Dec 24, 2018
In mid-November the annual work team-building trip took us to the city of Kochi in the prefecture of the same name on the island of Shikoku (so not the Kochi in India) for two days and one night of making nice before we spend the rest of the year ignoring each other.
For me, Kochi Prefecture is synonymous with surfing, for others stronger associations probably include Sakamoto Ryoma and the Yosakoi festival. Needless to say though, surfing wasn’t on the team-building itinerary. Still, this year’s schedule of activities did afford us the chance to wander around Kochi and take in some of the sights, as much as there are any.
What follows then is simply a recounting of those sights that I visited in Kochi and not necessarily a recommended Kochi itinerary (although they are things to do). I’ll just approach them in the order that they were ticked off during our visit. Pretty much all of the following takes place in the few blocks south of Kochi train station and north of the Kagami River.
Actually, one of the team-building challenges was to find, and report back on, some kind of stand-out feature of Kochi. In our group was a colleague who had spent a number of years stationed in the city. They guided us to this …
... former Louis Vuitton store, now turned 7 Eleven
There’s no tribute to former brand glories in or around the convenience store, but you can see from the building design that there’s something not quite classical konbini about it.
(Former Louis Vuitton store, now convenience store, Kochi City)
We’re on Route 32 (aka Harimayabashi Dori), a main artery pumping traffic into and out of the south side of Kochi station. A couple of blocks south of the convenience store and we arrive at …
... Harimaya Bridge
That Harimaya Bridge (Harimayabashi) is one of Kochi’s main tourist draws probably tells you that there really isn’t that much going on in terms of sightseeing in this city. (Not necessarily a bad thing.)
Harimaya Bridge was the setting for a forbidden love affair between 19th century monk Junshin and the object of his affection Ouma. This being a less enlightened time even the mere act of buying and presenting one’s love with a hairpin was enough to have you sent away. And this is what happened to Junshin, who bought the hairpin at a store near the bridge.
The bridge (a relocated replica) is cute, if underwhelming. You’ll have seen it before -- one of those quaint red things arched over trickling waters. West from the bridge leads down a pleasant avenue of eateries and independent stores. Look east and you’ll see a busy road crossing and big business.
From Harimaya Bridge we head west to the city’s Central Park, a scrappy sort of affair which at the time was preparing to host some kind of food festival. Around the park you can find the Tosa Select Shop Tencos where you can pick up regional bits and bobs, tourist information, and souvenirs. Also around the park look out for the curiously designed koban (police box). We popped in to inquire about the roots of the design but the officers on duty had no idea.
(Police box, Central Park, Kochi City)
At the northeast corner of the park is Kochi Daimaru, the city’s only department store.
Kochi’s main tribute to conspicuous consumerism is ...
... Obiyamachi, ...
... a scrubbed up shopping arcade that is refreshingly broad compared to other arcades across Japan, but like all the rest, goes on for blocks and blocks.
It’s a fun place to hang out and all the requisite fast-fashion, fast-food chains are here, as well as most people in the city, it seems.
In our search for Kochi’s unique features we snap pictures of the city’s manhole (art) covers, many of which feature images of Kochi castle and whales. (Is this good news for the whale or not, I don’t know!)
On Obiyamachi, a few meters short of a swanky new Starbucks that seems to be attracting the attention of our former-Kochi-resident colleague we stop for a break at …
Hidamari Komichi Tosacha Café …
… to try out some tosacha. If you consider yourself a connoisseur of Japanese green tea, you’ll probably get a kick out of Hidamari Komichi Tosacha Café, the kind of place where you order a cup of tea and it takes up an entire tray replete with kyusu (tea pot), egg timer, a container of tea leaves, and some other pouring device. Staff are on hand to teach you how to brew the perfect cuppa.
Teas are in the 350 - 500 yen range. Try the 碁石茶 (ごいしちゃ / goisicha). Watch out when order the waffles. They look amazing but take ages to arrive, and the fruit has just come from a packet of the frozen stuff.
The streets running parallel to Obiyamachi are much funkier playing host to some interesting restaurants, cafes, and independent stores.
(Scenes from the streets parallel to Obiyamachi, Kochi City)
Kochi has something of a reputation for manga and anime, probably originating from Yanase Takashi, the creator of Anpanman, who was born in Kochi. Dotted around the streets of Kochi you can find nods to Anpanman and the city’s love of manga at large. Kochi even plays host to a number of manga-related events that help give the broader region its moniker, “Manga Kingdom Tosa.”
