The graceful canal area of this old merchants’ town near Okayama is a rare survivor from the prosperous Edo period, boasting an exceptional assemblage of 18th century buildings distinguished by trademark white-washed walls and black tilework. The pick of the crop lie within the postcard-pretty Bikan quarter, bisected by a green, koi-filled canal where you can charter a punt and spend a relaxing hour gliding past drooping willow trees and ranks of elegant granaries.

Many of these so-called ‘kura’ grain stores have recently been converted into trendy cafés and crafts shops, offering a delightful backdrop for leisurely afternoon strolls. An unexpected treat in this most Japanese of towns is the Ohara Museum hosting collections of Asian modern art, Japanese traditional fine crafts alongside works by Cézanne, Degas, Matisse, Monet, Pissarro and Jackson Pollock – worth the ticket price alone for a glimpse of El Greco’s 16th century masterpiece, Annunciation.


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