Okayama, Japan:  A Unique Cultural Experience for Meetings and Events

Blog > Destinations

Okayama, Japan: A Unique Cultural Experience for Meetings and Events

By Rich Luna | Mar 26, 2019

The instructions seemed simple enough.

Push the rice ball slightly with your thumb and index finger. Dent the center of the rice ball slightly with your left thumb. Tighten both sides of the rice ball with you right thumb and index finger, and so on. The end result, after adding, say, squid, shrimp or octopus, would be a delicious sushí.

Under the tutelage of Nanba Yasuo, sushí master chef and owner of the Kidoairaku restaurant in Okayama, our group of three meeting planners and a representative from the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) spent a few hours learning how to make the perfect sushí. Granted, all the ingredients were prepared for us, but the immersive experience with the engaging Yasuo showed the possibilities for experiential activities for meeting attendees in this city.

Our group spent a few days in Okayama to learn how this destination is poised to attract meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions business (MICE). With a convention center that offers more than 107,000 square feet of meeting space, unique venues such as historic Okayama Castle, Karakuen Garden, the nearby Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter and even a strawberry-picking experience, Okayama is positioned to fulfill the JNTO’s new marketing campaign, “New Ideas Start Here.”

What makes the richness of Okayama for me is its strategic role of crossroad between the richest economic hearts of Japan—with the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya greater metropolises—and the Western and Southern regions of Japan (Western Honshu Mainland, Shikoku Island, Kyushu Island), which are closely connected to the rest of Eastern Asia,” says Aurélien Bandini, a MICE specialist for JNTO based in Paris who was making his first trip to Okayama. “It also offers the comfort of a human-scale convention city: it only took us a five-minute walk from the Okayama Convention Centre to Okayama Station.”

While the city in the Okayama Prefecture is easy to navigate, it has much to offer. With easy access to Seoul, Shanghai and Hong Kong, plus all major airports in Japan, the city has about 5,000 hotel rooms within less than a mile of the Okayama train station, including the Hotel Granvia Okayama, where our group stayed.

The convention center, which is directly connected to Okayama Station, features a main hall, event hall, reception hall and exhibition hall, with 10 rooms total available for meetings and events.

Three hotels—Hotel Granvia, Royal Hotel and International Hotel—all offer meeting space and the symphony hall and civic hall can also accommodate events.

While the city is on the smaller side, events with attendees numbering 1,300 to 1,800 have been hosted there.

For events in a unique venue, look no further than Okayama Castle, with its signature black exterior. It is often referred to as the Crow Castle. There is outdoor space available for events and the interior features opportunities for such activities as a kimono-wearing experience.

A slight walk across a bridge takes you to the Korakuen Garden, a cultural heritage site that is among Japan’s most noted gardens.

Meeting attendees can also explore the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, which has unique shops, restaurants and cultural experiences, or do some hands-on strawberry picking at the Nou-Maru Agricultural Garden.

“The visit of Kurashiki and especially its Bikan historical quarter was a great discovery,” Bandini says. “Its well-preserved traditional houses along the canals offer a very unique view in Japan. Although I am now used to visiting the country, that was quite exotic for me. This wonderful place would make an ideal part of a conference post-tour.”



Rich Luna

Rich Luna is Director of Publishing for MPI and Editor-in-chief of The Meeting Professional.