Cycling the Kibi Plain

The largely rural Kibiji district around Okayama is best explored on two wheels, following a mostly flat cycling route across the Kibi plain between Bizen-Ichinomiya (備前一宮), west of Okayama, and Sōja (総社). The roughly 15km route takes in several interesting temples and shrines, and an ancient burial mound, passing through rice fields along the way. It can take as little as a couple of hours if you're just pedalling through, but allow at least three or four if you want to wander around the sights or take a few detours (or get lost) here and there.

Among the highlights is the Kibitsu-jinja, a major shrine dedicated to an ancient warrior who subdued a local demon-bandit called Ura and brought the area under central control. Many people believe that these exploits were the ultimate source of the Momotarō legend. The route also passes near the 5th-century Tsukuriyama-kofun, the fourth-biggest kofun tomb (keyhole-shaped burial mound) in Japan. It's thought to mark the final resting place of a local king who ruled the Kibi region when this area was a rival power to the Yamato court (which eventually came to rule the country). Another major stop is Bitchū Kokobun-ji, a temple with a picturesque five-storey pagoda. The oldest buildings here date from the Edo period, but the first temple on this site was built in the 8th century.

To start cycling from Bizen-Ichinomiya Station, take a local JR Kibi line train from Okayama (¥210, 12 minutes) and pick up a bike from Uedo Rent-a-Cycle, on the right at the front of the station. It occasionally closes in bad weather. If no one is around, try asking the guard at the nearby bike parking lot, who may be able to call and get it opened up for you. At the Sōja end, hire bikes from Araki Rent-a-Cycle, at the side of the bus area in front of the station. Trains run between Okayama and Sōja on the JR Momotarō line (¥410, 40 minutes) and JR Hakubi line (¥500, 30 minutes).

Gearless bike rental is ¥1000 for the day (¥600 for three hours), and ¥200 extra if you hire from one office and drop it at the other. Follow the route map you receive with the bike, and the blue 'Kibiji District' road signs along the course. If you wander off track, locals will be able to set you straight – just ask them for the Kibiji jitensha dōro (Kibiji bike path).