Getting There

Okayama is a central rail link for both regular and shinkansen bullet trains. Plan on at least three hours and fifteen minutes (or up to four hours) if coming from Tokyo. From Shin-Osaka, it's only about 40 minutes. Those on a budget should know that JR's shinkaisoku commuter trains barrel from as far away as the eastern edge of Lake Biwa for only the price of the regular ticket (no express charges). However, they only go as far west as Himeji, and there appear to be few kaisoku commuter expresses each day between Himeji and Okayama (and the regular train takes considerably longer), so you’ll have to plan carefully if you’re on a budget.

If you’re starting with Hattoji, the nearest stations are Kamigori or Yoshinaga on the main JR line. As noted in the Story & Photos section, the distance is shorter from Kamigori but the ride is more strenuous.

If you’re starting with Ushimado, the nearest train station is Oku on the Ako line. You can take the regular train west to Aioi and then change to the southern Ako line. Note that this is a leisurely line; it will take you at least an hour to get from Aioi to Oku.


It doesn't make much sense to do a villa tour unless you've reserved the villas, and this is less straightforward now that two of the four are privately operated. Decide on your route and then make sure you have reservations for all the villas in order on the right dates. For purposes of clarity, the prefectural villas will be discussed separately from the other two that are now privately operated.

Hattoji and Shiraishi are still official Okayama International Villas, but Ushimado and Fukiya (now named “Eleven Village”) are  privately operated.  At present, there’s no central telephone number or website for making reservations. So you’ll have to reserve Hattoji and Shiraishi by contacting the prefecture (in English OK) and reserve the other two separately by contacting them directly. Up until recently there has been no information on English for the non-prefectural ones, but the Ushimado villa page now has English (and even an English reservation form!) and Eleven Village will have English as well in the near future.

At last report, the prefectural villas could be reserved SIX months in advance (to the day). In the past, many people were very well organized and got in their calls and faxes at 9:00 sharp on the designated day. So plan carefully and reserve EARLY. The prefectural villa’s website is ( and the reservation form for the two villas is:

You can also contact the office directly by phone or fax:

        Phone (086) 256-2535

        Fax (086) 256-2576

Office hours are 9am - 5pm, Monday through Friday.

The prefectural villas were originally designed for foreign travelers, so initially you had to be a non-Japanese person, or go together with a non-Japanese person, to stay in them. Shiraishi still has this policy, but Hattoji is now open to Japanese visitors even if not traveling with a non-Japanese person.

The rate for villa occupancy is a very reasonable 3,500 yen a night for Shiraishi and 3,600 yen a night for Hattoji. As before, if you're occupying a two-or-more-person room by yourself, you'll be charged an additional 500 yen a night. For stays of two or more nights, you get a 500 yen discount from the second night onward.

The rate for Ushimado

Fukiya (Eleven Village) has a different system. The rate is 5,000 yen for one night, 4,500 yen per night if you’re staying two nights, and 4,000 yen per night if you’re staying three or more nights. You’ll definitely want to stay two nights to really explore the town, and that makes it similar to International Villa days.

At Shiraishi, you check in and get the key right in the ferry office at the port on the island. At Hattoji, I believe someone still comes to register you.

The page for the Ushimado villa is here:

It’s listed as the accommodation facility for the “Olive Garden” up the hill. The villa can be reserved online in English here:

If that link doesn’t work for some reason, go to the main Ushimado villa page and click on “RESERVATION” beneath the phone number. Also, you can reserve by calling that phone number, although you may need to do so in Japanese.

The Fukiya villa (Eleven Village) can be reserved by phone at 050-7122-5136. The main page for the villa is here:

There’s an online form, but at present it’s in Japanese only. The page for reservations has Japanese characters in the http address, so I’m not sure it will load unless you have a Japanese system, but just in case here it is:泊まる/ご予約/

A bit confusingly, there’s also another online reservation form here:

This one is only in Japanese as well.

There’s also a gmail email address for the proprieter: .

Sights and Food


As in any other very remote location, finding food in Hattoji can be an issue. There is one restaurant which closes fairly early, and as I recall this is the only place to buy beer there as well; you might confirm this with the villa office. If you plan to cook or may arrive late, you should probably plan on bringing your food in.

Hattoji has several exhibits of what life was like in a mountain town; strolling through the area (once you recover from the hill) should occupy you for the duration of your visit. There are some decent hikes in the area as well. However, there are a couple of other places of note in the area:


Bizen is the home of the famed bizen-yaki pottery. Although there are kilns everywhere, the arguable center of the area is Inbe station, which comes just as route 39 rounds the curve of the coast and changes into route 250; hang a left at the junction and it's about a kilometer away. For years a bizen-yaki sake set was the only adornment in my apartment (and a most useful adornment it was).

