Kochi Prefecture – Central
The central part of Kochi is defined by green trees and rich rice terraces, incredibly clear waters, adorable little towns and karst mountains.
Nakatsu Gorge and Valley
The Nakatsu Valley was the first stop of our mountain day, as we headed to the tea-terraces and national parks. This short hike takes you into the valley, past the giant rocks resting in the crystal clear waters. Blue and green pools are broken by colourful plants and buddha statues, before reaching a waterfall at the end, highlighting the unique purple colour of the rocks in the valley. There is an extended hike you can do, going steeper and further into the valley.
Niydo Blue and River
Niydo Blue is a colour, known in Japan, due to the waters here. I spent most of my time with the waters of Shimanto, but the Niydo area offers water-sports and activities as an alternative.
Asunaro Matcha Noodle Restaurant
At Asunaro, a cafe which commanded an impeccable view of the terraces, mountains and a vast lake, we braved the outside winter temperatures wrapped in blankets to appreciate the vistas fully. The tasty green both with thick juicy noodles we were served was exquisite, and the high antioxidant, metabolism-boosting, mind-calming Matcha dish went down a treat.
Tengu Highlands forest therapy road
In Japan, wellness rules, and the Tengu Highlands forest therapy road is a fancy name for a pathed walk through the forest of the national park, where trees and fresh-air are the order of the day for your wellness therapy.
Shikoku Karst Natural Park
Full of karst rock formations, forest, and vast empty spaces at altitude, the Shikoku Karst National Park stretches across the Kochi boundaries and was about as un-Japan like as I imagined, almost like Switzerland at times. Given it’s a bit out the way, it’s certainly more popular with domestic tourists looking for a mountain escape, than international tourists.
Yusuhara Town and Library
What I wasn’t expecting during my trip to Japan was to stumble upon a library designed by no-less than the man behind the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Stadium, Kengo Kuma.
Located in the beautiful village of Yusuhara, made even more magnificent thanks to it’s forested mountain setting and buried electricity cables, rather than over hanging like much of the region, this picturesque library is a homage to the woodwork the renowned artists likes to design with. In fact, there are more buildings of his work here, including a museum in his dedication. The library itself is a warm, open place, with dramatic wooden beams erupting from the ceiling, a grand piano at the entrance, and cosy corners to settle into. The wooden cube-like design outside is equally as striking, and it fits in perfectly with the nature of this region, which is well worth a visit for many other reasons beyond the library.
Motoyama Montbell Village
Set along the Yoshino river, Motoyama is a region inland, and I headed here to visit the recently opened Montbell Village, yep, same as the outdoor sport cloth retailer. This woodland park offers camping and comfortable wooden lodges, with water-sports and nature activities awaiting on the river.
Location | Car or nearest station: Matsumura Bus Stop
Aikawa Tanada terraced rice fields & Keigetsu Sake Brewery
Firstly, this spot is quite stunning. Surrounded by rice terraces, you’ll also find a winery (surprised me too!) nearby.
Keigetsu Brewery is renowned and has even won the world gold award for Sake; such is the quality of its produce. While there are countless Sake houses across the country, if you haven’t yet visited one and have a car, this is a great place to come for a sampling, and if you are really lucky, able to secure a tour of the traditional production house.
You’ll learn about polishing numbers which reflect on the quality of the sake, be able to taste various types, and, as I said if you can, join a tour with the Sake brewery to learn more about the methods from the master.
Cooking Katsuo no Tataki (Seared Bonito) at Kuretaishomachi Market
You go to the fresh fish stalls and select what you fancy to eat; this is then cooked and prepared for you and served up in the cute warm room where tea and other drinks can be added to complete the meal.
What is really cool though, is if you ask nicely you’ll probably be allowed to cook Katsuo no Tataki, the famous local dish, yourself. Leftover hay is thrust into the flames, and this hay added the flavour to the fish. It’s quickly sealed on both sides over the flame, before being expertly sliced and served with an adapted soy sauce and wasabi and salt. It was cool to get stuck into the market scene and have a go at making my own version of this local speciality, a type of seared sushi. By all accounts, I think i did a pretty good job too!