El Greco in Kurashiki: World-Class Art in a Small Japanese Town

Courtesy Ohara Museum of Art

The picture-perfect historic town in Okayama is the last place you’d expect it.

There’s no simpler pleasure to be had than an early-morning walk through the empty streets of Kurashiki’s Bikan district, which looks more or less as it did in the late Edo period. With its narrow canal, lined with gnarly weeping willows and straddled by quaint bowed bridges, the Okayama town—three hours by train from Kyoto and best visited on the way to Naoshima—has been called the Bruges of Japan. Its central attraction is the neoclassical Ohara Museum of Art (1-1-15 Chuo; ohara.or.jp), pictured above, built in 1930 to house the collection of industrialist Magosaburo Ohara, who amassed an impressive hoard of paintings and sculptures at the turn of the 20th century. His son built on the collection after his death, such that it could double as a survey course in art history— Rodin, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Pollock, Kelly.... Its jewel is El Greco’s Annunciation, one of two he painted. (The other is at the Prado.) If you’re wondering why you’d travel all the way here to see Western art—fair point—the museum also has an excellent gallery of Japanese folk art.

Ryokan Kurashiki (4-1 Honmachi; ryokan-kurashiki.jp), run by the charming, elegant Ritsuko Nakamura, offers comfortable accommodations and delicious kaiseki cuisine.