A guide to Kōchi, Japan: things to do, see and eat

Things to do in Kochi, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Before I get stuck into this blog post, I should point out that this is a guide to things to do in Kochi, Japan, and not the other place called Kochi that isn’t in Japan at all but in India. When I was researching Kochi before visiting it, I kept landing on pages not even about the right country, so I thought I’d better get that cleared up first off.

ANYWAY, as a total Japan addict who has been lots of times and visited lots of cities, I definitely recommend Kochi as a more off-the-beaten path city in Japan, maybe for a second or third trip. You don’t normally think of palm trees, laid-back attitudes and citrus fruits when you think of Japanese cities, but Kochi is here to turn that on its head.

Kochi (or Kōchi to be 100% correct, but there’s no way I’m copy-and-pasting that character all the way through this) is the capital of Kochi Prefecture on the southern coast of Shikoku, Japan. The city is relatively small by Japan’s usual standards. And it’s incredibly friendly, with a distinct lack of the normal Japanese reservedness (this may be down to Kochi’s love of drinking…). More on that later though.

I spent a few days exploring Kochi, so I feel I can give some decent tips on how best to spend your time there. Here’s my guide to the city, featuring some of the best things to do in Kochi, Japan. Yes, definitely Japan. Move along if we’re in the wrong country…

Things to do in Kochi, Japan: a city guide

1. Visit the fantastic Hirome Market

Hirome Market is a food market, at the western end of Kochi’s main shopping arcade. This is the heart of Kochi and the best place to experience its laid-back but bustling atmosphere, as well as the friendliness of the locals.

The market is, like everything in Japan, ridiculously tightly packed with incredible food stalls and far too much choice to cope with. I’d really recommend getting a seat on one of the benches in the biggest eating area. This is set out a bit like a German beer hall, with long shared tables and a bit of communal revelry.

Once you’ve nabbed a spot, you can go off to gather a selection of food and drink from different stalls. If you’re not a seasoned Japanese traveller, this is the bit when you need to steel yourself and just go for it, either by pointing and hoping for the best or by asking for an English menu. I can confirm that a handful of them did have an English menu available. But it took a decent amount of Google Translate and hand gestures to get at them. 

You’ve got to get a selection of the local speciality, katsuo no tataki, and a pint of yuzu beer (see #3 and #4 on this list) at least. You can add whatever else you fancy, but those should be your objectives. If you’re anything like me, you’ll then really enjoy eating and drinking in the market surrounded by locals and having a good people watch.

Things to do in Kochi, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

2. Try the local beer speciality: yuzu beer

Weirdly, I can’t find anything online about Kochi’s love for yuzu beer, but when I went to Hirome Market, everyone was getting on it with a yuzu beer or three.

Kochi is very famous for its yuzu though. In case you’re not familiar with yuzu juice from your local Waitrose speciality food aisle (what is wrong with you?!), yuzu is a citrus fruit, a bit like an orange/lemon hybrid. Kochi is the biggest producer of yuzu in Japan, and this is a big thing because yuzu is a huge deal in Japan and across any country that does good Japanese cuisine too. You can even visit a yuzu factory somewhere in Kochi according to the local tourist board (but it’s not in the city itself).

Yuzu beer was brilliant and dangerously drinkable.

3. …And try the local food speciality: katsuo no tataki

The most well known of the local delicacies in Kochi is katsuo no tataki. This is sliced, lightly broiled bonito fish, usually served with spring onion, ginger and garlic. It’s traditionally cooked over straw until the outside is slightly grilled.

The best place to find it is of course the aforementioned Hirome Market, but you can also get it in little izakayas (pubs) around the city. I highly recommend making a little selection of other things with it from the market to make up your meal, along with the usual side portion of gohan (rice) of course. Got to soak up that beer with something.

4. Experience the friendliest locals ever

Like I said in the intro to this post, Kochi as a city is incredibly friendly, with a distinct lack of the normal Japanese reservedness. I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s still Japan. But it’s probably the only place in Japan where multiple people have started up a conversation with me in one night, without just trying to help with directions or something.

When we were sat in Hirome Market, we got chatting to two men on our shared table. I’m definitely putting this down partly to the affects of the yuzu beer chipping away at their inhibitions. But it was also partly due to a general air of Kochi being relaxed and slightly less bothered what people think.

