Adventure from forests and rivers to the mighty Pacific and rugged sacred shorelines.
Kochi Prefecture is one of those remote areas of Japan that even many Japanese haven't visited. It's best known for its subtropical climate, rural food producers, and untouched nature - particularly its rivers and mountains.
This 3-night, the 4-day tour takes you to three iconic farm stays or similar countryside "stay" experiences. You have the freedom of a rental car and a potpourri of sights and things to do each day before arriving at your lodging. All activities are optional and generally will be free or self-pay on the spot. We will make all the reservations for you, though.
We have chosen each farm/homestay so that you can walk around the area and soak up the atmosphere of being in a genuine rural village. You'll meet the friendly locals who, while they may not speak much English, will make up with smiles and accommodating body language. And of course, if there is ever a pressing communication need, our Support Desk is just a chat or phone call away. After our carefully designed Eastern Kochi Farm Stays tour, we are sure you will want to come back for a more in-depth experience.
If you are looking for a thrill ride in Shikoku, we recommend a super fun Yoshino river rafting experience.
Kochi Prefecture has the longest coastline in Japan exposed to the central Pacific Ocean and the powerful Kuroshio current welling from the equator and swirling up past the shores of the northwestern rim nations. As a result, Kochi's climate is humid and subtropical. Snow only falls in the high ranges, and the ocean temperature seldom dips below 16 degrees year-round. The fertile alluvial soils make for a perfect growing environment for fruit, veggies, and river and ocean fish. This tour takes you around the hills/mountains in the northeast of Kochi through to the rugged, wind-swept shorelines of Muroto Peninsular, one of the birthplaces of Buddhism in Japan. Enjoy gorgeous forested scenery, untamed rivers, quaint mountain hamlets, and ancient Buddhist meditation caves.
Arriving at Kochi Airport, your first port of call is to claim your rental car. Although vendors speak little English, we will prepare all the logistics for you, and provide you with the rental details you will need. Note that Google Maps works perfectly well for Kochi roads, in English, so make sure that you have a working cell phone. If you need a local SIM, we can supply this to you. After signing the rental documents and stowing your luggage, it's time to hit the road for a drive north to the mountain river town of Otoyo, where you will step back into the mists of time exploring an area hidden from the modern world due to the escape of a samurai family to the area in the 12th century. Or you can join the 21st century in riotous fashion by rafting down the mighty Yoshino River.
So are you the active type? If so, we recommend a half-day river rafting experience with our vendors in Otoyo town, who have been operating on the Yoshino River for over 20 years. They have an impressive safety record and will give you an experience suited to your group. Little kids? Then the calmer parts of the river will be perfect. Teenagers? Let them try the excitement of a kilometer of high-speed rapids as the river forces its way between narrow chasms.
If you arrive at Otoyo early enough, you can not only book a rafting experience in the morning, and you can continue the thrills with a canyoning experience in the afternoon. If you're not the sporty type, we can arrange a visit to some of the unique tea plantations in Japan, if not the world. The rarest and most expensive tea in Japan comes from this region. It's known as goishi-cha, after the black stones in the traditional game of Go, and there are just 4-5 farmers left who can make it. Goishi-cha is a double fermented tea that results in a product that looks like a seaweed laver. Just like sourdough bread, the tea has a strong, sour, almost citrus taste and should be brewed for a short period if you're new to it. The taste is unique and profound, though, and will quickly grow on you.
Have lunch either at the rafting place if you're rafting, or try the local Indian restaurant, run by an Indian fellow who married a Japanese lady and settled down. With a falling population, you wouldn't think a foreign restaurant could make it in Otoyo. Still, it's prevalent for the authentic cooking style. If you're not canyoning in the afternoon, why not take a drive across to the next valley and visit Iya? Yes, this is in Tokushima, but the Yoshino is one of the tributaries, and it's all connected. Please be sure to see the vine bridge at Kazurabashi and drive up to the village of Nagoro, where is known for the seamstress "Tsukimi Ayano" (the Moon Godness.")
