- Visit some of central Kochi's best farm stays, and the food and scenery that goes with them
- Mixture of driving and outdoor activities, completely flexible and matched to your activity level
- Rental car, a selection of recommended sights and meals on the way and phone-in logistics support to help with communication if you need it
Kochi Prefecture is one of those remote areas of Japan that even many Japanese haven't visited. It's best known for its subtropical climate, rural food producers, and untouched nature - particularly its rivers and mountains. This 3-night, 4-day tour takes you to three iconic farm stays or similar countryside "stay" experiences, and with the freedom of a rental car, a potpourri of sights and things to do each day before arriving at your lodging. All activities are optional and generally will be free or self-pay on the spot. We will do all the reservations for you though. Each farm/home stay has been chosen so that you can walk around the area and soak up the atmosphere of being in a genuine rural village. You'll meet the friendly locals who, while they may not speak much English, will make up with smiles and accommodating body language. And of course if there is ever a pressing communication need, our Support Desk is just a chat or phone call away. After our Central Kochi Farm Stays and Touring exploration, we are sure you will want to come back for a more in-depth experience.
Kochi Prefecture has the longest coastline in Japan exposed to the central Pacific Ocean and the powerful Kuroshio current welling from the equator and swirling up past the shores of the northwestern rim nations. As a result, Kochi's climate is humid, and subtropical. Snow only falls in the high ranges, and the ocean temperature seldom dips below 16 degrees year round. This, plus the fertile alluvial soils, make for a perfect growing environment for fruit, veggies, and river and ocean fish. This tour takes you around the central hills/mountains in the north of Kochi, centering on the famed Niyodo River and Yusuhara regions, so you can enjoy gorgeous forested scenery, untamed rivers, and quaint mountain hamlets. Gourmet experiences are a secondary feature of the tour and you will be able to try many ingredients and dishes unique to Kochi Prefecture. All activities are optional and suggestions only, and you won't need to decide or commit to any locations on the itinerary until you are ready to book (after which a commitment is made by us with the vendors). This tour is intended for couples, families, and small groups (less than 8-10 due to the limitations on bed space at farm stay facilities). For groups, room-sharing, Japanese-style, will be essential. All aspects of this tour are customizable and be assured that we will always prepare a quotation with all the relevant details before you make any commitments.
Arriving at Kochi Airport, your first port of call is to claim your rental car. Although vendors speak little English, we will prepare all the logistics for you, and provide you with the rental details you will need. Note that Google Maps works perfectly well for Kochi roads, in English, so make sure that you have a working cell phone. If you need a local SIM, we can supply this to you. After signing the rental documents and stowing your luggage, it's time to hit the road for a shortish drive west to the river town of Ino, where you will arrive at the Ino Town Paper Museum and learn how to make Japanese washi paper. Kochi is one of the four centers of papermaking in Japan and was particularly famous for producing the thinnest, most translucent papers before there was plastic. There will be another papermaking experience on Day Two, but of a very different kind.
Returning to the road, you will drive along the beautiful Niyodo River - one of Japan's cleanest rivers - for a few kilometers north, for the next "cluster" of experiences. Depending on the time, you might want to get lunch first at a lovely riverside cafe, then head over to the activities spots for either kayaking if you have youngsters, or a traditional yakatabune river boat tour. Just be aware that with yakatabune, the ceiling is low as the mode of transport is to sit on the floor on cushions. Close by the kayaking/river boat launch areas, you will also find a type of one-way, guardrail-less bridge unique to Kochi, known as chinkabashi ("sinking bridges"). This one is called Nagoya Chinkabashi, and yes, you can drive over it. Don't panic if you see a vehicle coming the other way. Most likely they will be locals and will back up for you to let you through. If your backing skills aren't very good, just show your "foreignness" by jumping out of the car and politely motioning for them to back up. A bow at the end will keep the other driver in good spirits.
