Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Bizen – The City Famed for Pottery and the Stunning Scenery

If you admire pottery, you will definitely want Bizen City (備前市) to be on your itinerary. You can easily spend a whole day strolling through all the pottery shops scattered around JR Imbe Station. We are sure that you will find some exquisite pieces of artwork that you would like to own. As one of the six oldest kilns in Japan, there is even a shrine that is mostly decorated with locally produced ceramics! And, if that isn’t enough to impress you, how about a shrine where they deified cows to worship as gods? When you pay homage, you throw little calves into the “donation box” instead of throwing money!

There are also a couple of spots in the city with great scenery. We have included them in the below list of attractions for you to consider!

Shizutani School (旧閑谷学校)

Ⓒ Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation

Shizutani School is the oldest public school in Japan. Established in the early 1670s by the then Okayama Domain’s lord, Ikeda Mitsumasa (池田 光政), for all citizens in his territory, including commoners. The school has nurtured many talented leaders throughout Japanese history.

Most of the school buildings have been designated as Important Cultural Properties, with the main lecture hall designated as a National Treasure. So when you are admiring the interiors of the buildings, try to be very careful and don’t break anything, or you will be paying it off for a very long time…

The flooring in the main lecture hall has a very enticing-looking shiny surface that may tempt you to want to feel it with your hands. It is painted with lacquer which may get damaged by the oil on our hands, so let’s protect it by not touching the lacquered part of the floor (=゚ω゚)ノ.

You might notice the buildings are Chinese in style, and there is a good reason for it. The lectures delivered at this school were from Confucianism, a philosophy that focuses on the importance of personal ethics and morality. Located in a quiet natural spot away from the hustle and bustle, it is no wonder that many students who graduated from the school made some big achievements in their lifetimes!

When Is the Best Time to Visit Shizutani School?

The school is also a spot known for its beautiful autumn foliage. So if you plan to come on weekends and public holidays from early to mid-November, our advice is to utilize public transport.

In early spring, from mid to late March, you will get some gorgeous plum blossom scenery with the traditional buildings as backdrops. Just as the plum blossom season ends, like running a relay, the baton is passed to the cherry blossoms, which bloom from late March to early April.

The Tsubakiyama (椿山) or Camellia Hill on one side of the school grounds has around 400 camellias planted on both sides of the path leading to Ikeda Mitsumasa’s burial mound. The trees are now so big that it is basically a tunnel of Camellias!

If you love camellia flowers, plan your next visit in winter to early spring. Your best photo opportunities should be from February to early March (^_-)-☆.

Ⓒ Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation

You can always refer to the school map HERE to better understand what to expect when you are there!

Shizutani School’s Opening Hours, Entry Fees, and Access Information

  • The school opens daily from 9 am to 5 pm except between the 29th to the 31st of December
  • The entry fee is
    • 400 yen for adults
    • 100 yen for elementary and junior high school students
    • 200 yen for the elderly who are 65 years and above
  • You can take a bus from JR Yoshinaga Station (吉永駅) or JR Bizen-Katakami Station (備前片上駅) and get off at Shizutani School (旧閑谷学校).
    • HERE is the timetable for the bus services that will stop at Shizutani School
    • 平日のみ運行 = The service only operates on weekdays
    • 土曜のみ運行 = The service only operates on Saturdays and won’t operate if the Saturday falls on a public holiday

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Bizen City.

Hattōji Furusato Village (八塔寺ふるさと村)

Driving along the windy road and slowly climbing up the mountain, your field of vision will suddenly widen!

Located at an altitude of 400 meters, the Hattōji Village was where Buddhism used to prosper as much as Mt. Kōya (高野山). Although there are only around 13 houses (and families) that live in the village, it is a great place to enjoy, discover and imagine the ancient Japanese country lifestyle (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Ⓒ Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation

For more information, please refer to our article on Hattōji Furusato Village!

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Bizen City.

Takuraushi Shrine (田倉牛神社)

Ⓒ Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation

Takuraushi Shrine is one of the only few shrines in Japan that deifies animals rather than humans. The gods here are actually cows! Holy Cows!