These guys we spoke to were both local, colleagues who’d met up for a drink after work, and obviously curious as to why two Westerners were sat there in the middle of the market on a Thursday night. Normally it’s us who start talking to people, but they actually made the first contact and didn’t seem too bothered about not speaking much English, something a lot of Japanese people can get nervous about. They were both whipping out their phones to translate on Google so we could get by.

After they’d gone, we had the same thing happen with two students – one of whom managed to tell us he was planning on solving the climate crisis. I really hope he does. The other one told us he wanted to go to Austria because he likes the idea of Heidi. It was quite a wide-ranging conversation.

5. Drink in the view at the Godaisan Observatory

Right, onto things to do in Kochi that don’t revolve around sitting in a market eating and drinking…

The most memorable thing from my time in Kochi was definitely the view from the Godaisan Observatory at sunset. It doesn’t involve telescopes, despite the name. It’s just a viewpoint. But an excellent one.

You get a perfect vista over Kochi city, set perfectly among the mountains and interspersed with waterways. To get to the viewpoint, you have to go through the café and up to the roof. Make sure you go on a clear day to get the best out of it.

To get to Godaisan, you can take the My-Yu bus, which is the main public transport for tourists in Kochi and very cheap. Check the PDF for your nearest stop. This same bus will also take you to most of the other sights, too. 

6. Discover the Japanese concept of shakkei (borrowed scenery)

While you’re at Godaison Observatory, something worth noting is the perfect example of shakkei (borrowed scenery) when you turn around away from the main view of the valley and look at the grounds and surrounding forest of the observatory.

Although the view you’re met with isn’t quite as spectacular as looking over the city of Kochi, it’s amazing how well the mountains are incorporated into the scene. This is what shakkei is all about. It’s a design technique where distant views are incorporated into a garden and become part of the design.

In Tokyo, Mount Fuji is a favourite thing to capture as borrowed scenery, and lots of gardens incorporate it as a distant centrepiece of their design. In Godaison’s example, the roof wouldn’t look anywhere near as good if the mountains weren’t ‘borrowed’ as its backdrop. It only works when viewed from this angle though. As soon as you move from where you’re meant to view it from, it loses the scene and you notice the street lamps and car park more than the stunning framed bit of nature!

7. Visit the beautiful Chikurin-ji Temple complex

What would a trip to a Japanese city be without getting involved in some temples?! You can get a bit templed-out on a Japan holiday, but the Chikurin-ji one is lovely and definitely worth seeing. It’s another one easily reached from the My-Yu bus.

There’s a famous pilgrimage on Shikoku (the island where Kochi is) that goes to 88 Buddhist temples. Chikurin-ji is one of these, at number 31 apparently. I think that would temple-out even the most hardcore temple fan, but there you go.

It’s a pretty temple complex, founded in the 8th century (thanks Google). There are important Buddhist scrolls and statues in its hall, if you’re interested in that kind of thing. But I really enjoyed its stepping stones, set among the mossy grounds and leading you up the hill. It’s very peaceful, and when we went there weren’t any other tourists around.

The pièce de résistance, though, is the massive five-story pagoda. Look at that beauty!

 

8. Stay at the 7 Days Hotel Plus

I say this in every blog post I write about Japan, but Western-style hotels in Japan are often either not great or really expensive. Obviously I’m writing from a UK perspective on what’s expensive:  we’re lucky here to be able to book Premier Inns and the like for <£80 a night for a clean, decent room in most UK cities (not including stupid London). That kind of budget-but-decent hotel isn’t really a thing in Japan. You can read more about the ins and outs of Japanese hotels here.

Anyway, I did well finding the 7 Days Hotel Plus in Kochi. You got a Western-sized bed and the room was spotless and smoke-free (a treat in Japan TBH). It was around £65 a night when I was there (January) so an absolute bargain. The area was good, nice and central with some good cafés and bars about but not bang in the middle of noise.

I’m always pleased/relieved when I stay somewhere that isn’t awful in Japan, so I’m happy to recommend this hotel. This isn’t sponsored or an ad, by the way. I wish it was, but I’m not a glamorous enough blogger for that kind of caper.

