By Kaitlyn McInnis
March 05, 2020
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The capital of Kōchi Prefecture on Japan’s Shikoku Island may be on the smaller side in terms of Japanese cities, but with a population of just over 300,000 residents, the charming city is a great destination for spending some down time outside of bustling tourist hubs like Tokyo or Osaka.

Known for its mountains, rivers, beaches, and regional cuisine, Kōchi is a city of artists, entrepreneurs, and students known for their laid-back, relaxed way of life. The quaint Shikoku town is just a 90-minute nonstop flight from Tokyo, or four hours by train from Osaka, which makes it easy to plan a mini-escape or add-on to an existing Japanese itinerary.

We’ve pulled together a perfect itinerary that will fully immerse you in everything the quaint Japanese city has to offer — even if you’ve only got a weekend.

Here, everything you’ll want to eat, drink, and see during an enriching and relaxing three-day trip to Kōchi.

Day One

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After arriving at the Kōchi Ryōma Airport, hop on the bus and drop your bags at the Richmond Hotel Kōchi. Tucked into a side street off the Obiyamachi Itchome shopping arcade (Kōchi’s main shopping street), this compact property is both cozy and well-located for travelers planning to explore the city mainly by foot.

Once you’ve checked in, head out the door and make your way to Obiyamachi Itchome. It’s here that you’ll find all sorts of shops and services — from high-end vintage shops selling gently used Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and Chanel, to more modest boutiques stocked with unique Japanese fashions and homeware.

After you’ve made your way up and down the central shopping arcade, duck into Hirome Market for prime people watching and unparalleled local cuisine. The indoor market feels almost like a Western food court with over 65 vendors serving up beer and highballs and great Japanese street food. Grab some yakitori, tempura, or gyoza to eat at the picnic-style tables scattered throughout. Be sure to visit the fish vendors who serve extremely fresh sushi and sashimi.

Note that Hirome Market is almost always packed with hungry locals all the way up until its closing time at 11 p.m. Be sure to bring cash and feel free to grab any open seat — it’s common for market-goers to share tables with other people. After you’ve finished, leave your plates and glasses at the table where they’ll be picked up by the staff and redistributed to the market vendors.

After you’ve indulged in dinner and drinks, take a stroll back around the Obiyamachi Itchome shopping street and peek into the SEGA World Fuji Grand to test your hand at the art of the Japanese claw machine. You’ll also find a variety of cute and quirky photobooths, or purikura, those pastel-colored kiosks that snap digital selfies that you can draw on, edit, and apply Instagram-like filters over before printing.

Day Two

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Start the day with a quick seared tuna platter or tuna and whitebait bowl at the hotel before grabbing a 15-minute taxi or 40-minute train ride out of the downtown core to Mount Godai. It’s here you’ll find Chikurinji temple, the 31st stop on the famous Shikoku Henro, or 88 Temple Pilgrimage. The temple houses a number of important sculptures, including a statue of Jizo Bosatsu that is known for granting a single wish to every visitor. Be sure to make a wish!

If you prefer to punctuate cultural escapades with adventure, make your way to the Ryuga Cave in Kami City — about a half hour drive or 90-minute train trip from Mount Godai. This natural monument and historic site was formed over 175 million years ago and today tourists can embark on a guided hike through the 2.5-mile underground system, which features waterfalls, natural light projections, and centuries-old artifacts.

When you’ve worked up an appetite, tuck into a bowl of Nabeyaki ramen, a hotpot-style noodle dish that comes in a single-serving “donabe” clay pot. Native to Kōchi prefecture, the soup is made from chicken broth, soy sauce, and thin egg noodles with thick cut chikuwa fish cakes, spring onion, and egg yolk.

After lunch, make your way to the Tosa Washi paper making class at Tosawashi Kougeimura QRAUD, where visitors can learn to make their own paper from scratch. If you prefer to spend the afternoon relaxing and taking in the natural sights, consider the Niyodo River tour with Yakata Niyodo, where you’ll set sail down the Niyodo coastline in a traditional Japanese  yakatabune houseboat.

Back in Kōchi City, spend the evening savoring Sawachi-ryori, a heaping platter of regional seafood and other Japanese delicacies, including sashimi, sushi, snow crab, sea snails, pickled vegetables, and katsuo no tataki, a flame seared bonito native to the prefecture. The striking seafood dish is said to have originated in the Muromachi Period, with the term ‘Sawachi’ being coined in the Edo period. These days, Sawachi-ryori is a staple in both fine dining restaurants and humble house parties across the region largely due to the particularly fertile fishing grounds across Kōchi.

Day Three

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You’ll want to be up and ready to go early this morning. We recommend skipping breakfast and making a beeline to the Kōchi Market, the largest outdoor market in Japan. The famed Sunday market stretches nearly a mile, from Ekimae Densha Street to Kōchi-jo Street, and has been a weekly occurrence in the city since the 1600s. Take your time to wander through the 400 different stands and vendors where you’ll find everything from local fruits and veggies to street snacks, and fresh juices.

After meandering your way through the Sunday market, you’ll find yourself at the city’s most famous attraction: Kōchi Castle. The 17th-century construction is the only castle in Japan where the original tenshu and honmaru (castle tower and main keep) are still in tact. Peep the traditional tatami rooms and cultural artifacts of the Tosa region before climbing to the top of the tower. Here, you’ll be met with an unobstructed 360-degree view of Kōchi City and the surrounding area.

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Make your way down the tower and take a few minutes to walk the striking castle grounds. If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll definitely want to make sure you stop at one of the old-fashioned regional ice creams (known locally as “ice crin”) vendors along the way. The regional treat is essentially a cross between American ice cream and Kakigori (shaved ice) and is a well-loved treat for locals and visitors alike, especially on hot, sunny days.

For your last dinner in Kōchi, one last helping of katsuo no tataki is imperative. The famed local dish is insanely flavorful, with each bite literally melting in your mouth. Hop on the train and make your way to Kuroshio Koubou, a seaside restaurant where you can learn to straw-grill your own freshly caught bonito. If you’d prefer to stay local, katsuo no tataki is also widely available across many izakayas along the Obiyamachi Itchome shopping street.