733km (455 miles) W of Tokyo; 218km (136 miles) W of Kyoto; 160km (100 miles) E of Hiroshima

Okayama is a major gateway to the island of Shikoku, thanks to the Seto Ohashi Bridge, which measures almost 9.5km (6 miles) in length and connects Okayama Prefecture on Honshu island with Sakaide on Shikoku. Before the bridge was built in 1988, it took an hour by ferry to reach Shikoku, whereas traveling by train or car along the double-decker bridge cuts travel time down to just 15 minutes. Now there are two other bridges linking Honshu with Shikoku (one near Kobe and the other in Hiroshima Prefecture), but they're for vehicular travel only (no train service).

For those of you less interested in bridges, Okayama and its environs are important for other reasons, too. Okayama city, capital of Okayama Prefecture with a population of 700,000, boasts one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan. In nearby Kurashiki, a historic quarter ranks as one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Japan. And scattered through Okayama Prefecture are a couple so-called International Villas, accommodations located primarily in rural areas with amazingly low rates.