Take on the Southern Islands Like a Local: Kochi Prefecture

Here’s the thing: if you’ve already hit the top tourist spots in Japan (we’re talking about the big three: Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto) and are thinking of exploring Japan like a local despite being a city boy or girl, then take on a smaller-scale city.

Let’s say you’re in Osaka and you’ve already seen the Umeda Sky Building and Dotonbori, and you’re yearning for a place that’s a lot quieter with a good balance of traditional Japanese culture and modernity– well then, we recommend Kochi Prefecture.

If you just so happen to be doing an Asia trip and are flying in from Hong Kong, you’re in luck because Hong Kong Express flights have finally partnered up with Kotobus Airport Express from Hong Kong Airport to Takamatsu Airport, where you’re also able to hop on a bus which takes you directly to Kochi City. There, you’ll be able to start your journey to becoming the most cultured Japan traveler.

Kochi Castle

In the morning, Kochi Castle is Japan’s only castle where all the main building structures have been preserved since 1603 and it is also the only castle in Japan where you can capture both its otemon (literally “great hand gate”) and tower in a single shot. At night, Kochi Castle is the place to be if you want to impress your significant other, as it shines across the entire city with its majestic build. Just last year, Kochi Castle held it’s own teamLab ‘borderless’ exhibition, lighting up the entire castle with projections of flora and fauna:

If you’re not sure what the hype about teamLab is, then here’s a little run through; since July of 2018, Japan became obsessed with the digital art collective ‘teamLab’, and visitors from all around the world put one of their digital exhibitions on their Japan ‘to-do list’. Now if you were one of the lucky visitors who managed to witness the beautiful digital art projections in Tokyo, then you would know that it was ridiculous– not the art, but the crowd. What’s a girl gotta do to get that perfect #gram shot? So to be able to see these amazing projections at night, on the backdrop of a beautifully white castle, and with fewer people– honestly, it’s a highlight.

Alongside big festivals, Kochi Castle holds annual events that are on par, if not, more amazing than its recent borderless exhibition, making it the perfect spot to impress your bae with all the exclusive travel spots.

Hirome Ichiba (Hirome Market)

If you’re literally only in Kochi city for a couple of hours, then skip the rest of this article because the only place that we will recommend you to visit on your short stay is Hirome Ichiba Market. Only a two-minute walk from Kochi Castle, Hirome Market is the place if you’re keen for some local eats while conversing with local people.

Packed to the brim with 65-street stall-styled restaurants, with most serving fresh katsuo (one of Kochi’s signature dishes, skipjack tuna or bonito) and some of the softest meat you will ever try, Hirome Market is a great balance of international and Kochi-only flavors. With private and communal eating tables, it’s so easy to make conversation with local Kochi-siders. If you’re anything like me and you’re super indecisive, then Hirome Market is the best place to go because you’re able to have a taste of everything– for us, we ordered from a lovely Japanese aunty on the table and she brought us food from her most recommended stalls.

If you have a couple of days in Kochi and Hirome Market is already on your list, then we really advise you to go on a Friday or Saturday night. Despite Kochi City’s 400,000 population (18 times smaller than Tokyo), we can safely guess those three-quarters of the town head down to Hirome Market to unwind on those nights. If you’ve only got the morning, then that’s fine also, but just don’t be concerned if you see people drinking at a brisk 1 pm on an average Wednesday afternoon– among Japanese people, Kochi-siders are known for their drinking, as it’s a prefecture that develops some of the world’s best nihonshu (a special type of Japanese sake). So with a little bit of liquid courage, we recommend you chat to the locals and enjoy eating dinner with them!

Kochi Street Market

In Japan, Kochi Prefecture has the highest rate of forestation in Japan, meaning that the foods you eat are most likely organic, freshly farmed, and above all, delicious. If you’re like us and don’t have one inch of a green thumb on your fingers, then the only way to get your hand on these fresh ingredients is at the Kochi Street Market.

But worry not! There are also many people in Kochi who don’t have experience in growing certain types of vegetables, which is why the market is one of the best spots to get everything you need, grown fresh by the people who know how to properly do it. The market is held four days a wee– Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The Sunday Market, in particular, can be dated back more than 300 years to 1690, where even today, it’s used as a social and cultural spot for local residents to help support each other in daily life.

At the Kochi Street Market, you’ll see crowds of local people busily buying and selling their products in the Tosa dialect, which means they’re people full of banter and good-will. Stretching down one lane of the two-laned Otesuji Road that connects Kochi Castle, Hirome Ichiba and the Street Market together, the Kochi Street Market is not only filled with some of the freshest produce you’ll ever eat but also regional delicacy products and plenty of interesting market stalls selling original goods. However, if you do decide to buy some of the home-grown vegetables there, you should know with full confidence that they’re all safe from any additional agricultural chemicals so you won’t be unexpectedly growing anything you didn’t plan!

Just imagine, 1.3 kilometers of roughly 430 stalls, selling all your favorite fruits, vegetables, and local craftsmanship all in one spot, and available every Sundays all day… there’s nothing you won’t be able to find. With over 15,000 people coming and going throughout the market, we recommend you get in there quick to this fresh food paradise!

Next time you try to take on Kochi like a pro, we'll see you there!

Elise Meng