A Course to Visit the Great Garden Okayama Korakuen and Experience Japanese Culture
The most famous Japanese folk tale is probably “Momotaro.” Did you know that one of the models of his story of defeating demons can be found here in Okayama? Enshrined at Kibitsu Shrine is Kibitsuhiko, a historical figure who was a son of the seventh Emperor Korei, and was sent to the Chugoku region and conquered Okayama. According to legend, here he defeated a terrible demon called Ura. Buried and enshrined, the sound of Ura’s head boiling in a cauldron is used to tell the fortune in the form of the mysterious “Narukama Shinji” ritual. It’s an important ceremony that has been passed down through generations until the present at Kibitsu Shrine. The legend of Kibitsuhiko and Momotaro’s story indeed have similarities. However, to say that demons actually existed in ancient Okayama is unrealistic. Then was a hero like Momotaro really just a legend?
During the Sengoku period (1467-1590), a vast mudflat used to exist facing the Seto Inland Sea in areas called Bizen and Bitchu in southern Okayama. Ukita Hideie, a vassal of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, established Okayama Castle, and began a large-scale polder in order to make use of the mudflat as a farmland. Even after Hideyoshi was defeated in the Battle of Sekigahara, the project was continued by Ikeda, who succeeded the Okayama Domain. Thanks to great feudal lords and advanced technology, the Kojima Peninsula and Kurashiki area, which were once islands floating in the Seto Inland Sea, were connected to the land, and presented Okayama with a large and rich area of cultivated land.
In 1686, the second daimyo, Ikeda Tsunamasa, started construction of the “Korakuen” garden, which was to have a total area of approximately 40,000 tsubo (1 tsubo = about 3.3 square meters), as a retreat area on the opposite shore of the Asahi River north of Okayama Castle. Tsuda Nagatada, the vassal who was in charge of creating the garden, was a figure who also played an active part in the polder and irrigation project. Around 1700, the large heart-soothing garden was completed. With Yuishinzan, an artificial hill created by Tsunamasa’s son Tsugumasa, as well as the Ryuten rest area for the daimyo located on top of a waterway, the garden is an important historic site full of stylish garden art of the Edo period.
Making use of the tides of the river, transportation also developed. Kurashiki in particular, which used to be a stockyard and stopping point for transport of rice and cotton to Kamigata, transformed into a large commercial city under shogunate control where a magistrate’s office was placed. In addition, the textile industry has grown in modern times. The Ohara Museum of Art built in 1930 by Magosaburo Ohara, who ran a Kurashiki spinning business, was Japan’s first private museum themed around Western art. It is known widely even today for having many world-class masterpieces, such as Monet’s “Water Lilies.” By improving the lives of the people by “defeating devils” in the form of flood control, the many predecessors who left us in the present with various cultures and historic sites may have been the real heroes of Okayama.