By Mandy Bartok
On top of Mount Godai (Godaisan) in Kochi City, overlooking Kochi Port, is one of the most relaxing botanical gardens I've ever been to—the internationally recognized Makino Botanical Gardens.
The gardens opened in 1958 and were dedicated to the "Father of Japanese Botany", Dr. Tomitaro Makino, who was born and raised in Kochi. Six hectares of gardens are home to over 3,000 species of plants that form a green oasis above the city, bay, and plains of rice fields below.
Not only are there a number of beautiful gardens and lookout points to enjoy as you hike around the mountain trails, there's also an excellent conservatory, a museum of Dr. Makino's work, a gift shop, garden shop and French restaurant that boasts fresh local ingredients.
While the names of plants are only written in Japanese and their Latin names, I didn't have any past experience with a lot of the plants I saw anyway. Having the English names wouldn't have helped me connect any more than the act of looking did. If you have a background in botany or want to look up the plants later, just take a note of interesting finds and look up the scientific names later when you get home.
In the summer, from late July to the end of August, the gardens are also open at night for a variety of events. You can take a guided tour to find nocturnally blooming flowers (free of charge), enjoy live music in a romantic garden setting (tickets are generally about ¥4,000), or join in some inexpensive classes to learn about aroma therapy. The cafe is also open al fresco during these times for a still summer night under the stars.
Makino Botanical Gardens can always provide a lovely time, day or night. Just be sure to go when a number of plants are in bloom to take full advantage of this great facility. In general, late February to late May tends to be the most colorful time of the year, while the summer months are the most lush.
Mount Godai also has a beautiful temple, Chikurinji, and an old lookout observatory that has been transformed into a lovely cafe and gift shop. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to see and enjoy all of this. You could easily spend a day on Mount Godai alone!
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I've been living in Kochi since 2006. I enjoy taking every chance I can to ride my bicycle, camp, swim in rivers, relax on the beach, and explore the surrounding mountains -- all of which can easily be done in Kochi. We're out of the way, but worth it.I'd love to connect with you on Twitter @KochiJPTouristor Facebook.