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December 25, 2013 - Bitsu-Takahashi: Okayama Prefecture
Bitchu-Takahashi is a beautiful little town that can be reached from Kurashiki by train in 25 minutes (1300) on an express train of 40 minutes by local train.The town itself is known mainly for his historic quarter and the small but beautiful Matsuyama castle which is one of Japan's 12 surviving castles, along with it being the highest in elevation.
The castle itself is said to be an 80 minute walk from the train station, but I decided to catch a taxi (1250 Yen 1 way) to the car park of the castle. From there, it's another 20 minute walk that has great views and quite a few stairs. Many people say it's quite a hard slog to get up to the top, but I found it quite manageable but catching a taxi most of the way up helped. Entrance to the castle is 300 Yen.
Unlike most other castles in Japan, this castle is quite small but it served a different purpose. It was mainly a defensive castle, so was not made to look pretty but has more defences than we now see at most castles.
View of Bitchu-Takahashi on the way down from one of the old defensive positions. The view can only be described as amazing.
About half way between the castle and station are two old samurai residences that are a one minute walk from one another. It costs 400 Yen to enter and it gets you into both houses. The first house was the Orii Samurai House.
A 5 minute walk from the Samurai houses is Raikyuji Temple which costs 300 Yen to enter. It does not look like much from the outside, but it has some beautiful gardens.
The old historic quarter is nice but I would not call it being close to one of the best in Japan. I guess I've been to too many towns now so I have high expectations. It's great to watch everyday life though.
Around 8-10 minutes from the historic quarter and just behind the station on the hill is Yakusiin Temple. It has good views, but I would only visit if you have time to kill.
Shorenji Temple is also located next to the previous temple behind the station. It's also the same story as the first temple, it's nice by itself but only come here if you have time to kill
In my opinion, Bitsu-Takahashi has about half a days worth of sightseeing - but the castle and to some degree Raikyuji Temple are really worth the travel. Matsuyama castle at present is my favourite castle in Japan and I've seen many castles.