Stepping into Kochi Prefecture in Autumn
Discovering activities, tasting foods and exploring Kochi Prefecture
Getting out of the city and enjoying all that Kochi Prefecture is a must for anyone looking for a unique Japanese vacation. Explore more of Kochi by joining activities and finding interesting new locations outside the city. Follow us as we cycle through forests and rivers, venture to temples surrounded by autumn colors, hike through therapeutic mountain paths, and enjoy mouthwatering delicacies unique to Kochi. Here are a few recommended activities that will surely create a memorable trip.
Group Cycling through Kochi Prefecture
Kochi has superb weather for most of the year and Autumn is no exception. The colored leaves and cool breezes make a bicycling through the countryside an excellent choice. There are many cycling paths in Kochi Prefecture to choose from and we went with one nearby Kochi City along the Monobe River on a tour that combines cycling and cafe-hopping, owned and operated by a family.
As we arrived, we found several bicycles lined up for us so we excitedly chose our favorite color and style. The instructors greeted us warmly and after brief instructions and an overview we set off on our adventure. They will create a route for you based on your schedule and fitness level, but we recommend cycling along the river for a few hours. The courses take you through shady, forested paths, along farms and rice fields, and beside serene river waters. During our leisurely ride we had plenty of time to laugh and chat amongst ourselves. We also found the local Kochi people incredibly friendly and always happy to say hello to a group of passing foreigners. Plenty of breaks were offered along the way at scenic destinations where you can walk around and take in the sounds and scenery. Stops included a large river bank where we whistled as loud we could and a towering bridge with views overlooking the Suita Dam.
Both courses give travelers the option of stopping at a number of café’s along the way for snacks and drinks. Most have outdoor patio seating and amazing views overlooking the rivers. This guided tour is recommended for groups from two to ten people, includes all gear (bicycle, gloves, helmet, etc.), and runs from 9:00 to as late as 16:30 depending on which course you select.
Autumn colors surrounding Chikurinji Temple
Following our autumn theme, we moved on to the Chikurinji Temple to view the fall colors. This is a must see location as fiery leaves in red, orange and yellow surround the temple grounds and Japanese gardens. Chikurinji, opened in the year 724, is one of the highlights of the famous 88 temples along the Shikoku pilgrimage path and deserves to be seen in multiple seasons.
Nearby is one of Kochi Prefecture’s top three Japanese gardens. The garden is beautiful year round, but the autumn leaves add a whole new level of beauty. As we walked through the gardens and temple grounds we experienced interesting sights and sounds including a procession of pilgrims with bells, hats, and traditional garb. We also happened to encounter some laughing children dressed in kimono for the traditional children’s ceremony called Shichi-go-san, and the haunting music of the Japanese shakuhachi bamboo flute from their concert. There seemed to be a layer of excitement in the atmosphere that made this trip all the more worthwhile.
Ascending the highlands
The border between Kochi and Ehime Prefecture at an altitude above 1,000 meters is a completely different experience from the typical coastline and river attractions that Kochi is famous for.
At the Godan Kogen Highlands on the Shikoku Karst, the landscapes are filled with spectacular limestone rock formations emerging from the very earth. The rolling green hills and jutting rocks here are quite magnificent to look upon and reminded me of something I would expect to find in Scotland or New Zealand. Cattle can be found grazing and the area is dotted with the occasional farmhouse and windmill creating a picturesque rural setting. The highlands are known to have four distinct seasons including snow coverage in the winter and fresh greens in the spring. During our trip we were treated with eerie fogs that crept across the landscape hiding and revealing entire sections of the highlands right before our eyes.
The nearby Tengu Kogen Highlands holds the aptly named Forest Therapy Road. This serene path cuts right alongside the forested mountain and is designed to provide its travelers true peace. The path runs several kilometers in length and takes you through the forest on a path of soft wood chips surrounded by nature. This is a chance to completely release your daily stress, relax to the sounds of Japanese birds and wildlife, and enjoy the many aromatic smells of the forest (of which the path is famous for).
Feeling completely refreshed and ready to enjoy a nice dinner and bath, we stopped at the neighboring Tengusou Ryokan. During the evening, be sure to get outside and view the sunset cast through the mountains below. Furthermore, on clear nights the skies above reveal astounding star views that can only be seen from a rural highland location.
Tastes of Kochi in Autumn
There are a multitude of unique foods and drinks across Kochi Prefecture and finding the top places to satisfy your appetite is part of the fun.
In autumn, mandarin oranges are a top selection and an all-you-can-eat course can often be found for only a several hundred yen! At the Yamakita Mikan Picking in Konan City, hills as far as the eye can see are filled with over 18,500 mandarin orange trees. Strolling through the groves of trees gives you a feeling of being in California and hunting for that perfect mandarin orange with your friends is an experience you won’t soon forget.
If you are looking for something on the warmer side, then Kochi’s Nabeyaki Ramen should fit the bill. This Susaki City-born specialty dish is served in a clay pot to get the temperature just right and keep it there! Take off the lid and stir it up as you watch the eggs finish frying in the soup. This Ramen is only found in Kochi and is a true soul food, perfect for warming the body and mind.
If you are in the mood for a drink, you are in luck as Kochi Prefecture is known as sake country. Kochi is home to many sake breweries including its oldest, the Nishioka Sake brewery, founded in the year 1781. Here visitors can take a tour through the brewery viewing the sake making process. Near the entryway are tasting rooms where groups can enjoy different varieties before choosing a bottle or two to purchase and bring home.
A stroll through Kure and the Taisho Town Market
Bonito fishing has been a major industry for the village of Kure, and it preserves the scenery of the fishing port from old times. In 2011, the Kure port became the first port to be listed as an Important Cultural Landscape site.
Walking through the streets we experienced village life complete with narrow roads and friendly people outside their homes cleaning and preparing fish for dinner. We found many interesting places along the way including a beachfront populated with local cats, majestic Ryokans overlooking the harbor, high rising tsunami evacuation tower that double as viewpoints for tourists, and big shrines dedicated to providing safe weather and calm seas.
The heart of the town is the Kure Taisho Town Market where locals and visitors gather for shopping, eating and socializing. The covered arcade market has served as the village center since the Meiji era and is a contrast to large markets such as Tsukiji in Tokyo. The environment is certainly more friendly and slow-paced and the people are happy to chat and make a visitor feel at home. Try the “Kure bowl” which allows you to place personally selected items from the market (raw fish, grilled fish, and sides) in a rice bowl. We each had our own opinion of what was best so each bowl was quite unique in appearance and taste. You can also try grilling the bonito yourself with straw fires. The the fierce fire from burning straw is spectacular and adds a smoky aroma to the fish, making it an unforgettable dish.
A spine-tingling artistic experience
For those interested in art and gripping displays, the Ekin museum in Akaoka has a horror style theme that will surely satisfy.
The artist known as Kinzo the Painter, or Ekin for short, was a prodigy well known for his controversial dark and twisted style of art. In the museum visitors will find themselves lost among the dramatic folding screen paintings created by Ekin, many standing over six feet tall. The sounds and low lighting of the museum combined with the blood-soaked scenes create a memorable experience and interesting insight into Japanese art from over one hundred years ago. The atmosphere truly comes to life as each member of the group is given a lantern to guide them on their path through the dimly lit halls filled with the sounds of wind and echoes.