Most first, and even second-time travelers, to Japan visit what has been dubbed The Big Three – Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto – leaving other areas of Japan largely untapped. One of Japan’s best kept secrets is the island of Shikoku.
Shikoku is located in southwestern Japan and is made up of four prefectures, Ehime, Kagawa, Tokushima and Kochi. Each of these prefectures has enough hidden locations and secrets to fill their own respective books and thus we shall focus on one prefecture – Kochi. For those first-time travelers to Shikoku and veterans looking for new adventures, these five experiences will make your Kochi adventure unforgettable.
Conquer the Mountain Roads
Kochi is an amazing place to drive, with stunning mountain roads and deep valleys, for those afraid of heights, driving around Kochi can be as breathing as it is terrifying. For those lucky enough to grab a rental car on their arrival to Kochi there are some unmissable driving stops – most being atop mountain peaks.
The mountains that surround Kochi hold plenty of secrets of their own, from scarcely populated hidden mountain villages to fantastically terrifying “National Roads,” this driving tour isn’t for the faint of heart.
Some of these National Roads stretch miles into the mountains and overlook insanely deep valleys and swerve in and out of dense forests, with the sounds of bugs and birds singing all around you the mountain roads make a wonderful location for any skilled driver who wishes to test their skills on the mountain.
Go Back in Time at Kochi Castle
For those who lack the ability or the interest in scaling great heights in a car there are many sites closer to the ground such as Kochi Castle. Once a mountain stronghold, Kochi Castle is one of the 12 castles in Japan which have survived the fires, wars and other catastrophes that have destroyed so many other castles in Japan.
Overlooking the city of Kochi, where it has stood unmoved since its construction in the 1600s, the jet-black castle has a powerful presence unlike any other castle of its type. Draped in history, Kochi Castle is also a wonder within. Apart from essential repairs needed due to the passage of time and a fire that broke out in 1748, the castle remains unchanged since its construction in the 1600s.
Kochi castle is a time capsule to what was. Hosting various instillations paying homage to Kochi’s history and boasting an amazing view from the top, Kochi Castle is an unmissable stop on anyone’s travels to Kochi.
Go Elbows-Deep in Washi
In food and in craft, Kochi has a long and rich history. A traditional craft in Kochi still practiced today is Tosa papermaking. This craft has been practiced in the Tosa district of Kochi for more than 1,000 years and in all that time the local washi papermaking method hasn’t changed.
For visitors to QRAUD Tosawashi Kougeimura, a craft village in the central Tosa paper making town of Ino, the papermaking process is simple. First collect and drain the papermaking material, then create a design on the paper while still wet using fresh flowers and plants, then wait for it to dry. Simple!
Like other types of traditional Japanese craft Tosa papermaking is super fun, easy to get into, but difficult to master. The experience was eiexpensive, at around ¥400, and a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Sample Local Cuisine
One cannot simply travel to Kochi and leave without trying the local foods. Shikoku has some of the most delicious cuisine Japan has to offer. From world-famous udon in Kagawa to the orange groves of Ehime there is no shortage of delicious meals.
Yuzu – a mix between an orange and a lemon but packing tons of flavor – is a Japanese citrus fruit that is famous in Kochi. Delicious and seasonal, yuzu-flavored products can be found all over Japan. For the true yuzu experience Kochi is the best stop for any citrus searcher.
For a more savory dish try katsuo no tataki, or seared bonito. A seasonal fish, seared bonito has a different flavor profile depending on the season it’s caught. During spring the bonito have less fat and are refreshing and firm.
During the autumn the bonito have more fat giving them a deeper flavor profile and a richer taste. Whether you visit in spring or autumn, both types of seared bonito are served slightly warm and with salt for taste.
Drink Like a Local at Hirome Ichiba
Travelers, like me, who want nothing more than to dive head first into the local culture and make friends with as many locals as possible I present to you, Hirome Ichiba. Hirome Ichiba is a fusion between a Japanese izakaya and an open market. Located at the end of Kochi’s main shopping street, Hirome Ichiba is the meeting place for students and the working class alike. The true warmth and openness of the people of Kochi can be felt here.
There has never been a time I have entered Hirome Ichiba and left without some new friends. My recommended stall at Hirome Ichiba is a place called Tebasaki Ageya. It’s a small store inside Ichiba serving the most delicious chicken wings. The owner perfected his recipe in Jamaica and has droves of local customers who will show up all through the evening for few wings to go.