9. Visit Kochi Castle

Kochi’s 16th century castle is situated on top of a hill, like many of Japan’s other castles. So you have to pass through its gates and walk up to earn a visit. Getting there is really easy – it’s bang in the centre of Kochi and there are signs leading you to it from any direction.

In spring, the castle grounds are full of cherry blossom. They’re free to wander, but it’s worth paying the small entrance to climb to the top of the castle for the views. If you’ve not done a Japanese castle before, be aware that there’s absolutely nowt inside them apart from tatami matting and stairs. No furniture. It’s not Versailles, people.

I’d say Kochi castle and grounds are not as pretty as Matsumoto or Himeji castles, and the structure itself doesn’t have as shiny golden edges as Okayama, but it’s a good castle as they go. It wouldn’t look out of place in a fairytale. Worth a visit for sure.

Also, just over the road from the castle is the Kochi Castle Museum of History. The exhibitions are only in Japanese, so this is only worth seeing if you can read Japanese or you’re particularly into castles and happy enough to try to work out what they’re on about.

10. Check out the tourist information centre

Kochi’s tourist information centre was probably the best one I’ve been to in Japan. It’s just outside the train station, so a logical place to start your trip. There were plenty of English-language brochures and leaflets (so many leaflets – has a country ever loved leaflets like Japan does?) and the staff speak enough English to help you out too.

You can also fill up your water bottles with filtered water from their machine, which is a weird thing to remember but when you’re trying to save the planet from plastic bottles but there’s not always somewhere to fill up, this is Important Information.

And of course, you’ve got to get a photo in front of the Kochi regional promotion wall. Classic Japan!

11. Have a cursory look at Harimayabashi, the little red bridge

One of the most famous landmarks of Kochi City is Harimayabashi, a a small red bridge bang in the middle of the main shopping area. It’s not that exciting as landmarks go. But it’s part of a legend, so people like it. I didn’t actually take a photo of it because it was so underwhelming. Soz.

Anyway, legend has it that a priest from Godaisan in the 19th century fell in love with a woman from Kochi. The priest’s temple didn’t allow them to have relationships, so they had to keep their dating on the down-low. The priest was caught at Harimayabashi buying a hair-comb for his girlfriend though! Damn you, Claire’s Accessories. And so to avoid being banished from the city or worse, they had to do a runner together.

The usual girl meets boy, boy buys her some tat, girl and boy have to flee their home to avoid certain death story. Lovely stuff.

12. Discover some local izakayas

Granted, this is something you can do in any Japanese city and not specific to Kochi. But given the relaxed (and boozy) nature of the city, it would be rude not to try a few izakayas (inns) during your stay.

I can’t recommend any specific ones, because as any seasoned travellers in Japan will know, finding the name of somewhere and trying to describe where it is is quite a feat. But I’d recommend this area (Google maps link), where we ended up having hot sake and beers in a second-floor bar surrounded by painfully cool hipster locals. I don’t think a tourist had ever set foot in there, as as usual I was ever-grateful for having a Japanese-speaking friend who can always sort these places out.

I’m sure if you just wandered aimlessly, you’ll find a izakaya equally good tucked away in Kochi’s winding streets.

13. Go to the Kochi Prefectural Museum of Art

This was a really good art gallery. You weren’t allowed to take photographs of anything, so you’re going to have to trust me on this one.

The building itself is lovely, surrounded by water features and greenery. Inside, there’s a café where you can stop for a tea before tackling the exhibitions. It’s free apart from the temporary exhibitions, which you have to pay to see (check prices online). Inside, you’ll find lots of wonderful Japanese art but also some big Western-known names like Chagall. Interestingly, they have the largest Chagall collection in the country and are really into him. When we went, there was a temporary collection of local photography and some of the photographers were present to talk about their work. One lovely man in particular couldn’t wait to show us his photographs and was proper excited that some English tourists were there.

To get to the art museum, you can get the Tosaden tram bound either for the medical university or the medical centre. Get off at Kenritsu Bijutsukan-dori on the former, or Kenritsu Bijutsukan-mae, for the latter. For either stop, it’s a five-minute walk to the museum.

