From the 17th through the 19th century, this vital shipping port supplied Osaka with cotton, textiles, sugar, reeds, and rice. Today Kurashiki thrives on income from tourism. If your views were limited to what you see just outside the station, you'd be forgiven for thinking Kurashiki is just another overindustrialized modern Japanese city. We strongly recommend, however, walking 10 minutes southeast of the station to Bikan Chiku, a neighborhood of canals, bridges, shops, restaurants, ryokans, and museums.

You can see most of Kurashiki's sights in a day, but it's worth staying longer, perhaps in a splendid old ryokan, to fully appreciate the time-machine aspect of the place. The Bikan district is artfully lighted up at night, and a stroll down the willow-draped canals after a sumptuous meal can be an unforgettably romantic journey. The town also makes a convenient base for trips to Hiroshima (1 hour; ¥6,550) and Himeji (49 minutes; ¥4,190). Note that virtually the entire town shuts down on Monday.

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