Okayama: A Few Sights Around Town

 Okayama is one of a fairly long list of cities in Japan that are "designated" cities; these are cities with populations over 500,000 and who have applied for this designation. I don't know what being a designated city brings, but Okayama is the smallest on the list, with a population around 700,000.

It serves as the major transportation hub for western Honshu and for through connections to Shikoku. The surrounding plains are used for farming of multiple crops and the mountains are home to the area's famed peaches and muscat grapes. The city also serves several industries and is the headquarters for some major corporations. Historically, the town has been important due to its strategic position and agricultural development.

And speaking of history, the area is also home to one of Japan's biggest fables. Momotaro, or Peach Boy, has appeared in books, films, and other works. The story basically goes like this:
Momotaro came to Earth inside a giant peach, which was found by an old, childless woman. The woman was washing clothes in the river when the peach floated by; she and her husband discovered the boy when they opened the peach to eat it.
Years later, as an adult, Momotaro leaves his parents to fight a group of demons or ogres inhabiting a nearby island. Much like Dorothy on her trip to the Emerald City, Momotaro befriends several creatures (namely, a talking dog, monkey, and pheasant) along the way who agree to help him on his quest.
Arriving at the island, Momotaro and his companions battle their way into the ogres' fort cave and force a surrender. Of course, everyone lives happily ever after.
The demon island (Onigashima) considered to be the one Momotaro visited is Megijima, near Takamatsu on Shikoku Island. I visited Megijima before coming to Okayama.
While Momotaro can be found all over town and in my photos below, let's start with this water fountain just outside Okayama Station's East Exit.
 Momotaro can be found on top of some Japan Post mailboxes in a cartoon form.
 A more lifelike statue is situated outside Okayama Station, showing Momotaro with his companion dog, pheasant, and monkey.
 If you take the tram for part of the journey between the train station and Okayama Castle, you'll use a pedestrian underpass to get through the large intersection. This underpass is also used for those walking the entire way. There's a nice open-air fountain with a statue of a woman sitting naked on a log. You'll also pass through a small park with more statues and a small stage. I saw some teenagers practicing dancing on it during my second visit to Okayama.
 Again continuing the trip to Okayama Castle, you'll follow part of the river. The castle can be seen in the distance, with Korakuen Garden on the left across the bridge.
 Look down! Some manhole covers show Momotaro, again with his companions.
Last, but not least, I did use the tram for at least one journey. And the inside of the train was well-decorated with these cat decals for some promotion. But more interesting is the series of bells with tags on them; I'm not sure what they're for or how permanent they are/were, but each tag carries a handwritten message of some kind.

Okayama isn't known for any specific local cuisine, with one exception. So dining options in town are the standards - this is a good place to try Japanese curry, gyudon (beef bowl), ramen or other noodles, and so on. As I mentioned before, the area produces a lot of agricultural goods, so you can find expensive peaches and grapes in the souvenir stores. And for those looking for local food, give kibi dango a shot - it's a chewy, mildly sweet snack or desert sold on sticks. But I recommend getting this in Kurashiki.