If you want to see historical buildings in Japan, you have to get out of the big cities. With a few notable exceptions, the architecture of days gone by has, over time, been bulldozed and bombed out of existence. Several major cities have nearby collections, like the Tokyo Edo Architectural Museum and my favorite, Meiji Mura near Nagoya.
You see, long before bombing during World War II, many of Japan's most important castles were knocked down during the Meiji Restoration. And especially in major cities, as municipalities grew in population smaller buildings made way to skyscrapers. Not to mention Japan's desire to improve and rebuild - houses and other structures generally have shorter lifespans. Why take an old, unsafe structure when you can have the most up-to-date earthquake-safe technology and fresh designs?
The answer is to head over to the canal area about 10-15 minutes from Kurashiki Station. The beautiful, peaceful canal is lined with historic storehouses, formerly used to hold rice grown in the surrounding plains. Of course, during the Edo Period, this area would have been busy with barges and boats moving rice in and out.
The buildings along the canal are mostly original storehouses, but there are several other more-modern buildings either matching the style or adding a little unique character showing the changing importance of Kurashiki. These buildings have been converted into museums, shops, and restaurants.
The streets in the surrounding area hold plenty of other historic buildings, interesting shops, and tasty restaurants.
Almost all of the museums and many stores in this area are closed on Monday. This will mean lighter crowds for photographers, but also less to do - Kurashiki is at most a single day trip for those taking in all the town has to offer. There are other things to do in the surrounding area, of course, and Kurashiki is just a few minutes from Okayama. Access the Bikan historical canal area from Kurashiki Station (not Shin-Kurashiki Station) by walking along the covered shopping arcade, and then just explore the area with a good map.