The shrine used to be a place for people to pray for the well-being of their cows. Now that you don’t find cows in the backyard of most houses, the locals come here to pray for the safety of their families, a good harvest for the year, and prosperity for their businesses.

How to Pray at Takuraushi Shrine

The uniqueness of the shrine doesn’t just stop at who the gods are. Instead of throwing coins into the donation box at a worship hall, the worshipers purchase a calf made of Bizen ware at the shrine’s entrance. The calf is then offered to the statues of the Cow gods. This is why more than 300,000 calves are in front of the cow statues!

And the ritual continues. It is now time to select a calf as a good luck charm from the mountain of calves. As all the calves have their own distinct looks, some people will spend a long time before they decide which one to bring home. It is almost like choosing the perfect dog or cat in a pet shop (´▽`*).

You can be forgiven for thinking that something doesn’t add up. Where did the mountain of calves come from if you are supposed to offer one up and then also take one back? Theoretically, there shouldn’t be any calves left in front of the gods.

The last bit of the ritual goes like this – if you accomplished what you asked the gods to help you achieve, you must repay them by offering a calf. On this occasion, you do not bring one home. Judging by that mountain of calves, the gods here must have helped so many people! So when you visit the shrine on your next trip, maybe it is worthwhile to make a wish in front of the cows. It might be easier for you to achieve what you are keen to accomplish (^_-)-☆.

How to Get to Takuraushi Shrine

It is a 30-minute walk from JR Yoshinaga Station (吉永駅).

Or take the bus services Fukuishi Line (福石線) that departs from JR Yoshinaga Station and get off at Ushigamisha Iriguchi (牛神社入口).

  • The timetable for services departing from JR Yoshinaga Station is HERE.
  • For services going back to JR Yoshinaga Station, please refer to THIS TIMETABLE.
  • Please note the service is currently running on weekdays only.

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Bizen City.

Bizen♡Hinase Bridge (備前♡日生大橋)

Ⓒ Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation

The 765 meters long bridge was completed in 2015. It connects Kakushi Island (鹿久居島) and Kashira Island (頭島) with Japan’s main island. You can freely walk or cycle on the bridge, so it is another spot in Okayama Prefecture to admire the scenery of the Seto Inland Sea.

Before the bridge was completed, transportation was really inconvenient for the residents of Kashira Island. They even had a campaign that resulted in each of them donating 500 yen each month to fund the bridge’s construction. The bridge is really a product of their generosity!

As for the heart symbol in the name of the bridge, it is official (´▽`*). It is probably the only bridge in the world with an icon as part of its name. If you are visiting Bizen City, stop by JR Hinase Station (日生駅) and take a selfie with the bridge monument name sign!

Tip: Wild deer are living across the bridge on Kakushi Island. While it isn’t guaranteed that you will bump into one when you stroll around the island, there are other attractions such as ancient ruins that will keep you entertained! However, if you are after the deer, it is best to try your luck early in the morning (^_-)-☆.

How to Get to Bizen♡Hinase Bridge

The bridge is just a 10-minute walk from JR Hinase Station (日生駅).

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Bizen City.

Yudachiukeyama (夕立受山)

If you enjoy a bit of hiking, we would advise you to admire the sunset at Yudachiukeyama. Although the mountain only has a height of 210 meters, the panoramic view of the Seto Inland Sea is even better than the one you get from Bizen♡Hinase Bridge.

As the entire hiking trail is well-maintained with a toilet at the trailhead, you won’t need any hiking equipment to get to the peak. This makes it the perfect hiking spot for all age groups – especially young families (^_-)-☆.

There is a car park located at the trailhead. If you are taking a bus, it is just a 10 to 15-minute walk from the bus stop to the trailhead. To get to the top of Mt. Yudachiuke, you only need to hike for another 20 – 30 minutes.

Whilst the slope may be steep for some, it is definitely an easy mountain to climb. A stunning view awaits you at the end of the staircases!