That night, after the team-building dinner, team-building presentations and team-on-team-bonding booze a few of us slipped out of the hotel to eat gyoza and down more beers at a collection of street yatai that had set up camp a few blocks north of Obiyamachi.
The non-nonsense proprietor of one yatai managed to cram us all in at a table largely filled with office workers drinking in the weekend. The gyoza were the lightest I’ve ever tasted.
Day two, and as usual on these things I wake up with a slight hangover. Conditions improve with a long soak in the hotel’s public bath which is the size of small swimming pool.
Breakfast is a Japanese-buffet disaster laid on by the hotel, and serves as further proof that this country knows nothing about the first meal of the day.
Japan does know a thing or two about trains and train stations though, and this is where a few of us head after breakfast, to ...
... Kochi Station
The southside of Kochi Station is home to large statues of Sakamoto Ryoma, -- Kochi’s favorite son and historical idol to a nation of jr high students -- Takechi Hanpeita and Nakaoka Shintaro, all of whom played important roles in the modernization of Japan in the 19th century.
Beyond the statues and nearer to the station building is the …
... Kochi Tourist Information Center Tosa Terrace.
Facility planners and management have done a good job with the space. It’s easy to walk around but packed with information. There are the obligatory souvenirs and there’s an interesting museum / cafe which you can walk around (no need to order anything) for free.
From the Kochi Tourist Information Center Tosa Terrace I headed out solo to take a look at ...
… Kochi Castle …
… at the eastern end of Obiyamachi.
Kochi Castle is the city’s marquee attraction when it comes to sights for tourists. And it is a charmer, setting pretty atop a stiff little hill that overlooks pleasant green grounds and the city beyond.
The site of the castle dates back to the 14th century (according to my Lonely Planet). The latest incarnation of the main tower was constructed between 1749 - 1753, depending on your historical sources.
Either way, apparently Kochi Castle is the only castle in Japan the main structures of which are free of post-war reconstruction. Slightly more quirky is that this is the only castle in Japan where visitors can capture both the otemon and main tower in a single photo op. Worth a try!
The grounds are free to enter and make for a nice place to wander. You can climb as far as the main tower itself, but to enter the structure requires an entrance fee. Given that I was on team-building duty and wandering around town on my own wasn’t exactly playing it by the book, I thought it would be pushing it a bit to go inside the main tower, so I didn’t.
We all rendezvous back at the hotel at around 13:00 so as we can hop on a coach for the 30-min ride out to …
… Katsurahama, ...
... a beach pretty much straight south of downtown Kochi, located at the mouth of Urado Bay.
Look south out to the might Pacific and Katsurahama is a scenic little spot where to the west a dramatic rocky outcrop is garnished with a quaint bridge, bright torii and other religious accoutrements (that we couldn’t approach at the time of visiting due to repair work).
The beach is a nice place to park up and contemplate things as you gaze out over the ocean. There’s a narrow walkway that skirts the sands, leading to the shabby looking Katsurahama Aquarium.
On the pathway leading down to the beach from the bluff that overlooks it, there’s a huge statue of Sakamoto Ryoma. It could be impressive but sadly local administration has seen fit to allow the construction of a huge scaffold tower right next to it which you can pay to climb and get up close and personal with Sakamoto’s head.
While you’re floating around here, this might be a good place to try the ice cream native to Kochi that is a kind of halfway house between ice cream and gelato. Look out for the vendors who sell cones for 200 yen.
The other side of the bluff from the beach is a collection of shabby or retro souvenir places that would probably evoke the phrase, “They don’t make em like this anymore,” from some sets of lips. Whether or not this a good thing, you’ll have to decide. Whatever these souvenir places are though, they are far from classy, flogging off collections of shells and sand alongside Shikoku pilgrim hats / sticks, flip-flops, and other bits of cheap plastic.
Not being completely immune to gimmick, a couple of us shell out a few coins for a bottle of Sakamoto Ryoma beer before our coach ride back to the airport and beyond that, the flight to Tokyo.
Aside from Katsurahama, all of the above was taken in on foot. Kochi isn’t a large city and it also appeared to this traveler as being slightly sleepy with few people around, even on a Saturday, so getting around under your own steam should be easy and relaxing enough.