Kochi's "Okyaku" Culture - Everyone is a friend in Kochi!
In Kochi, the parties thrown to celebrate things like seasonal events and celebrations of “life goals” like getting married, etc. are called okyaku. Here, it’s easy to break the ice and get acquainted, or be invited for drinks!
There are many restaurants and events within Kochi Prefecture where you can experience okyaku culture for yourself, so be sure to add at least a few to your travel plans!
So what is Okyaku Culture?
Generally, in Japanese, the word "okyaku" means guest, however in Kochi Prefecture it means a gathering or party. This culture is deeply rooted in everyday life in Kochi, from celebrating life goals like getting married or buying a new house, to seasonal festivals like flower viewing or festivals offering prayers for a good harvest.
Guests, like friends and relatives, are invited around, and drinks and sawachi cuisine (a Kochi specialty) are prepared. The excitement continues from morning till night, with even passers-by being invited to join in. This is the party style of the warm and friendly people of Kochi.
People love to drink here, so much so that there was apparently a region in Kochi where "okyaku" would last for 3 days and 3 nights. Even now, you can still often see okyaku style in the drinking areas of Kochi, where groups will invite a stranger to come and drink with them.
Sawachi Cuisine - an essential for any "okyaku"
Sawachi cuisine is a must-have for any traditional “okyaku” gathering. Continuing on since the Edo Period, the cuisine features a large plate or platter, called a sawachi, which is loaded with mountains of local specialty foods.
There are two main types of sawachi ryori: the sashimi platter and the mixed food platter. For the sashimi platter, katsuo no tataki (seared bonito), bream, yellowtail, squid, etc. sashimi is plated up in large servings. As for the mixed food platter, piles of sushi, stewed dishes, grilled dishes, deep-fried food and desserts like fruits and yokan (a traditional Japanese sweet) colorfully adorn the plate.
Party guests gather around tables set with sawachi cuisine, taking the foods they like and putting them onto their own smaller plate in a sort of buffet style. In this way, there’s no need for the host to go back to the kitchen to continue cooking or have to worry about serving; everyone can sit down and enjoy the food and company together.
Saké is another main part of any good “okyaku”. Kochi people are known for being fond of the drink, and good quality saké is brewed right here in the prefecture. The main saké made in Kochi is dry and crisp to suit the local food culture.
Carefully continuing on their individual saké brewing techniques, the 18 saké breweries in Kochi Prefecture use high quality water and rice to create top grade saké, each with its own distinct flavor.
Kochi also has its own unique ways to enjoy and drink saké. At okyaku gatherings, you have a drinking style called Kempai and Hempai, and there are also local drinking games like Bekuhai and Hashiken.
If you want to experience "okyaku culture" then you have to visit Hirome Market!
For those who want to see what okyaku culture is all about, then Hirome Market is the place to visit. Located fairly close to Kochi Castle and the Sunday Market, Hirome Market is lined with about 40 food stalls and around 20 product stalls. Chairs and tables are also set up for customers in a market food court style.
Kochi-style food like katsuo no tataki (seared bonito) or local snacks that pair with Kochi’s saké are a great place to start. However, there are plenty of foods to choose from like sushi, rice bowls, Italian, Chinese and Indian cuisines, breads and sweets too. Of course, there are plenty of drinks to choose from as well!
Many locals come here for drinks with friends too. Shared tables are the norm and, as the drinks flow and people become merrier, drinking groups often merge into one. This atmosphere is the very essence of okyaku culture.
Head to these Kochi food events to experience “okyaku” for yourself!
From the first Saturday in March to the second Sunday, the streets of Kochi become one big party in an event called Okyaku of Tosa.
The event is overflowing with saké and food, and it’s a great place to get a taste of Kochi hospitality.
Tosa Hojosai (Harvest Festival) is held between September and November. You can enjoy all the flavors of the autumn harvest in each area of Kochi.
●Okyaku of Tosa
When: First Saturday to second Sunday in March
Where: Chuo Park, restaurants, shopping arcades, etc. in Kochi City
TEL: 088-823-0989 (Okyaku of Tosa Office) https://www.tosa-okyaku.com/
●Tosa Hojosai (Harvest Festival)
When: September to November
Where: Venues across 7 areas within Kochi Prefecture
TEL: 088-804-8333 (Tosa Hojosai Promotion Council) https://www.tosa-hojyosai.com/