If you have time, don’t just be satisfied with the view from the summit of Mt. Yudachiuke. The promenade keeps going all the way to the other summit that is connected with Mt. Yudachiuke (=゚ω゚)ノ because it has an even better view of this part of the Seto Inland Sea.

The name of Mt. Yudachiuke came from the ritual the farmers used to perform during times of drought. The farmers back then would start a huge bonfire, and the smoke would go so high that it seemed like it was connecting the heavens with the earth. Because an abundant amount of rainfall usually follows the ritual, the mountain is named “rain receiving” with “Yudachi” meaning rain and “Uke” meaning received.

Trekking to the Other Observation Deck Close By

From Mt. Yudachiuke, if you follow the trekking trail by first climbing down before you head up again, you will reach the first lookout that will give you a view similar to the Instagram post. Continue trekking, there will be another two observation decks before you reach the turning back point.

The views from the three lookouts are all pretty similar. It just depends on how far you want the Katakami Bridge (片上大橋) to be in the distance for your photo of the sunset. The further away you want it to be, the more you have to trek.

If you are trekking the entire trail, a return trip will take around 2 hours from the trailhead. Of course, if you are waiting for the sunset or taking photos here and there, it will take longer.

Tip: Remember to bring a torch or flashlight if you are coming for the sunset.

If you are wondering what those rectangular things are on the surface of the water, those are the oyster farming rafts.

Mt. Yudachiuke’s Spring and Autumn

Along the trails of Mt. Yudachiuke, cherry blossom trees and mimosas are planted. Note that the mimosa here isn’t the cocktail you get from a bar. It is a type of plant that bears gorgeous yellow flowers (*´ω`). So if you want your hike to be more colorful, come in early or mid-April!

For fall foliage, usually, you can expect some beautiful colors from late November to early December.

How to Get to Mt. Yudachiuke

It is a 10-minute drive from JR Iri Station (伊里駅).

If you don’t feel like splurging money on a taxi, you can also take the buses on the Hinase Line (日生線) from JR Hinase Station (日生駅) and get off at Kise stop (木生).

  • HERE is the weekday timetable for services departing JR Hinase Station
  • For weekends and public holidays, please refer to HERE
  • HERE is the weekday timetable for services heading back to JR Hinase Station
  • HERE is the timetable for weekends and public holidays.

For the same bus service, you can also board the bus from JR Bizen-Katakami Station (備前片上駅), which is the terminal stop of the service.

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Bizen City.

Shinkōji Temple (真光寺)

Shinkōji Temple is a great spot for fans of traditional Japanese architecture. The main worship hall and its three-storied pagoda were built between the 14th and 16th centuries, so they are both now designated as Important Cultural Properties in Japan.

Ⓒ Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation

Something that we found interesting about the temple is that the grounds are divided into two parts Σ(゚Д゚). In the 1950s, a highway and a JR train tracks were built on the part of the path leading to the worship halls. Subsequently, the area around the main gate was re-zoned as a residential area.

When you come from the JR Nishi-Katakami Station (西片上駅), you will find that the main gate stands amongst residential properties. To get to the best parts of the temple, you will have to go past the overhead bridges across the train track and the highway. In fact, the three-story pagoda is just located directly next to the highway!

If you fancy a bit of hiking, how about taking the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage route (西国三十三観音) in the mountain behind?

How to Get to Shinkōji Temple

It is just a 5-minute walk from Nishi-Katakami Station (西片上駅).

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Bizen City.

Amatsu Shrine (天津神社)

If you have had enough of the regular Japanese shrines and are looking for something different, or just love Japanese pottery, pay Amatsu Shrine a visit!

With a long history dating back to 1570, the shrine’s torii gate might not look as fascinating as others that are less ancient, but that is not what the shrine is about anyway. The first thing that will really catch the attention of worshipers is the Komainu (狛犬), or lion-dogs in English, on both sides of the gate.

Ⓒ Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation

The lion-like statues guarding the shrine were made of shiny Bizen ware, giving it a very different glow from normal stone statues (=゚ω゚)ノ.

