Story & PhotosOkayama_Villa_Story_%26_Photos_1.htmlOkayama_Villa_Story_%26_Photos_1.htmlshapeimage_13_link_0
Nuts & BoltsOkayama_Villa_Nuts_%26_Bolts.htmlOkayama_Villa_Nuts_%26_Bolts.htmlshapeimage_14_link_0

Green, rural, lovely Okayama would be a great place to relax and get away from city life even without the existence of the Okayama International Villas. But the presence of these excellent low-cost lodges makes Okayama one of the better places to go in Japan. Originally there were six villas, built by the prefecture specifically to allow foreign travelers to experience rural Japan. They represented the best of the effort to revitalize rural communities suffering from severe depopulation as the younger people gravitate to the cities. Sadly, due to the loss of much of the prefectural support in the aftermath of the economic downturn of 2008, all but two of the original villas were closed.

However, in the past few years, two of the villas that closed have reopened as privately run facilities, meaning that four of the original six villas are now open again!  Each of these villas is different - a traditional farmhouse, a coastal hilltop venue, a mountain lodge and a lovely Inland Sea island retreat - but all are equipped with cooking and laundry facilities, and all four are definitely worth a visit.

The two remaining “official” prefectural villas (Hattoji and Shiraishi) and the two reopened ones (Ushimado, still called Ushimado International Villa, and Fukiya, now renamed Eleven Village) are located roughly in the four corners of the southern half of the prefecture, making it relatively easy to get from one to the other. The newly revamped route starts in the east, at Hattoji way up in the mountains (meaning that you get the most challenging hill out of the way first). From there, we go a short distance south to Ushimado on the coast. The next ride, to the picturesque mountain town of Fukiya, is the longest, but as it passes directly through the prefecture’s largest city (Okayama), it can be broken up with a stay at any of the many accommodations in the city center. After leaving Okayama City, the route goes along a 20-kilometer-long bikepath and then up into the mountains to the preserved mountain village of Fukiya. Finally, we cycle down from the western end of Fukiya to the port city of Kasaoka and take a short ferry to Shiraishi, an island in the Inland Sea. The order of the first two villas can be reversed if it’s more convenient to start your trip from Ushimado; we’ll add more information on that route at a future date. Also note that although that the Fukiya villa has been renamed “Eleven Village,” the town itself is still Fukiya (officially Fukiya Furusato-mura).

(For those who have fond memories of the two villas that were closed permanently, the original pages with photos of those two villas are presented at the end of the “Story & Photos” section, in the archived pages A1 - A4.)