When telling friends about my forthcoming visit to Japan, their immediate reactions related to Tokyo and Kyoto. My husband and I already had plans to go to those favored and well-known cities as well as Hakone and Nara, but as the trip approached, I had the increasing urge to venture somewhere else. Somewhere a little different that wasn’t found on all the tourist maps.
We had already purchased a JR pass – a discounted rail pass available only for foreigners – so the country was ours to explore. I turned to the Internet and started researching but it wasn’t until a photograph caught my eye that I knew the next stop on our trip would be Kurashiki.
The moment the canal in the Bikan historical section of Kurashiki flashed on my computer screen, the decision was made. I’m not quite sure exactly what it was about the canal that spoke to me, but it looked romantic and cultural and I knew I had to see it in person.
When our train arrived in Kurashiki, I’ll admit I was slightly disappointed. It looked like any other city with its cars, shops and malls. I looked around, desperate to see the cultural snapshot I had seen in my research. Images of a canal surrounded by traffic and being anything but peaceful crept into my mind and I worried we had just taken a three hour train ride only to be let down. Then I noticed the sign directing us to the Bikan historical section.
My husband and I put on our backpacks and started walking. After about ten minutes, the city had been left behind, the streets became narrow and the buildings appeared historic. My hopes started to rise but I still tried to prepare myself incase it wasn’t what I had thought.
We turned a corner and within a few steps, there was the canal. Shimmering in the afternoon light, the canal divided the street in all its romantic beauty, removed from the sounds and the sights of the city.
But in a way, I had been right in my estimation – it wasn’t like the picture I had seen on the Internet. It was better.
Two swans floated past a small wooden boat as the willow trees lining the canal provided evidence that spring was on the way. The buildings along the canal transported me back to the Edo Period of Japanese history and I knew I had found the taste of Japan I had been looking for. The buildings, left intact in their historic splendor, had been transformed from rice storage houses into unique shops and restaurants that filled the area with romantic and historic vibes.
As night came, softly illuminated street lamps reflected on the water of the canal. I sat on a nearby wall as I watched the swans glide along the water. I didn’t want to leave and took in every sight and every sound that I could.
In all the discussions about Japan, I’d never heard of Kurashiki, never had it recommended to me or told it was a must see. But that photo took me there – a photo that had captured a moment in time and while there, I managed to capture my own.
If you do travel to Kurashiki, a day is enough to capture the romance and I highly recommend staying at the Ryokan Tsurugata. It’s located on the canal and the charm of the interior and staff are not to be missed.