It is not only the Komainu statues that are made of Bizen ware. The roof tiles, the decorations on the wall of the path leading to the worship hall, the majority of animal decorations on the ground, and even the floor tiles in the worship hall are all made of Bizen ware!

Ⓒ Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation

At the top of a set of steep staircases is where the main worship hall and other small halls are located. As the shrine has no office, the wooden plaques, charms, and fortune slips get placed beside the donation box.

It always makes us happy to see this kind of self-service shop front as it symbolizes the trust that the shrine has in the honesty of the locals (*´ω`).

Amatsu Shrine’s History

The shrine enshrining the god of medicine and healing illnesses was originally located elsewhere. In 1570, when the Imbe area (伊部) was having an epidemic outbreak, the shrine was moved to its current location according to an oracle from the god. Consequently, the epidemic ended.

Because the famous scholar – Sugawara no Michizane (菅原道真), who passed away in 903, is also enshrined here, it is also the shrine where people pray for academic excellence.

How to Get to Amatsu Shrine

It is a 7-minute walk from JR Imbe Station (伊部駅).

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Bizen City.

Bizen Pottery Festival (備前焼まつり)

Bizen ware is one of the six oldest kilns in Japan. Since 1983, the Bizen Pottery Festival or Bizen-Yaki Festival has been held on the 3rd weekend in October. During the festival, there are more than 400,000 pieces of pottery items on sale.

You can bring home most of the items at a 20% discount during the two-day festival. As a bonus, you can enter a draw to win one of 4,000 prizes when you spend up big! That is why in recent years, more than 100,000 shoppers have flocked to the Imbe area during the festival (≧▽≦).

Of course, apart from the pottery, there are food stalls, stage performances, street parades, and locals dancing in the streets! There will also be pottery-making experiences, but before you participate, just make sure they will be able to ship your finished product to where you live because it is unlikely that they will be able to fire it in the kilns on the day.

If you are coming to the festival, we recommend arriving the night before. There will be rituals performed at night where the main torch gets lit at Amatsu Shrine. The participants light their fires from the main torch and parade them throughout the streets.

When and Where is Bizen Pottery Festival Held

  • The festival usually starts from 9 am and ends at 5:30 pm on Saturday and 4:30 pm on Sunday
  • When coming by train, please get off at JR Imbe Station (伊部駅), which is around 35 minutes from JR Okayama Station (岡山駅)

Pottery Experiences during the Year

Numerous pottery shops hold workshops daily around JR Imbe Station. They may require that you book in advance and the firing of your pottery is unlikely to take place on the same day. This means you probably need an address in Japan for them to ship the finished product to you. As we haven’t made pottery at any of the shops, we won’t be recommending any of them just yet. However, if you are keen, you can let us know, and we can do some research for you to see if any of them have a workshop for those who don’t speak Japanese and can potentially ship your pottery overseas. For now, you can refer to HERE for a shop owner who does speak English.

Bizen Pottery Museum (備前市立備前焼ミュージアム)

For those who love pottery, Bizen Pottery Museum is where you want to visit. In the museum, you will find pottery made by the masters of the area!

  • The museum is just a 1-minute walk from JR Imbe Station
  • It opens from 9 am to 5 pm daily except Mondays and from the 29th of December to the 3rd of January
  • The admission fee is
    • 500 yen for adults
    • 300 yen for high school and university students
    • Entry is free for junior high school students and younger

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Bizen City.

Fukushōji Temple (福生寺)

Ⓒ Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation

Fukushōji is an ancient temple buried deep in Mt. Kuma or Kumayama (熊山). The temple was built in the 750s and was revived in the 13th century by the then Shogunate Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政).

The temple used to be so prosperous that it had a total of 33 worship halls spread across a side of Mt. Kuma. Judging by the distance between the main gate to the main worship hall and where the three-storied pagoda is located, it isn’t hard to imagine how big the temple grounds used to be.