14. Get a feel for the city by wandering its palm-lined streets

As we all know, the best way to understand any city is by walking round it. And then walking some more. Whenever I’m in Japan, I do 30,000 steps a day without even thinking about it. There’s just so much to take in and it never gets old, no matter what city we’re in or how many times I’ve been before.

With Kochi, the things that struck me from pounding its streets were:

  • how friendly the locals are, as already established – and how mildly drunk they got immediately after work… clearly a city after my own heart
  • how tropical and surfer-ish it felt.

On the latter point, you’ll see loads of palm trees around the streets of Kochi. It’s southern and sunny, and known for its fruit. So it’s no surprise really that it feels ‘beachy’, which leads me nicely onto my next recommendation for things to do in Kochi…

15. Soak up the sun on Katsura Hama Beach

The aforementioned MyYu tourist bus’s final stop is Katsura Hama, the sandy little jewel in Kochi’s crown.

Katsura Hama is a sort of seaside village, consisting of a couple of streets of souvenir shops with different restaurants above them, leading down to a beach. I’d recommend trying one of these cafés because they’re so unassuming but the kind of place you get an excellent (and cheap) lunch. Then when you’re suitably fed, head to the beach.

Now, before we all get overexcited, please remember that this is Japan, home of hideous concrete tetrapods and very limited open coastline. So although there’s a lovely little beach here, the emphasis is on little. It won’t take you more than a few minutes to walk from one end to the other. However, it’s definitely worth it. The only other place I’ve been to a proper beach in Japan is Naoshima, so any beach experience in Japan is to be savoured.

At one end of the beach there’s a shrine on a hill (again, I believe there was a water-bottle-filling opportunity here) and at the other end, there’s a massive statue of some famous Kochi chap. My favourite thing was clambering across the rocky outcrop to sit and have a look out at the sea.

A word of warning: There’s a performing sea lion show at a small aquarium on the shore here. It’s easily avoided, but if like me, animal cruelty upsets you, it’s best to be forewarned. On a happier note, this was the only animal problem I saw in Kochi. There were no zoos or caged birds at tourist spots like in other cities. We also saw lots of cute dogs going for walks, which made me happy!

16. Admire the plants at the Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden

Again, we’re off on the MyYu bus here. The Makino Botanical Garden is actually right by #7, the temple, so you could easily do both in one go. The garden is one of the most comprehensive botanical gardens in Japan, and they do love a botanical garden. This one is particularly good, not least for its gorgeous views (and of course some borrowed scenery!).

The garden is dedicated to Dr Tomitaro Makino, a local Kochi chap who was the father of Japanese botany. There’s a little exhibition of some of his sketches, which had English-language explanations as far as I can recall. Oh and there’s a shop, which had lots of pretty souvenirs and flower-themed bits and bobs.

The highlight for me was the hothouse, which has an incredible array of tropical plants. We visited in January, so it was actually lovely being inside the warmth, but you’d have to rapidly de-layer in warmer months. The outdoor sections of the garden are split into different regions and styles – for example, there’s a medicinal plant area, a colourful flower garden, and a pond surrounded by water-dwelling species. Even as early as January, there were some buds on the blossom trees just coming out, probably about to be trimmed back so they’re not too early, in classic Japanese style!

17. Browse the shops in the Obiyamachi Shopping Arcade

Heading back to the centre of the city, you’ll probably find yourself at various points during your stay in the Obiyamachi Shopping Arcade. Any and every Japanese city has a shopping arcade or 10, and Kochi is no exception.

This one is quite a large arcade, comprising of some covered walkways (fully pedestrianised) lined with two (or three maybe?) stories of shops and eateries. We got takoyaki one evening from a lady selling it through a little window in her restaurant, and it was a solid 10/10. There were some really nice clothes shops dotted about, although I must admit that I’m yet to find many affordable (Topshop/Zara/H&M type pricing) clothes shops in Japan that we can’t get at home. There are so many nice things but always expensive wherever you go in Japan. Anyway, I’m usually at the limit of my luggage allowance so this is probably a good thing.

Somewhere in the arcade is a shop selling local produce in jars and tins, so you could take it home. I got my parents some yuzu marmalade, which I never received a report back on but can only assume was yuzu-tastic. None of the products had English-language labels, but the staff were great at miming what they’re for.

