to the old quarter -also tired- so I retraced my steps and took a train back to Okayama, then the shinkansen to Osaka, and found myself walking out of the station about an hour later. As soon as I got off the train I thought that tsuyu was finally catching up with me: after a week of great weather, now it felt hotter, more humid, it was cloudy, and you could almost smell the rain in the air. According to the forecast it may rain for the rest of my stay, which is a problem -I don’t much mind for my planned visit to Himeji castle tomorrow, but I’m not sure that my planned visit to Naoshima on Friday makes sense if it’s going to be raining all day… I guess I’ll see what it looks like tomorrow!

When I got back to the hotel, by the way, I had to finish my check-in, and the reception staff had changed but I also did the whole process in Japanese (at one point the lady behind the desk started reciting a long list of instructions that I didn’t get, but she helpfully handed me an English pamphlet with a translation, so I guess I cheated a bit) and for my efforts was rewarded with a new “Nihongo de jozu desu ne!” Yes! Validate my life choices!

When I got to my room, though, I had a crisis: the room reeked of cigarette smoke! I was sure there had been no mention of smoking and non-smoking rooms when I made the booking, because I would never in a million years have booked a smoking room, but I used a reservation website so maybe they screwed up? Anyway, I couldn’t bear the smell, so I went back down and had to explain the thing in Japanese and ask if there were any free rooms. I was half expecting a “Too bad!” and having to sleep with my head out the window, but thankfully they were very understanding and gave me a different room without a problem. Phew! Problem solved! Now, to rest and work on two great day trips to finish my trip in style!

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