Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kurashiki, Japan

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Kurashiki City or Kurashiki-shi(倉敷市)is a historic city located to the west of Okayama, Japan, sitting on the Takahashi River, on the coast of the Inland Sea.Kurashiki (倉敷) is one of Japan's great old merchant towns. Situated along a scenic canal at the foot of Mt. Tsurugata, Kurashiki's white-walled storehouses are beautifully preserved and open for exploration. Kurashiki is located on the eastern side of Honshu, the largest of the four main islands of Japan, 650 km south-west of Tokyo. It is part of the Okayama prefecture.

The modern city of Kurashiki was founded on April 1, 1928. Previously, it was the site of clashes between the Heike and Genji clans during the Heian period. It gradually developed as a riverport; during the Edo period, it became an area directly controlled by the Shogunate. Distinctive white-walled, black-tiled warehouses were built to store goods. During the Meiji Restoration (Japan's Industrial Revolution period), factories were built, including the Ohara Spinning Mill which still stands as the nostalgic tourist attraction Ivy Square.

On August 1, 2005, the town of Mabi, from Kibi District, and the town of Funao, from Asakuchi District, were merged with Kurashiki.

Visitors to Kurashiki can gain an insight into the city's past in the beautiful Bikan Historical Quarter, an area of traditional homes, storehouses and canals that date back to the Edo period.

During the Edo period, Kurashiki did heavy trade with the capital in rice, sugar, and other goods. Later, during the Meiji Restoration, the city became known for textiles. Kurashiki escaped World War II largely unscathed, and as a result, many of the original storehouses, mills, and shops remain in beautiful condition, open to visitors in the Bikan Historic Area.

The effect is delightful — storehouses (倉 kura) with lattice windows share space with weeping willows along the banks of the old canal, which is illuminated at night. The canal has led some overly optimistic tourist associations to call Kurashiki "the Venice of Japan". If not that — the city surrounding the Bikan area is as much a concrete jumble as any other in the country — Kurashiki is still a rare piece of old Japan, one that gives a sense of where people lived and worked, not merely the temples at which they worshipped.

The old merchant quarter is called the Bikan historical area. It contains many fine examples of 17th century wooden warehouses (kura, 倉) painted white with traditional black tiles, along a canal framed with weeping willows and filled with koi. The area has no electric poles in order to make the area more closely resemble the look of the Meiji period. The nearby AEON Shopping Center is a popular destination for the locals. One of the city's former town halls was located in the Kurashiki Kan, a European style building constructed in 1917.

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