18. Buy some cute kitchenware

While I’m talking about shopping, I should mention this gorgeous kitchenware shop that was near our hotel. It’s called ‘Futon Fabric Kitchen‘ (Google maps link), although it doesn’t just sell futon fabric. What it does sell is every beautiful thing you could ever need for a kitchen, set over two floors.

If you like buying your friends back home (or yourself) more practical souvenirs rather than the usual Japanese KitKats and postcards, this could be a treasure trove for you. It’s also relatively affordable for Japan. I really liked it, and it’s one of those shops you probably wouldn’t think to go in unless you knew it was there.

19. Mingle with the locals at the Sunday Market 

Despite a mildly disturbing amount of knives on sale, browsing the Sunday Market in Kochi is a nice way to unwind at the weekend. Apart from ALL THE KNIVES, it sells local fruit/veg, pottery/ceramics, cut flowers, house and garden plants, antiques, pickled things, handmade crafts, drinks, and fish. It’s mainly about the fruit and veg though, and there aren’t any clothes or accessories or many homewares, which are my favourite things to rootle through at markets. Probably the best thing to buy were the handmade mugs, which were dead rustic and Instagrammable.

I should add that if you buy some fresh fruit, the stallholder will be happy to cut it up for you to eat then and there. It’s not one of those places were you can’t buy food easily unless you’re planning on taking it home.

Also, note that it’s only worth going to the market in the morning. By lunch time, it’s starting to dwindle, and it starts closing down about 2pm.

More things to do in Kochi, Japan…

So that’s the end. Props to you if you made it this far.

I’ve probably missed quite a few things to do in Kochi off this list but these are the things I found particularly memorable, and that were doable in a couple of days. To be honest, places change so much and so quickly that it’s impossible to keep blog posts up to date unless you re-visit everywhere constantly, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

So let me know in the comments if you do any of my suggestions and what your favourite things to do in Kochi are. And what other off-the-beaten path cities in Japan have you been to?

Things to do in Kochi, Japan – useful information for your trip

Where to stay in Kochi

As mentioned in #7 of this list, the 7 Days Hotel Plus in Kochi is an absolute gem. It was around £65 a night when I was there (January) so a bargain. The area was good, nice and central with some good cafés and bars about but not bang in the middle of noise.

How to get around Kochi

You can buy a transport pass at the tourist information office mentioned in #10 of this list. A one-day pass was 500 yen for tourists, as long as you showed your passport. You’ll only need this for longer tram and bus journeys though. A lot of Kochi city is very walkable.

When to go to Kochi

This isn’t unique to Kochi but here are my general thoughts on when to visit Japan as a whole:

Spring in Japan is very popular because the cherry blossom is a big deal and the weather is mostly beautiful. But everyone else knows this too, so it can be very busy and more expensive due to this, coupled with the fact it’s Golden Week in Japan (when everyone gets time off work). So do weigh up how much cherry blossom and flawless Instagram shots matter to you. My favourite time to go to Japan in general is January. Don’t be afraid of the winter months. The weather is bright and crisp but there are far fewer tourists than other months. Our friends who live in Tokyo say autumn is also lovely but we’ve not done that ourselves… yet. Basically, avoid summer if you can, because HUMIDITY.

Further reading Japan in general

I’ve got an absolutely bloody HUGE post called:

You’ll probably need an entire pot of green tea if you’re going to read that one. Or something stronger. And you may also like my other Japan blog posts:

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16 Comments

  1. Fab post! I lived near Kochi and later Himeji when I was in Japan. Kochi is unique and very underrated. I love to see that Hirome is just how I remember 🙂

  2. Howling at this…

    girl meets boy, boy buys her some tat, girl and boy have to flee their home to avoid certain death

    Classic right?!

    Happy travels xx

  3. This looks like such a fabulous place. I would love to spend the day at Katsura Hama Beach and explore all of the markets!

  4. Kochi looks like a fun and unique Japanese town to visit. I’d particularly like to spend some time at the Katsura Hama Beach as I live near a beach and just love being near them!

  5. I had never heard of Kochi before! Sounds like such a cool place to visit. Japan has been on my bucket list for a while….maybe I’ll just have to add Kochi to my itinerary!

  6. Very cool city, looks like there’s lots to do! I never really associate beaches with Japan so it was cool to see one!

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