Kochi is the capital of Kochi Prefecture and is one of the most laid back cities in Japan. With just 330,000 people, a history of civil rights, a subtropical climate where you can grow just about anything, and the nearby confluence of the Kuroshio ocean current, all mean that Kochi is blessed with the vibe, nature, and the food to make this a relaxed and delicious visit. Have you heard of “Katsuo no Tataki” – lightly seared and seasoned bonito? You’re not likely to forget it once you try it! To see the highlights of Kochi it’s handy to divide the city into four, being the downtown area, which is easy to walk and see within 3-4 hours, then the Western, Southern, and Eastern outskirts, where you can decide as your mood takes you, where to go and what to do. Accordingly, we focus our base route on the downtown area, a tour that should take you the best part of the morning. See Mountain-top temple and garden in Kochi City for the options at the other three compass points. Most of the downtown tour can be done on foot, although you’ll need to get to Kochi Station as the starting point.
- Local city tour, ideal for cruise ship passengers
- Safe, clean public transport
- One of the best-preserved original castles in Japan
- Bustling local markets
- Self-arranged, self-guided – Free, but actual costs additional and payable upon use
- Arranged by Japan Travel - ¥10,800~ booking fee (final fee depends on group size)
- Guided tour by Japan Travel – ¥30,800~ (final fee depends on group size)
- '8 sights
- 'avg. 4 hours
- '¥0 - ¥30,800 + transport costs
- 'Families, Solo, Couples
As with most regional cities, and whether you came by train or plane, you will probably arrive at the Kochi city station. This is an impressive and modern facility that serves both JR’s Dosan Line (connecting through to Okayama), the airport buses, and the local tram service, the Tosaden Kotsu. If you need regional souvenirs, then this is the place to buy them. Using the Tosaden tram, you can make your way down to our other stops downtown. It’s great value at just ¥500 for a day pass for adults.
Kochi Prefecture “i “ Information Center Tosa Terrace
Right next to the station is the Kochi Prefecture “i “ Information Center Tosa Terrace, which has a great selection of multilingual brochures and maps to help you get around. Not only do they have Wi-Fi you can access on the premises, but if you don’t mind filling out a form and showing your passport, you can even pick up(borrow) a Wi-Fi Router free of charge – something special Kochi Prefecture offers foreign visitors. Also, if you need one, your My-Yu Bus pass can be purchased here. Need a taxi, rental car, or a bicycle? Then the Information Center folks will point you to each nearby terminal where you can rent the transport of your desire – all within about a minute’s walk of the Center and the station.
COCHI COCOCHI Coffee
All this research can be hard work, so if you need a cup of coffee to get you started, one in the immediate vicinity is Cocochi Coffee (“COCOCHIコーヒー”). Try their specialty latte complete with a computer-generated image of Kochi’s most famous son – Ryoma Sakamoto. You’ll see images and statues of him everywhere because he became famous for leading the push by Japan to abandon the medieval shogunate system and become a modern state.
Kochi has the oldest tram system still operating in Japan, having been established in 1904, and also the longest rail network, at 25.3 km. The operator Tosaden also owns a cute collection of antique trams from other countries, including England, Australia, Portugal, and Norway, although these are only rolled out on special occasions. Upon special request you can see them displayed at the tram garage – you’ll need a local Japanese-speaker to call the garage to book you in and possibly to accompany you if no English-speaker is on duty.
To get around, there are 47 trams still in active service. Watching them roll down the main street, it's easy to forget you're in Japan. Best of all the tram network is cheap. costing just ¥500 for a day pass within the downtown area. See details on the "Tosaden Kotsu" pass (for both buses and trams) below.
Of course, you can also walk!
This petite vermillion bridge is famous for a tragic love story that the Japanese so love to tell. In this case, a priest from the Chikurinji temple, to the east of Kochi had a secret and forbidden romance with a young lady in the township. One day he was spotted buying a hairpin for his lover and thus revealed, the couple was banished. Nowadays, young couples celebrate the romantic tale by buying each other hairpins from one of the souvenir shops nearby.
Obiyamachi Shopping Arcade
Heading west, you will enter the Obiyamachi Shopping Arcade. Despite the rise of urban shopping centers, the Obiyamachi arcade has undergone a renaissance thanks to the energy of local restaurants and a local festival in March called “Okyaku of Tosa" or, Tosa-no-Okyaku” that simply celebrates feasting, drinking with friends, and generally having a good time. Even during the day time, Obiyamachi has a ton of souvenir and snack food shops tempting you to come in and sample their wares and menus. But let's come back later because right now we have a date with a castle.
