Kochi 高知

“Soon we pass the pine-covered beaches of Uta. Pines beyond number! How many tens of centuries have they stood there?”

— Tosa Nikki (Tosa Diary), by Ki no Tsurayuki, trans. by Donald Keene

Kochi Prefecture is the modern-day descendant of Tosa province, which 10th-century poet Ki no Tsurayuki described as a hostile and remote settlement rendered nearly inaccessible by the twin barriers of the central Shikoku mountains and the Pacific. These days, train lines and mountain highways make it easier to reach Kochi, but much of it still remains wilderness—and happily so. Nature lovers, pilgrims and epicureans will find much to savor here, from sampling the area’s ubiquitous katsuo-no-tataki (lightly-seared bonito) to canoeing down Japan’s last largely-undammed river.

This oft-neglected corner of the country is enjoying the spotlight in a big way this year. In January, NHK began broadcasting a period drama based on the life of Ryoma Sakamoto (1835-1867), starring heartthrob actor Masaharu Fukuyama. Ryoma is famous for his role in joining the Choshu and Satsuma clans in resistance against the Tokugawa shogunate, thus paving the way for the Meiji Restoration.

It’s hard to travel far in Kochi without running into a Ryoma-related memorial. The most famous is the stern-faced statue at Katsurahama, a sandy beach which lies a half-hour bus ride (around ¥600) south of Kochi city. Tucked up the road behind the beach is the Ryoma Sakamoto Memorial Museum (admission ¥400). Amid the expected dioramas and computerized exhibits, the museum features a blood-spattered screen from the Kyoto inn room in which the then-32-year-old Ryoma was struck down by an assassin. Ryoma fans can even take the “Sakamoto Ryoma Kentei,” a three-level certificate exam which quizzes you on trivia from Ryoma’s life. Sample question: What was Ryoma going to eat right before he was killed? (For the answer, see the end of this article.) Outside the south gate of Kochi station you can find the “Encounters with Ryoma” Expo, running until January 2011, which uses the local hero’s story as a springboard for promoting other sites in the prefecture.

Kochi has plenty more to offer, of course, than Ryoma hagiography. The prefectural capital is an old castle town and its original donjon and main gate survive to this day (admission ¥350). A colorful century-old tram service whisks residents and tourists alike from one end of town to the other, and Sunday visitors to the city will enjoy the 300-years-old-and-still-going-strong street market.

Kochi’s southern coastline offers terrific seaside scenery and plenty of outdoor activities, including year-round diving and whale-watching. Ashizuri Misaki, a remote cape in the southwest, is a cheery sun-kissed spot despite its reputation as one of Japan’s most popular suicide spots. Hikers will love clambering among the cliffs and camellias en route to Ashizuri’s much-photographed lighthouse, and there’s even a free ashi-yu with a view to comfort your weary feet afterwards. Here, too, is a statue and a museum commemorating another of Kochi’s most famous native sons, Nakahama “John” Manjiro. Manjiro was shipwrecked off the Shikoku coast in 1841 and later rescued by an American whaling ship. He was the first Japanese to live in America, and upon his return to Japan ten years later, he assisted greatly in Japan’s growing internationalization.

Other outdoor activities in Kochi include spelunking and tramping across karst plateaus. As for boating down the scenic Shimanto river, it is often billed as Japan’s last free-flowing river. In the spirit of full disclosure, the river has got a single dam, but its lack of concrete chuting elsewhere will have wilderness enthusiasts sighing with relief. The best place to stay in the region is the charmingly ramshackle riverside Shimantogawa Youth Hostel (shared room ¥3150), whose owner crafts his own canoes and leads trips down the river for ¥5500, including instruction and gear.

(answer: Shamo nabe or “chicken hotpot”)








(答え: 軍鶏鍋)

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