Japan City Guides: Kochi
Kochi must be one of Japan's most pleasant cities to visit and live. Both sea and mountains are on the doorstep of this surprisingly cosmopolitan town. There's good food, a lively market, friendly people and an easy-going vibe. Any trip to Shikoku should include at least a day or two in this hidden gem of a city.
Kochi Castle (Tel: 088 824 5701), is probably the town's biggest attraction and is a completely original castle, one of only twelve such in Japan. The complete innner citadel (honmaru) of the castle is still intact.
First constructed between 1601 and 1611 by Yamauchi Katsutoyo, the feudal lord (daimyo) of Tosa, the castle burnt down in 1727 and was rebuilt between 1729-1753. The buildings you see today date from that period.
The reconstruction of Kochi Castle took place in the middle of a time of prolonged peace in Japan, so the feudal lord of the day had his living quarters (kaitokukan) situated on the ground floor looking out on to a pleasant garden planted with cherry trees and plum trees.
The 18.5m-tall castle tower (donjon) has three external levels on six floors. On a clear day, there are good views over Kochi town stretching out below.
South of the castle on Kencho-mae dori near the banks of the Kagami River are the preserved samurai barracks of the castle guards, known as the Kyu-Yamauchi-ke Shimo-Yashiki-Nagaya. Admission is free.
Sunday Market in Kochi
Try to plan your trip to Kochi to take in the town's Sunday Market, held from early in the morning to around 5pm. The market consists of a row of stalls selling local food and crafts and is on Otesuji dori leading to the castle. The nearest street car stop is Hasuikemachi dori. There is a smaller Saturday market just outside the main entrance to Kochi Castle and indeed there's a small street market happening every day of the week somewhere in Kochi, except on Monday.
One stop south on the north-south street car line is Harimaya-bashi (where Kochi's two street car lines intersect). Here is a reconstructed vermilion-painted bridge made famous by the nineteenth century love story of a local priest Junshin and his paramour, a young maid, Ouma.
Other places of interest in Kochi town include two museums east of Hariyama-bashi, the Yokoyama Ryuichi Memorial Manga Museum (Tel: 088 883 5029) which presents the life and work of the local manga artist Yokoyama Ryuichi (1909-2001) who revolutionized manga in Tokyo in the 1930s. Yokoyama's most famous character Fuku-chan is prominent throughout the exhibits. Further east is the Kochi Prefectural Museum of Art (Tel: 088 866 8000), a modern building exhibiting both modern Japanese and western art with Japan's largest collection of paintings by Marc Chagall.
West of Hariyama-bashi near Kami-machi tram stop is a new Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Hall (Tel: 088 820 1115; admission 300 yen) dedicated to Kochi's most famous son.
Statue of Sakamoto Ryoma at Katsurahama Beach, Kochi
Around two kilometers south of downtown Kochi on a hill overlooking the harbor is Godaisan Koen. The hilltop park contains the lovely Chikurinji Temple (Tel: 088 882 3085), number 31 of the 88 Sacred Temples of Shikoku, with an impressive pagoda and fine garden. Virtually adjacent is the interesting Koichi Prefecture Makino Botanical Garden (Tel: 088 882 2601; admission 500 yen), which honors the remarkable achievements of the locally-born botanist Tomitaro Makino (1862-1957), who did much to popularize the study of plants in Japan, named over 1500 species and is the author of the classic Illustrated Flora of Japan. besides the delightful grounds, the modern Makino Museum of Plants & People Exhibition Hall recreates the great man's life and influence on Japanese botany.
Farther down at the coast near the beach and local beauty spot of Katsurahama is a large statue of Ryoma Sakamoto and across the road the rather tacky Tosa Token Center (Tel: 088 842 3315; admission 500 yen), a place dedicated to the fearsome Tosa fighting dogs including mock dog fights. There is also a small aquarium on the beach with dolphin shows.
Back up the hill from the beach is the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum (Tel: 088 841 0001; admission 400 yen), a modern building showcasing the life and times of the man and Japanese hero, who did much to unite the disparate anti-Tokugawa forces before his assassination, aged only 33, by the Shinsengumi secret police in Kyoto in 1867. Fascinating exhibits include Sakamoto's pistol and swords, and blood-splattered screens and scrolls from the soy sauce shop he was staying in at the time of his murder.
Getting Around Kochi City
It is fairly easy to get around central Kochi on foot or by the atmospheric street car system which has trams from all over the world including Germany, Norway and Portugal. Take a local bus departing from outside JR Kochi Station for Katsurahama. The Yosakoi Gururin Bus circles the downtown area from the station and costs 100 yen per journey. On weekends and national holidays, the MY Yu Bus card for 700 yen allows you to jump on and off a loop bus from the station passing Godaisan, Chikurinji, the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum and Katsurahama.
The helpful Tourist Information Center (Tel: 088 882 7777) is inside JR Kochi Station to your left from the south entrance and can arrange bicycle rental. Kochi International Association, to the south of the castle has more tourist information, a small library of English books, newspapers and internet access. (Tel: 088 875 0022; Mon-Sat 8.30am-5.30pm)
Sunrise at Chikurin-ji Temple, Kochi, Shikoku
Shopping/Eating in Kochi
Kochi is known for its excellent food including local tuna fish and healthy vegetables grown in the surrounding countryside. Local products of note include the citrus fruits, the yuzu and the grapefruit-size buntan and mini-tomatoes. Kochi's many covered arcades such as Ohashi dori and Obiyamachi have a number of good restaurants, bars and izakaya, including Spanish, Indian and Italian eateries and an Irish-style pub. For cheaper fare try the lively, indoor Hirome Market near the castle.
Kochi's big bash is the Yosakoi Festival on August 10-11 just before the Awa Odori in Tokushima. Yosakoi is colorful group formation dancing, which attracts a couple of hundred teams with over 2000 competitors.
Kochi has accommodation options for all budgets. The 7 Days Hotel and 7 Days Hotel Plus both offer bicycle rentals and affordable rooms. Choose from a range of hotels and ryokan in Kochi including the Ryokan Rinsui, the good value Richmond Hotel and the 4-star luxury of the Tosa Gyoen Hotel.
Kochi Ryoma Airport (Tel: 088 863 2906) is 10km east of the city with hourly buses to and from Kochi Station (35-40 mins). A taxi costs around 4000 yen. There are daily flights to Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka (KIX and Osaka Itami Airport), Fukuoka and Naha.
There are JR express trains to JR Kochi Station from Takamatsu (2 hours, 30 minutes) and to Matsuyama via a change at Uwajima. There are highway bus services to Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kobe, Matsuyama (2 hours, 30 minutes), Tokushima, and Kyoto. The buses stop at both the station and Hariyama-bashi.
Kochi ferry port no longer has sailings to Osaka and Kawasaki, services were discontinued back in 2005.
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