Into the wild with Shimanto River Valley: Japan’s Best Kept Secret
Wild and rebellious, Kochi is one of Japan’s most rewarding off-the-beaten-track destinations.
In the past, Kochi’s inaccessible landscape meant it was cut off from the rest of Japan, leaving the prefecture to form its own distinct personality as strong and untamed as its natural surroundings.
Kochi people are resilient, self-reliant and just a little rebellious; known for their drinking stamina, championed by assertive hachikin women, disdain for materialism and most of all, a love of the great outdoors.
Whale-watching, surfing, hiking, fishing, caving, paragliding, and paddle-boarding are just some of the outdoor activities on offer, while Kochi also makes up the most challenging part of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Crescent-shaped Kochi is the largest of Shikoku’s four prefectures, covering much of the island’s southern half in rugged mountains sloping down to the Pacific ocean. Most of the population are clustered together in the narrow pockets of habitable land around the Shimanto River and towards the coast. Kochi city in the center of the prefecture is the best place to start exploring the region. Visit the emblematic Kochi Castle, browse the stalls of the 300-year-old Sunday street market and stroll along Katsurahama beach, watched over by a statue of favorite samurai rebel, Sakamoto Ryoma.
To the east lies the dramatic Cape Muroto. On your way you can stop by Ryuga Cave, a limestone cave formed over 175 million years. Explore the main chambers on foot or by crawling your way through the inner sections on the adventure course. Head to the tip of the peninsula for whale-watching and surfing, using picturesque Kiragawa with its traditional streets and yuzu-filled hot spring baths as a base.
The Shimanto River runs through the western part of Kochi; Shimanto is the place to organize your outdoor activities as well as witness traditional torchlight fishing in the summer and hit up the ski slopes in the winter. Along the coast are more dolphin and whale-watching cruises, plus surfing and hot springs. Remote and desolate Cape Ashizuri offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, especially from temple no. 38 on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Set aside enough time to get to know Kochi’s incredible food. The seared bonito (katsuo no tataki) is a highlight, as is the pork and wild mountain vegetables. Yuzu is the champion fruit and you can’t leave without challenging a local to Kochi’s infamous sake drinking game, bekuhai.
A uniquely remote getaway, Kochi offers a number of tours and is an appealing option for travelers coming to Japan for various sports events. Active travelers can cycle, enjoy river activities or relax, families can laugh as they play in the river, couples can reconnect and talk over delicious locally sourced food and individuals can disconnect from all the bustle for just a few precious moments, hours or days. Kochi invites you to join them in this pristine, welcoming and healing place.