During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Kurashiki was an important point along the distribution route of Japan's most important commodity, rice. Large quantities of rice from the surrounding area were brought into Kurashiki and intermediately stored there in storehouses before being shipped to Osaka and Edo. Because of the city's importance in the rice trade, Kurashiki was put under direct control of the shogunate, and the city was even named after its many storehouses (kura).
Canals were built to allow boats and barges to navigate between the city's storehouses and the nearby port. A central section of the city's former canal system has been preserved in the Bikan Historical Quarter (倉敷美観地区, Kurashiki Bikan Chiku). The weeping willow trees that line the canal and the stone bridges that cross over the water make for a picturesque scene.
Along the canal, there are many of the original storehouses that were so central to the city's identity. Recognizable by their white walls and black tiles, the former storehouses have been converted into cafes, boutiques, souvenir shops and a number of museums:
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30) Closed: Mondays (unless Monday is a national holiday), Dec 28 to 31 Admission: 1300 yen (includes entrance to the Kojima Museum) English Information: Good (English audio guide available free of charge) Typical Visit Duration: 30-60 minutes
The Ohara Museum is not a converted storehouse, but was built in 1930 specifically as the first museum of Western art in Japan. It houses an impressive collection of Western masterpieces by artists such as Picasso, El Greco, Gauguin, Modigliani, Rodin, Klee, Pollock and Kandinsky.
Museum of Folkcraft
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 16:15 from December to February), Admission ends 15 minutes before closing time Closed: Mondays (unless Monday is a national holiday), Dec 29 to Jan 1 Admission: 700 yen English Information: Minimal Typical Visit Duration: 10-20 minutes
When the Museum of Folkcraft was built in 1948, it was the second folkcraft museum in Japan and the first of Kurashiki's storehouses to be converted into a museum. Examples of everyday items from across Japan are displayed, including textiles, ceramics, lacquerware, etc.
Hours: 10:00 to 17:00 (from 9:30 August to November) Closed: January 1 Admission: 400 yen English Information: Minimal Typical Visit Duration: 10-15 minutes
The toy museum consists of a number of converted storehouse buildings. There are four main display rooms, which feature examples of old toys from all of Japan's 47 prefectures. One room is devoted to variations of the popular daruma doll. There are also shops and a cafe.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 Closed: Mondays and Tuesdays (except national holidays), December 27 to January 2 Admission: 500 yen English Information: None Typical Visit Duration: 10-15 minutes
The Archaeological Museum was opened in 1950 in a converted storehouse, and explores the early history of Japan. There are about 700 examples of pottery and other artefacts from early Japanese civilization, mainly from the region around Kurashiki.
Storehouse Shopping Street
Varies by shop; typically 10:00 to 18:00 Closed: Varies by shop
One block away from the canal, a shopping street runs parallel to the canal. Shops, cafes and restaurants, can be found along here, many housed in historic buildings, offering a quieter place to rest compared to the canal area. Many stores are helmed by young people, projecting a trendy vibe in a traditional setting.
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The canal area is a 10-15 minute walk from Kurashiki Station's south exit. A main road, Motomachi-dori, leads south from the station to the canal area, but walking through the parallel shopping arcade is more enjoyable and almost as fast.
Travelers, who would rather not walk from the station, can take a bus to the Ohara Bijutsukan bus stop (2 minutes, 170 yen), which is located just beside the Ohara Museum.