Leaving the depressing gardens, we went in search of shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ), because my friend was craving it. It didn’t seem such a bad idea at all. Nothing like some steaming hot broth to warm up freezing bodies, I thought.
A light rain accompanied us en-route to the shabu shabu restaurant, as we navigated through some winding (and partially hidden) alleys in search of the hotpot paradise, aided by Google Maps.
Suddenly, the heavens decided to throw a tantrum, and it started pouring buckets!!
Just then, we spotted the shabu shabu place from across the street and dashed for it, only to be greeted by a wooden sign hanging on its door that read “定休日” (meaning “designated rest day”).
We collapsed on the bench next to the entrance of the restaurant, exhausted and convinced that our day must have been cursed from the start.
There’s nowhere to go for now, because of the rain. So while waiting it out, I browsed Tripadvisor in search of the nearest place that might interest us.
I suggested this authentic (presumably) Indian/Nepalese diner that had some pretty good reviews (Besides, naan and curry were a slice of home for us). If we couldn’t have soup, something spicy could do the trick.So there we checked in (after about half an hour of waiting), when the torrential rains slowed to a drizzle. The restaurant’s interiors are surprisingly simple, sparse even. No ornate paintings of Hindu gods hanging on the walls or wooden sculptures of Krishna or elephants.My friend couldn’t help ogling (yes, shamelessly ogling) at the young dashing Indian waiter who served us, so much so she decided to ask for a selfie with him after we had finished our meal. The naan and curry we had were superbly done, crispy around the edges while not losing its chewy texture. And the curry was deliciously spicy – nothing too overwhelming but enough to give you that kick.
Many Indian restaurants in Japan would give you a scale of spiciness from 0 to 10 to choose from to cater to the generally low spice tolerance of Japanese. I went with a 5 while my friend opted for a 4.
Sufficiently (and satisfyingly) fueled, we ventured out onto the streets again.
We made our way back to Okayama Station, with the smell of rain (and curry) lingering on our noses.
Our next stop was Kurashiki (倉敷), a mandatory visit if you are in Okayama.
Only 15 minutes from Okayama Station on the JR Sanyo Line, followed by a 10-minute walk down south from Kurashiki Station along Motomachi-dori (元町道り) or via a sheltered shopping arcade that runs parallel to it, you will be instantly transported back in time to the Edo Period (1603-1867) at Kurashiki Canals (倉敷美観地区).Not quite Venice-beautiful, but nonetheless picturesque, Kurashiki Canals (倉敷美観地区) used to be an important rice distribution centre during its halcyon days.
Populated by rice storehouses, built round a network of narrow canals to facilitate transportation, these storehouses, painstakingly preserved, have been converted to museums, cafes, boutique hotels and shops selling local sweets or Japanese handicrafts.There’s even a specialty store that sells all things sesame – you have to check it out!! We went omiyage (お土産) window-shopping, tasting the different Japanese sweets but not buying any of them. Very cheeky of us I know (and perhaps not very nice) but hey, Japanese omiyage can be very expensive!!!There’s also the incongruously Western-looking/Romanesque Ohara Museum of Art (大原美術館), apparently Japan’s first museum of Western art, featuring works by Picasso, El Greco, Gauguin, Modigliani, Rodin, Klee, Pollock and Kandinsky among others.
We decided to skip the museum, since neither of us was into art.
My friend wanted to go on a gondola ride but it seemed like New Year’s Eve was not a day for gondola business.
One tip for visitors is to come early, because we noticed that all the shops started to close for the day at around six in the evening.
So if you arrive after sundown, there’s really nothing to see or do except to stroll along the eerily quiet canals.
But if photography (or taking selfies) is your thing, Kurashiki Canals is most alluring in the soft evening glow. LS
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