Okayama, Japan: a place to see Japan at a quieter pace

When I went to Japan several years back, the U.S. dollar was the pits against the yen. Luckily I had a friend of a friend of my brother’s to stay with in Tokyo. I had a Japanese rail pass for a week so we ventured out on day trips mostly, except for two nights in Kyoto. We went on a day trip to Nara from there. Other trips were to Kamakura and Nikko. This was an impressionistic sort of trip. Japan is such a vivid place that I can conjure up pictures of most of it.

Now that my friend has moved back to Japan, I’m thinking another trip to Japan is in order, particularly since we have another place to go. Okayama, where my friend now lives, looks like it’s a perfect sized city for visiting with children, and one where its possible to taken in the nuances of Japanese culture. In an odd way, it seems to be to Japan what Columbus is to the United States–a reflection of the rest of the country without being overwhelming. There is enough to see and do to make it interesting, but because of the size, the people and sites are accessible.

I’m getting this from the Okayama page at Wikitravel that lists several attractions you can take in.

Here are highlights:

There’s the Korakuen Garden, one of the three Great Gardens in Japan. It dates back to 1687.

The Okayama Castle is a tribute to the tenacity of the Japanese. Destroyed during WWII, it was rebuilt to look like it did before. This might be a place my friend could be an English speaking tour guide–a suggestion Shane left on my post about helping my friend find English speakers.

The Oriental Museum is the place to find out about trade between Persia and Japan. I bet this is a great place to see similarities between textile designs of Persia and pottery designs of Japan. Maybe not, but I would guess.

Sogenji Temple offers free meditation. Plus, temples in Japan are some of the most relaxation producing places on the planet. Here’s also a place to participate in a tea ceremony.

Shizutani School is possibly the oldest public school in the world. It is the oldest school in Japan to be built as an every person’s school. Today it is a national treasure.

There’s also Muscat Stadium, a sports stadium that has baseball games from time to time; a big monthly flea market and the statue of Momotaro. Plus, there’s Mt. Misaoyama for hiking, hot springs for soaking and bike rentals.

Okay, now that I’ve outlined some of what there is to do in Okayama, I have to say, it looks a bit more interesting than Columbus–by a mile.

Phone call: Back in Japan and looking for Americans

My Japanese friend, who recently moved back to Japan, called me this weekend. Her kids are doing fine. Her husband is in the throes of work, and she is wondering how she can keep up with her English. As a person who fit well in the United States, her life back in Japan is taking some adjusting. She’s happy to reconnect with family and friends, but she’s missing here.

I promised to find her some Americans in Okayama where she is living. Okayama, a city past Kyoto, even further from Tokyo, is not exactly an expat hot spot. She’s been on a hunt for English speakers without much luck. I did a Web search after we hung up and, although I have yet to find any Americans for her, I think I found English speakers. There is a Toastmaster’s Club.

Most of the Okayama Toastmaster Club’s Web site is written in Japanese, but there is another site with information on Toastmaster Clubs in Japan with links to each of them. From what I can tell, the purpose of Toastmasters in Japan is to give people a venue for giving speeches in English and to help people improve their public speaking abilities in general.

Toastmasters International has clubs all over the world. If you’re in the need for some public speaking help and a place to meet people, here’s a suggestion.