From Kyoto to Kawagoe, there are many places in Japan that offer an experience of old Japan. However, tucked away in a quiet corner of the city of Kurashiki lies a hidden travel gem – the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter. Don’t let its size fool you – it may be small, but the Bikan Quarter is one of the best places in Japan to get a feel for what the country was like hundreds of years in the past.
In the 1700s, the Bikan Quarter was a merchants’ district. The canal that runs through the middle of it was constructed for transporting goods for the businesses that operated there. Many of the buildings in the area were one time storehouses for these businesses, but nowadays they house various museums, restaurants, and souvenir shops. The canal now serves as an element of beauty in the quarter, and provides tourists the opportunity for old-fashioned boat rides with a guide.
The history of the Bikan Historical Quarter is only matched by its beauty. In fact, the word “bikan” in Japanese means “beautiful view.” The quarter certainly lives up to that name! Aside from the impressive condition of the old structures in the area, the Bikan Quarter is unique in that there are no dangling wires and cables to be found – all of these are hidden from sight to give a better feel for what the quarter used to be like. In a place like Japan where buildings are so closely packed together, this is extremely rare. Electrical wires and cables often obstruct views even in some of the most popular locations. Exploring the quarter without these obstructions adds to its elegant beauty.
As beautiful as the Bikan Quarter is from the outside, there is a lot to explore inside the buildings as well. There are numerous museums scattered about, including the archaeological museum, the toy museum, and the slightly more modern Ohara museum of art. These alone could take a day to fully enjoy! Along with these are the many cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops to explore and enjoy. Aside from typical souvenirs like t-shirts and key chains, visitors can find local handcrafted accessories, and can even buy a set of fine engraved chopsticks, among other things.
In the evening, many of these shops close and the canal boats cease to run, but don’t head back just yet! The evening lights in the district were developed in coordination with a lighting designer, with the express purpose of adding to the nighttime atmosphere. Old style lanterns line the canal and fill it with warm light, while building lights perfectly illuminate the corners. The lack of wires running every direction makes it that much nicer. It’s just as lovely in the evening as it is during the day, if not more so.
The unique mix of a peaceful canal, architectural beauty and interesting history have earned the Bikan Quarter the title “Venice of Japan.” It’s easy to see why! Although not as famous as the actual Venice, the quarter’s relative obscurity only adds to its charm. Given how amazing a travel location it is you might want to plan your trip there sooner rather than later – it may not stay hidden for much longer!