Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture
Bizen City is about an hour’s drive to the east of Okayama City. According to some Japanese friends, it’s apparently an uninteresting place to live. But it’s definitely great for sightseeing because even an Okayama City resident like me would go there almost every season. Maybe it’s because I am a foreigner and most of us come here because we are attracted to the culture. But there’s always something to see in Bizen all year round and of course, I always look forward to the eating part as well.
In winter, the quiet port town of Hinase in Bizen is bustling with visitors from all over the region who come for their oysters. You can enjoy their all-you-can-eat grilled oysters, have them added into your yakisoba or in your okonomiyaki. This local delicacy is called “kakioko”. I usually manage to avoid this savory pancake okonomiyaki, especially the Kansai version of it because one serving could be too filling. But recently, I decided to give it a try simply because I love seafood. And for the first time in 17 years of my life in Japan, I finished the whole thing thanks to the fresh, juicy oysters!
If you drive there from Okayama and take the Blue Line road, you will see a lovely view of the oyster farms just before reaching Hinase. It’s especially beautiful in fall as you can see the lovely foliage in the islands in the background too. There’s a small parking area on either side of the bridge so you can get out of the car to take some photos. It could be a little dangerous as the traffic can be a little fast and there are a lot of trucks too so be extra careful!
However, if you are allergic to seafood and unable to relish their oysters, you can always try the Bizen burger, which uses 100% Chiya beef patties, topped with demi-glace and a special citrusy sauce. You can find Bizen burger stalls at festivals in Okayama City and there is a shop selling it just a few meters away from the main attraction in Bizen, none other than the Shizutani School.
It was the first public school in Japan and it was also the oldest free public school in the world. It’s a little far from the sea and surrounded by hills. I absolutely love the serenity of being around so much nature and there’s something about wooden buildings that remind me of home.
But don’t expect it to be that peaceful in fall because of all the visitors armed with their cameras who will be visiting for the Chinese pistachio trees. The leaves are lit at night in fall and they are simply breathtaking. All you have to do is try to enjoy that breathtaking view while trying to make sure no one is photobombing your shots.
You can also see the gorgeous plum and cherry blossoms just outside the school in spring. It’s surprisingly not as rowdy as it is in fall so I personally prefer to drive all the way from Okayama to enjoy Hanami here instead of doing it downtown.
Bizen is undeniably a great place to unwind while enjoying nature, food and history.