I live in Saidaiji and I really believe it’s the coolest part of Okayama City. It’s actually changed quite a lot since I first came here in 2002 but I don’t it will ever lose its charm and appeal.
Saidaiji actually started off as a town located to the east of Okayama City and was known for the temple that gave it its name. In the 1960s the town swallowed up a few surrounding independent villages and became Saidaiji City. The city only lasted as an independent entity for about 17 years before it was grafted on to Okayama City.
Today, I feel that Saidaiji is a bit of an anomaly due to the separate vibe it has compared to the rest of the city, especially since Okayama has become specially designated and has adopted the same ward system that you see in much larger cities such as Tokyo and Osaka.
So despite the fact that Saidaiji happens to be the center of what is now the East Ward or Higashi-ku, it remains one of the few areas of Okayama that remains distinct in my opinion. Many of the official signs and banners that read Saidaiji have been replaced but not all of them. There are quite a few community focused buildings, both public and private that continue to carry the name.
Many people get an introduction to Saidaiji from the train station because it’s a convenient way to reach the area. The station is not at the center of Saidaiji but actually off to the side and about a kilometer away from what I would call the center.
The historic center of Saidaiji would have to be where the Ryobi Bus Terminal now stands, which is the site of the former Saidaiji Railway. What was once the main shopping street, projects out from this point.
The commercial and official center of Saidaiji is now somewhat removed from its historic counterpart. What happened was that north of the Ei An Bridge that spans the Yoshii River, several large supermarkets, a large department store, a giant home center and a well-stocked electronics shop have all sprung up. There is also a relatively new building called Saidaiji Green Terrace, which is part community center part exhibition hall.
After all these locations were built, the ward office was rebuilt right at the center of all this commercial activity, along with the local fire station. In many ways, the focus of Saidaiji has shifted from the street near the station to this area. I personally do a lot of 3 or 4 quick stop shopping around the ward office.
Another important part of Saidaiji is the coast and the area near it. Houden Beach is popular in the summer and there are many visitors to Inujima Island which is accessible from the port there. Inujima is known for its art installations as well as its campsite and nature retreat.
For me though, the best thing about Saidaiji has to be its people. They are genuine, fun-loving, hard-working and fiercely independent.