You'll spend the evening in a hillside home that a rafting firm has renovated. They will prepare a BBQ and other dishes for you and leave you to the calming quiet of the forest. This home is perched on the side of a steep ravine, so in the morning, you'll wake up in the sunlight streaming uninterrupted through the windows.
We leave the hinterland of Otoyo and descend to the sea, where we follow the coastline for a way before returning into more mountains. But this time, we will be in yuzu country - the flavorsome citrus taking the French cooking world by storm.
Our first stop will be on the coastline, as we visit an ice cream shop with a remarkable and tasty difference. We suggest you start with the charcoal-roasted eggplant first, as the farmer's cooperative producing it are traditionally eggplant growers. Follow that up with a suji aonori (local deep ocean seaweed) ice cream that creates intriguing color and taste combinations with the dairy. Finally, follow up with a medley of sorbets, including eggplant (of course!), roasted sweet potato, pumpkin, egg (Tosa Jiro), ginger, and yuzu citrus. Further down the coast, we turn inland and visit the world's only certified replica of the famed Monet's garden in Giverny, France. Only the village of Kitagawa, Kochi, Japan, was permitted to build a replica. That is the village of Kitagawa, Kochi, Japan. This tour takes you to the heart of Monet's inspiration - his gardens. You will see the excellent job that the gardeners and curators have done with their Kitagawa site. After this time of reflection and motivation, you can have lunch at the cafe on-site, a delightful space with western dishes and pastries.
Ascending back up into the mountains, we'll reach the tiny heavy-forested hill town of Umaji, one of the centers of Kochi's yuzu industry. In Umaji, our first stop will be the JA Umaji Yuzu-no-Mori Factory. The manager there will walk you through the factory and show you both the area's history. The factory owns hundreds of kilometers of miniature railways hauling produce out of the mountains through to the state-of-the-art equipment used now to process this very traditional fruit. All parts of the factory are visible, and you can follow the entire process.
In the end, you may have the thrill to take a very steep cable car that once was used to haul fruit and timber. You may also go to a sedate onsen. If you opt for the dip, as always, don't forget to bring a towel! Finally, we head for the mountain top town of Yanase, where the Nahari River has been dammed and has formed a picturesque lake around the city. Your accommodation for the evening is a small family-run lodge nestled right up by the lake. Its unique feature, apart from the fact that it's in a remote and peaceful village, is that it has its mineral-rich onsen. Dinner will be served, and both it and breakfast will be generous portions of Japanese-style cooking. a
Today you will start delving into the history of Buddhism in Japan. Still, before doing so, there is a small matter of traversing the mountain ridges that form the spine of Muroto peninsular and descending to Kochi's east coast. Although the distance is just 47 km, the road is anything but straight. It would be best if you left at least an hour and a half to get to the coastal town (although Kochi's northernmost city on the east coast) of Toyo-cho. Plenty of photographic panoramas along the way. The timing is fortunate because Toyo-cho serves some of the freshest katsuo-no-tataki (seared bonito) in Japan. Both the locals and surfers descend on the place for lunch. So you'll want to get there a bit early to get a seat! Did we mention surf? The big attraction of Toyo-cho is its reliable surf breaks. Thanks to the Pacific Ocean, the swells break directly on its shores when the prevailing summer winds are in play. You can rent surfboards here, but let us know ahead of time. The place is tiny and visited mainly by surfers driving 4-5 hours from the megapolis of Osaka to the northeast. Rest assured that if you see during a weekday and you want to hit the waves, there won't be quite as much competition.
