People in Kochi love a good party, and happy times like marriages and seasonal events are celebrated with parties called okyaku , which often involve special foods and plenty of locally brewed sake.
This friendly- fun-loving culture also extends to visitors, so read on to find out how you can experience okyaku culture for yourself in Kochi Prefecture.
What Does Okyaku Mean?
In Japanese, okyaku usually just means “guest.” However, in Kochi Prefecture it has a different meaning, which is “gathering/party.” This culture of gathering together to celebrate is deeply rooted in everyday life in Kochi. From getting married or buying a new house to seasonal harvest or flower viewing festivals, in Kochi there is always something to celebrate.
Friends and relatives are invited around and plied with drinks and sawachi cuisine (more about that below). The excitement continues from morning till night, and even passers-by are invited to join in. In areas with many bars or during outdoor festivals, groups will invite strangers to come and drink with them, until they become friends.
This is the warm and friendly party style of people in Kochi, and apparently there was a region where okyaku would last for 3 days and 3 nights!
Sawachi Cuisine: An Essential For Any Okyaku
Sawachi cuisine is a must-have for any okyaku gathering, a tradition that has continued since the Edo period (1603–1867). The name comes from the Japanese word for a large platter, as sawachi consist of huge platters of beautifully arranged (and plentiful) tidbits.
There are two main types of sawachi , the sashimi platter and the mixed food platter. The sashimi platter is loaded with fresh katsuo no tataki (seared bonito), along with generous portions of bream, yellowtail, squid and other sashimi. The content of the mixed food platter can vary, but you will often see piles of sushi (both fish and vegetable-based), stewed veggies and fish, grilled dishes, deep-fried finger foods and even colorful desserts like fruit and yokan (a traditional jelly-like sweet).
Party guests gather around tables set with sawachi platters, free to take whichever nibbles they like best. This friendly and informal style of entertaining allows the host to join in the fun, without having to run back and forth to the kitchen. Everyone can sit down and enjoy the food and company together.
Sake is another main ingredient for any good okyaku . People in Kochi are known for being fond of the drink, and the 18 sake breweries in Kochi Prefecture use high quality water and rice to create top grade sake, each with its own distinct flavor. Most sake varieties made in Kochi are dry and crisp, brewed to enhance the local cuisine and have a smooth, pleasant finish.
At okyaku gatherings you may come across some Kochi-specific drinking styles such as kempai and hempai , where people will offer and accept drinks from the same sake cup as a friendly gesture. There are also some fun local drinking games like bekuhai , where participants spin a six-sided top to decide which special or “trick” sake cup they will drink from, and hashiken , a guessing game played using chopsticks.
There are yearly events where you can experience the full okyaku experience for yourself!
One of the best is the Tosa no Okyaku, a festival that runs from the first Saturday to the second Sunday of March, when the streets, shopping arcades and major parks of Kochi City turn into one big party. Throughout this large festival the city overflows with sake, food and fun themed events, making this a great time to get a taste of real Kochi hospitality.
Another okyaku event to look for is the Tosa no Houjousai, a harvest festival held between September and November in seven areas around Kochi Prefecture. Enjoy all the flavors of the autumn harvest at outdoor markets and food stalls!
●Tosa no Okyaku
When: First Saturday to second Sunday in March
Where: Chuo Park, restaurants, shopping arcades, etc. in Kochi City
TEL: 088-823-0989 (Tosa no Okyaku Office) https://www.tosa-okyaku.com/（only in Japanese）
●Tosa no Houjousai (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/（only in Japanese）
Everyday Okyaku Culture at Hirome Market
If you missed the big festivals, don’t worry! Visitors can still experience Kochi-style hospitality every day at Hirome Market, a covered market near Kochi Castle and the Sunday Market. Hirome Market has around 50 food stalls, with lots of tables and chairs set up so customers can settle in to enjoy all the foods and drinks, food court style.
Start your foodie adventure with some local favorites like katsuo no tataki (seared bonito), aonori (green laver) tempura, fresh sashimi or fried chicken, that all pair nicely with Kochi’s excellent dry sake. However, there are plenty of foods to choose from like sushi, rice bowls, Italian, Chinese and Indian cuisine, and sweets. Of course, there are plenty of drinks besides sake to choose from as well!
Many locals come here for drinks with friends. 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.