Kōchi is a relaxed town on the southern coast of Shikoku, well-known for its Yosokoi Festival in August. Kōchi possesses one of Japan's last authentic medieval castles. Sakamoto Ryōma, a famous samurai from Kōchi, played an vital role in the Meiji Restoration.
The remote prefecture of Kōchi was referred as "Tosa no Kuni Takeyoriwake" in the Kojiki, and later became known simply as Tosa.
The Hosokawa clan ruled over the region from the end of the Kamakura shōgunate in 1333 to 1507, when Chosokabe took over the region. In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu assigned Yamanouchi Kazutoyo as new daimyo. Yamanouchi built a new castle between 1601 and 1611, which was named Kōchi, meaning "between two rivers" (河内). After being plagued by numerous water-related disasters, the kanji was changed to "高知", meaning "high knowledge", in the hope it would improve its fortune.
Kōchi, as the city became known, played an important role in the Meiji restoration. Kōchi's most famous son is undoubtly Sakamoto Ryōma, who helped forge the alliance between the Chōshu and Satsuma samurai, who were to lead the revolution against the Tokugawa shōgunate.
Kōchi Castle (￥350, open 9am-5pm) is the prime attraction of the town. It is one of the few authentic castles left in Japan, although it is not the original built in 1611, which burnt down in 1727, but its 1753 reconstruction.
The interior is consequently cosier than castles built during more tumultuous periods before the long Tokugawa peace (1600-1866).
Overlooking Kōchi's port is the Godai-san-kōen Park (五台山公園), a few kilometers south-east of the city center. Chikurin-ji Temple (竹林寺), 31st of Shikoku's 88-temple circuit, is perched on a hilltop in the middle of the park. Chikurin-ji was founded in 724 and is said to contain a bone of Buddha from Bodhgaya in India. Although the relic is not displayed to the public, the treasure house (￥400, open 9am-5pm) has some interesting Tantric statues which are very Indian in feel.
If you happen to be in Kōchi on a Sunday, don't miss the colourful street market along the palmtree-lined avenues.
13km south of Kōchi, Katsurahama beach is a popular excursion. The beach itself is not really impressive, and people come more for the Tosa dog fights or the Sakamoto Ryōma Memorial Museum (￥400, open 9am-5pm). The museum retraces the life of the local hero, who died just 32 years old. The eccentric building in which it is housed is as much worth it as the inside.
From 9 to 12 August, the Yosokoi Matsuri shouldn't be missed if you are in the area. Some 14,000 dancers in bright attire make up for one of Shikoku's liveliest festivals.
How to get there
The JR Nampu Limited Express connects Kōchi to Okayama in 2 hours 30 minutes (￥3,180). Okayama is on the main shinkasen line running through Hakata, Osaka, Tokyo and Sendai.
Kōchi Ryuma airport is about 40 minutes by bus (￥700) from Kōchi, and has flights to Tokyo (Haneda), Nagoya, Osaka (Itami and Kansai), Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Miyazaki and Okinawa.