Shizutani Gakko (School)

The first school of true public education in Japan, as it was set up to educate the children of commoners (as opposed to samurai or other ruling classes), established in 1670. There's an English pamphlet (and a ¥400 admission charge); the grounds are also famous for two enormous trees whose leaves are stunning in autumn. It’s on local route 261 just south of Yoshinaga Station.


First, a brief note about the main differences between the villa previously and the newly reopened private facility.

The first difference is that the kitchen is now being rented out to someone who uses it as a restaurant. Accordingly, visitors are only allowed to use the tiny room at the end of the hall that has been set up for use as a kitchen. As you can see, it’s pretty cramped, but it is possible to heat water, use a microwave and toaster oven, and cook using the one stove burner.

However, the more disappointing problem is that even if you cook your food, there’s nowhere to gather and eat it. As noted in the Story & Photos section, the person who operates the restaurant has put his own tables and chairs in the big lobby / dining room, and he doesn’t want them to get damaged, and so access to most of the room has been restricted — it’s been roped off, and there’s even a sign emphasizing that there are security cameras in operation! Here’s a photo:

The end result is that there’s no place to really gather and relax in the villa. Here’s a photo of the entire lobby / common room taken from the front entrance, with the only area that hasn’t been roped off circled in red:

Obviously this is a major detriment, particularly for those who visited the villa in the old days and loved relaxing in this big dining room and enjoying the view. The Japanese name for the villa, even in its current incarnation, is “Kokusai Koryu Villa” — “koryu” meaning “interchange” or “socialize.” The current restriction makes socializing difficult if not impossible.

If it’s just a matter of tables and chairs, one hopes that something can be arranged in the future to allow visitors access to the lobby / dining room again and restore the villa’s primary function as a place for “koryu.”


Despite the problem with the kitchen and dining room access, getting food here will not be a problem. Ushimado is a port town with a number of restaurants and food shops.

In terms of sights, wandering around the fishing village satisfies most visitors, and there’s a lovely shrine right across from the harbor. The island of Maejima is also worth a visit if you have the time, particularly for cyclists. The ferry is cheap and takes only a few minutes.


Fukiya offers probably the most things to do of any of the villas. This makes sense, as this is only the second town in Okayama (after Kurashiki) to be designated a special historical city (or at least I think that's what I was told on one of my first visits there). Among the many things you can do:

- Tour two old feudal estates (Nishie and Hirokane); the Hirokane House is a great ride from the villa. Previously you passed by a fertility shrine with the meter-high object shown at left - donated by the "Nakano-Fukiya Youth Group" yet.  It’s still there, displayed horizontally at the top of the stairs next to the shrine.

- Visit a "bengara" pottery hall where you can view samples and even try your hand at making some;

- Walk through an old copper mine with moving mechanical figures showing what it was like to mine copper in the old days.

There are also numerous side trips you can do from the villa; one of my favorite goes down to the west and then through a tiny river gorge to Ikura Falls and Ikura Cave to the east.

Grocery food items are extremely limited in Fukiya and you should stock up in Takahashi or somewhere else before you arrive. However, Eleven Village offers very nice vegetarian meals (1,000 for breakfast and 1,500 for dinner), and they also don’t mind if you use their kitchen to cook your own (as long as the time doesn’t conflict with the time they’ll need it to cook for other guests). There are several places to eat in the town as well. At one coffee shop, the owner showed us the waterwheel she had constructed in her back yard — not sure it’s still there. Alas, my favorite place, the Fukiya Kanko Noen has closed, so no more Genghis Khan barbecues with beef and/or wild boar (inoshishi).


Shiraishi is one of those places with few sights to see but lots of things to do; lounging on the deck of the villa; going to the beach; hiking the fabulous trails up and along the ridge; and just wandering around the small community. There's not even much of particular note on the way there. However, as there is only one coffee shop on the island and no restaurants, you will have to do your own cooking (unless you want to try to convince one of the local minshuku to serve you). I suggest that you buy most of your meat and other "big" food items at the big supermarket near Kasaoka Station (east and down from the station, just before you cross the highway to get to the ferry port). The selection at the shops on the island is much more limited, though naturally lager beer and other common alcohols are available.

Getting Away

Since this route assumes you will be ending up at Shiraishi, the ferry back from Shiraishi lands you a five-minute walk from Kasaoka station on the main JR line. From here it's a short hop to Okayama (or Shin-Kurashiki, even closer) where you can catch a bullet train; many express trains stop at Kasaoka as well.

For other options, see the Alternatives page.

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