Next, we head south down to the tip of the Muroto peninsular. Here we can find a plethora of interesting sites related to one of the most famous personalities of Japanese Buddhism - Kukai. Or Kobo Daishi, as he was named after death. Kukai was born in Kagawa Prefecture in 774, studied esoteric Buddhism in China, and brought it back to Japan to found the Esoteric Shingon, or "mantra" branch of the religion. Kukai set up his base at Mount Koya in Wakayama, but traveled to his beloved home island many times on retreats and meditation. He has visited many of the temples around the island. His travels became known as the Ohenro, a 3-month walking pilgrimage still popular today. Kukai died at Mount Koya at the ripe old age of 61. Apart from the Ohenro, Kukai's most important connection with Shikoku is found at the tip of Muroto peninsular in Kochi. While meditating in a cave (on our route) known today as Mikurodo, he was found to have achieved enlightenment - perhaps the most meaningful spiritual progression for a Buddhist. You can find a statue of Kukai as a young man, rock pools where he is said to have bathed and meditated, and of course, the all-important cave. There isn't much to see, but the actions and spirit of this critical individual reverberate through the ages and make each spot sacred.
Our destination for the evening is Temple Number 34, Hotsumisaki-Ji. That is probably the windiest temple in Japan because Muroto peninsular is the second windiest place in Japan (after Hokkaido's Cape Soya), so make sure you are bundled up. The temple itself is built on a peninsula and is impressive for its outlook and "treasures." Of particular interest are some bitter yams that are both huge and, of course, inedible. The back story is that Kukai asked an old lady for one of her yams after a long day on the road, and she selfishly made up a story that they were inedible so as not to share. Her yams became bitter, and they were discarded at the temple - where you can still see a forest of them today. Behind the temple is our accommodation - the temple stay building, otherwise known as a shukubo. There are plenty of rooms, very plainly decorated in the Buddhist style, and meals are provided. They are meatless, and thus also in keeping with Buddhist values.
As this is the last day of your tour, be sure to check and see if you have time to stop on the way before your flight of the day. You are about 70 km and 90 minutes away from the airport. If you have time, we recommend taking an extra 2-4 hours to view some unique locations along the way.
The first stop is a wonderfully preserved Meiji-era village called Kiragawa. Several blocks of this village feature homes and properties that are several hundred years old and built with local rocks in a beautiful mosaic of pattern and texture. Long walls of stones piled up and retained with mortar, ancient buildings, and timbers still in place and being lived in. It will take you about 20-30 minutes to stroll the area, and make sure you have your camera handy. The shots will be one of your talking point highlights when you get back home. Next, is an unlikely location called Akaoka. This town has seen better times, but it has two fascinating attractions as a means of revitalization.
Firstly a traditional performance hall where the audience sits in timber-separated squares on the floor. The lobby is beautifully finished in local wood, and the textiles transport you back two hundred years. The second location is very distinctive and will either delight you or shock you. It's the Ekin Museum, a house-cum-museum dedicated to the bloodthirsty images/art of Hirose Kinzou, better known as Ekin. He lived from 1812 to 1876 and is famous for his rollercoaster life, starting out as a talented painter for local dignitaries and falling from grace and narrowly avoiding execution.
Ekin was banished from society for ten years and wandered Shikoku trying to stay alive. Just when he returned is unknown, but obviously, the experience made him a bit psychotic and prompted him to play to the basest of human emotions to earn a coin. He discovered that ordinary folk loved murderous images depicting scenes in equally ferocious plays that were popular at the time. His paintings mainly were on shibai-e byoubu or theatrical illustrations on cloth screens displayed outside the performance halls. His works became hugely popular for their goriness and spookiness. Most of the paintings are gone. Those that remain are displayed around the neighborhood on two memorable occasions during local festivals in mid-July. And so, with Ekin's image seared on our minds, it's time to leave Akaoka and head to the airport. Hopefully, you left enough time to drop off your vehicle and do the local flight check-in. We suggest that with a 1-hour prior check-in, you will need up to another hour to take care of the rental return. If you prefer not to get into the details, please note that we offer a service at an additional cost to take care of your rental returns for you. Let us know if you need this.
Rental car service in the vicinity of Kochi Ryoma Airport.