The Tosa Sunday Market (Optional on Sundays)
If you are lucky enough to be in Kochi on a Sunday, then you have a special surprise in store. Instead of spending time at the Obiyamachi shopping arcade, you can go to a parallel street (one block to the north) and witness one of the best, and oldest, (having started in 1690) outdoor farmers markets in Japan. The Sunday Market features more than 500 stalls running for about a kilometer all the way up to the castle. Local veggies and fruit are the highlights here, including Kochi-only condiments, sauces, and fermented foods. Try the samples and enjoy the taste sensations. To get the best selection, be there early.
Kochi Castle is the city’s best known and most interesting attraction. While there are 12 castles in Japan that still possess their original castle towers, Kochi Castle is notable in that it is the only one that also has all of its original bailey buildings intact. The structure was built from 1601 to 1611 by Yamauchi Katsutoyo, burned down in the 1700s then faithfully rebuilt, and that’s what you still see and can experience today.
Kochi Castle is truly impressive, both for the size of its foundations and for the height and durability of its buildings. You can ascend to the top of the main tower, from where you get an amazing view of Kochi city and the mountain ranges in the distance. In summer, a refreshing breeze blows through the open space at the top of the tower, transporting you back to a time when the local lord would have sat up there, in both peace and war, surveying his domain.
Hirome Ichiba Market
Food is one of the major attractions of Kochi, and nowhere do you get a better selection of dishes, fresh ingredients, and friendly company than at the Hirome Market. This rather unique space is kind of like a multi-vendor food hall, but Japanese style. It’s chaotic, filled with delicious smells and dishes, and brimming over with chattering friends and families dropping in for either lunch or dinner, or just a drink. The 60 food stalls are mostly serving Japanese cuisine, but you’ll also find an Indian curry store, pizza and burger joint, just in case you need something a bit different.
Kochi started out as a port and trading post, nestled at the head of Urado Bay and bounded by the Kagami and Kokubu rivers. These rivers have long since been obscured by city development, but they explain the layout of the metropolis and in particular the location of the city’s most famous landmark, Kochi Castle. Apart from the castle, the terrain for downtown is flat and easy to walk. Traffic is light, and navigation with Google Maps is easy.
- Walking – the city is flat and pedestrian-friendly. Just make sure you have smartphone navigation and/or a WiFi portable router.
- Cycling – Bicycles can be rented at the Kochi Prefecture “i” Information Center Tosa Terrace in front of Kochi Station. English-speaking staff is available. You’ll be asked to write down your Name, Address (your hotel), and Telephone number. Bikes need to be returned each evening so please be back before closing time.
- Taxis – Taxis are widely available but note that few drivers can speak English. Many drivers have, however, taken courtesy courses and are ready and willing to serve non-Japanese customers
- Public Transport - Both the city trams and buses are operated by Tosaden, and both offer 1-day passes for tourists. For the inner-city areas, the tram pass is sufficient, while a bus pass should be used for outer areas. Both passes are hop-on/hop-off and are good for the whole day. You can buy the tram pass from the Kochi "i" Information Center Tosa Terrace or from any tram when first boarding. The pass costs JPY500 for adults, but please note that this discount only applies for stations (from East to West) Kera Dori-Akebonocho Higashimachi and (from North to South) Kochieki Mae and Sanbashidori 5-chome - roughly 9km in circumference. Outside that area, you will be asked to pay an additional fee. Tosaden has arranged some visitor discounts for holders of the tram pass, so be sure to check the site for details.
- Bus - The one-day bus pass for tourists is called a My-Yu Bus pass, and is required for outer areas of Kochi city. The My-Yu Bus pass is JPY1,000 for adults (for overseas travelers, half price of 500 yen if a passport is shown), and can be purchased at the Kochi "i" Information Center Tosa Terrace. This pass covers all the same tram stations as the tram pass (for the flat rate zone).
- Bonus Hints:
- The My-Yu Bus pass will get you discounts at Kochi castle and other tourist spots.
- Be aware that the schedules change between weekdays and weekends/holidays, and that the buses service a large number of stops, so you need to allow travel time if you are heading to the city outskirts.