Nestled in a valley deep in the lush Kochi countryside is the perfect getaway for those who want to unplug from their daily routine and reconnect with themselves. CrossFit Otoyo Strength, a beautifully designed gym in the Kochi Prefecture town of Otoyo, is the ultimate destination for anyone who wants to break free and experience their own Mr. Miyagi training montage.

If we run with this Karate Kid metaphor, taking the place of the wizened old martial arts expert is the much more youthful Violet Pacileo, a former stock market professional turned CrossFit trainer and business owner. Don’t worry, she won’t make you wax her car or sand the deck. But, along with her husband and the gym’s head coach, Carlo Pacileo, she will encourage you to push yourself to what you thought your limit was — and then beyond that.

The workouts may be intense, but the tranquility of the gym’s setting helps alleviate some of the post-workout aches and pains. Built on Violet Pacileo’s grandparents’ former rice fields, the gym overlooks the nearby river and rising mountain slopes, providing much better views than most Tokyo gyms. CrossFit Otoyo Strength takes full advantage of its picturesque location with a full wall of windows, next to which you can run, cycle and step to your heart’s content while gazing out at the peaceful scenery.

We went down for a weekend, and after an intense training session, we had a chat with Violet Pacileo about the wonders of fitness and nature.

Engage Your Body, Relax Your Mind

At this point, some of you may be thinking, “Wait — isn’t taking a vacation meant to be relaxing? Why would you take a vacation to work out?” There’s nothing wrong with viewing vacation time as an opportunity to veg out and indulge a little, but there has also been a marked rise in the number of people using their time off to focus on their overall health.

In July 2023, National Geographic reported that wellness and fitness vacations have risen in popularity over the last few years, with 21% of global travelers looking for health and wellness destinations in 2022, a number that rose to 29% in 2023. Since the pandemic, we’ve become more health conscious, resulting in travel agencies receiving increased demand for trips that center on activity, fitness and mental wellbeing, as well as holistic getaways.


For those of us living and working in big cities, where exercise often consists of running for the train or working out in white light-filled gyms while staring at our own reflections, a sojourn at a facility like CrossFit Otoyo Strength can provide an escape — and an opportunity to put our bodies through their paces while letting our minds unwind.

And there are plenty of options for doing just that, as Pacileo explains. “We have high ceilings for rope climbing, padded flooring where dropping weights is allowed and Rogue equipment imported from the United States,” she says. Basically, if you have anything you’ve been desperate to try out, CrossFit Otoyo Strength likely has you covered. And in addition to fantastic equipment, you also get excellent training, as both Pacileos are qualified instructors.

“I’ve been training in sports all my life,” Pacileo tells us. “In 2016, I got into CrossFit and received my CrossFit L1 certificate in 2020, here in Japan. Carlo got the CrossFit certificate in 2015 in LA and taught CrossFit Kids classes at CrossFit Nishi Azabu between 2017 and 2020. He was also the strength and conditioning coach to Brazilian jiujitsu athletes in Hiroo during that time, many of whom are world-level competitors.”

The couple also welcome the world-class weightlifter Masakazu Ioroi as a guest coach once a month to teach a weightlifting class. In fact, many Olympic-level athletes visit CrossFit Otoyo Strength owing to its top-notch training in a secluded and tranquil environment. “Our gym is a private place where renowned people can come to relax, work out and enjoy the anonymity we provide,” Pacileo explains.

Photo by Takuya Hosogi

From Mountain Peaks to the Valley’s River

It’s not news that exercising releases chemicals that make us feel better about ourselves, and moving in nature is a proven way to alleviate anxiety and stress. In Otoyo, you aren’t just confined to the gym, as CrossFit Otoyo Strength also offers an e-bike rental service that allows guests to tackle the area’s steep mountains without wheezing the whole time. If anything is going to steal your breath, let it be the views!

As you climb the nearby Mount Kajigamori, the mountainous landscape of Kochi opens up. Once you reach the pinnacle, you can simply coast back down, taking in the magnificence of this less-traversed prefecture as you go.

Despite the town’s small size, Otoyo offers visitors the chance to enjoy a number of water-based sports thanks to the Yoshino River that flows through it. For a truly meditative activity, you can try stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) or kayaking, but if a boost of adrenaline is what you’re after, there are multiple white-water rafting companies that operate only a 10-minute walk from the gym. One such company, Galbanzo, will take you down the rapids — and even allow you to jump in and swim during calmer stretches of water. You can also play balancing games on the rafts.

Explore more of Kochi’s nature in Kochi city, just a 40-minute train journey from Otoyo. Makino Botanical Garden invites you to lose yourself in its flora and fauna while the indoor Hirome Market presents the chance to sample the prefecture’s soul food, katsuo no tataki (seared bonito).

Get Cozy

At the end of a day filled with biking, white-water rafting and CrossFit, unwind right next to the gym in your very own tiny home. The accommodation is part of the experience offered by CrossFit Otoyo Strength and features all the amenities of a house, including a well-designed kitchen, spacious shower area and cozy bedroom loft — all accompanied by views of the river and lush greenery. What’s more, this beautiful little house was made using sustainably sourced hinoki wood.

Photo by Takuya Hosogi

Sit out on the porch with a glass of wine in the summer, or huddle around the fire pit with marshmallows and hot cocoa in the winter. Depending on the season, you might find yourself making friends with the odd frog or two, as they come out en masse at certain times of the year. After a day of vigorous activity, sleep is sure to come easily, especially since you’ll be lulled off by the gentle sounds of the nearby river rather than by the sounds of passing trains and sirens.

The accommodation isn’t just for gym-goers, either. “Travelers can use our tiny house as a base of operations to navigate to all the major attractions on Shikoku Island,” Pacileo explains. The Pacileos also welcome fly-by visits, with Violet Pacileo saying, “Those on a more spartan journey, who are hiking, cycling or motorcycling through and camping along the way, are welcome to stop at our facility to use the Wi-Fi and showers to freshen up.”

Whether you come to train seriously or simply try something new, CrossFit Otoyo Strength is here to bring you back to yourself while also allowing you to “cut the cord with chaotic city life,” as Pacileo puts it. “It’s a good place to hit the reset button, connect with nature and take time to focus on your physical fitness in a relaxed remote environment,” she says.

And let’s face it — we could all do with disconnecting from daily life from time to time.

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