The three-storied pagoda that was rebuilt in 1441 was designated as a National Important Cultural Property. If you carefully climb up to where the pagoda is, you will get a wide view of the temple grounds blending in with the surrounding nature.

You might notice no monks or staff are working there when you get there. Fukushōji Temple is actually currently looked after by the monks in the three worship halls – Fukuju-In (福寿院), Nishihō-In (西法院), and Jissō-In (実相院) located close to the temple. If you visit Okayama between mid-June to early July, remember to drop by Nishihō-In for the hydrangea flowers. When the 70,000 hydrangeas bloom, the scenery is so gorgeous that it got its nickname – Hydrangea Temple (あじさい寺)!

If you enjoy hiking, you can hike all the way up to the peak of Kumayama. As you hike up, you will come across a few observation decks and shrines. Please note that not all of the mountain trail is properly maintained. Parts of the trail were formed naturally over time when other hikers made their way to the top.

How to Get to Fukushōji Temple

It is a 10-minute drive or a 40-minute walk from JR Kagato Station (香登駅).

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Bizen City.

Fruits Park Bizen (フルーツパークびぜん)

Ⓒ Okayama Prefecture Tourism Federation

Partially due to the Japanese folktale – Momotarō (Peach Boy), Okayama Prefecture is famous for peaches. It is not hard to see how the legend of Momotarō being born out of a giant peach came about. Although the peaches here aren’t big enough to fit a baby, the prefecture certainly produces a large number of peaches.

If you are after some truly delicious peaches, you have got to pick them fresh from the trees. The peaches they sell in supermarkets get harvested before they are fully ripened, so you just don’t get the nice fragrance flavor you get right off the tree.

So come to Fruits Park Bizen to have one of the most delicious peaches in your life! The peaches here aren’t just juicy. They are also incredibly sweet! If you are in a hurry, you can quickly grab a few from their shop, too (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Fruit Picking at Fruits Park Bizen

Peaches, grapes, and mandarins that are planted at the park can be harvested from July to mid-December. You can refer to their website HERE for the season of each fruit.

  • The peach season is marked with a pink line
  • The grape season with the green line
  • The orange line represents the mandarin season.

Please note you will need to make a reservation to do fruit picking at Fruits Park Bizen by a phone call at +81-869-65-2225. If you can’t speak Japanese, you can kindly ask your accommodation provider to make a phone call for you. The price and quantity of fruit you can take home depend on the type of fruit you picked. The cheapest price tag is 1,000 yen to bring back one cluster of grapes or one bucket of mandarins. Please bear in mind that you can’t bring fruit back to Australia (and most countries) through customs.

Fruits Park Bizen’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • The fruit shop opens from 8:30 am to 5 pm.
  • Fruit picking is from 9 am to 4 pm.
  • It is a 12-minute drive from JR Osafune Station (長船駅).

You can also take the Higashi-Tsuruyama Line (東鶴山線) bus services from either JR Osafune Station (長船駅) or JR Bizen-Katakami Station (備前片上駅) or Iri Station (伊里駅), and get off at Sayama-Nishi (佐山西) stop. The park is then just a 5-minute walk. The timetables below are in Japanese, so please use the Japanese name of the bus stops to read them.

  • The timetable from JR Osafune Station to Sayama-Nishi for weekdays can be found HERE. For weekends, refer to THIS TIMETABLE
  • The timetable from JR Bizen-Katakami Station to Sayama-Nishi for weekdays can be found HERE. For weekends, refer to THIS TIMETABLE

Click HERE to get back to a list of attractions in Bizen City.

Extend Your Visit to Setouchi City Next Door

Click the photo to find out how to get to this stunning spot!

If you enjoy walking along the beachside as the sun slowly disappears behind the horizon, make sure you drop by Setouchi City (瀬戸内市) in Okayama Prefecture. The sunset you see was voted as one of the top 100 sunsets in Japan!

It is also a great spot to visit for anyone who finds samurai swords fascinating. Plan your visit to see a swordsmith making a real sword in front of you!

For more information, refer to our Setouchi City article (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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