The remainder of the route to your accommodation will follow the river up to one of its feeder rivers and ever deeper into the mountains. The forests, the river, the sky above are mostly untouched, and you'll want to stop regularly to take photos and just soak in the peace and quiet. Now, this road and some others that you will be traversing through this tour are one way, but the locals all know the etiquette, which is to back up and wait at a wider section of the road. Any blind spots are generally fitted with mirrors so that you can see what is coming around the corner, and keep your speed down in case you need to stop quickly. It's all part of the quaintness and fun of this very rural area.
Eventually you will arrive at the hamlet of Hongawa, Erimon, and the lovely log cabin owned by the Okabayashis. The cabin is fairly new but lovingly detailed in local timbers and best of all faces right on to the river and the forested hillside opposite. Your hosts are just across the lane, and will look after you like family. They are a lovely older couple who built the cabin so that they could meet interesting people from around the world. Dinner and breakfast will be Japanese style, and much of the produce is grown nearby. In fact, if you ask, Ms. Okabayashi will show you where she is growing shiitake mushrooms.
Get up early and after breakfast hit the road well before 9, so that you have enough time to do the outdoor spots and arrive early enough for your next stay and the many activities that this location offers. Your first stop will be the Nakatsu Gorge, which is generally accepted as being the most "photogenic" water source in Japan. On your way to the headwaters from the parking area, you will pass carved statues of the seven gods of antiquity - Ebisu, Hotei, Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Daikokuten, Jurojin, and Fukurokuju. In particular, keep your eye out for Ebisu, the fat, bearded god of tradespeople and fishermen.
After huffing and puffing back to the car park, we recommend a breather stop and perhaps lunch at one of the very few mountain cafes in the area.
Early afternoon will have you driving one of the most famous mountain drive routes in Shikoku island, the Karst. Route 383 rises to one of highest road elevations on the island, and offers a panoramic view on either side. Feel free to park safely and take photos in the area. If you like farming, this route is also the site of some of Kochi's best dairy farms, as the Karst heights are much cooler and easier on the cows than the humid lowlands.
Stay on Route 383 and you will reach the Tengu Highlands. There is a hotel here that is famous among Japanese as offering one of the best views of the night sky in the country, due to the lack of background lighting from human habitation. Today, however, we're headed for a more "experiential" lodging. If you need to stretch your legs, park at Tengu Highlands and look for the "Therapy Road" signs, which will lead you on either a short 30-minute stroll through the highland forest, or a longer half-day hike if that takes your fancy. This pathway is rather special, in that a flower only found in this area, is naturally growing and blooming during the summer months.
Your last leg continues through the highlands and winding roads to Kamikoya - your lodging and experience for the night. Your host at Kamikoya is Rogier Uitenboogaart, a Dutch paper-maker and bookbinder (yes, in Holland that is still a "thing") who settled down in Kochi to learn how the Japanese do it. He became captivated by the ecosystem that governs the art and philosophy of Washi papermaking, and settled in the Otado village to practice the techniques. You can either simply stay here the night, and become entranced by the many stories Rogier has about the harvest and production of washi, or you can request a papermaking experience that will take you from the fields to the workshop. As you settle in for the night, remember that the wall paper, the sliding door coverings, and even the paper light shades were all made by this unassuming master craftsman.
Today will be a "downhill" day, as you descend from the highlands, and follow various rivers through to the majestic Shimanto river. The Shimanto, by the way, has the longest undammed stretch of river in the country, and is synonymous with purity and natural state. This area is also extremely fertile and the source of some of the best ginger and other root vegetables in Japan.
Our first stop after bidding farewell to Rogier and his family will be the hill town of Yusuhara. This town is famous for its Kengo Kuma architecture, ranging from the community library to the "Wooden Bridge" museum which shows off a majestic example of bare timber trusses in complex but solid symmetry. The museum connects to the Kumo-no-ue-no Hotel, and just in front is an onsen, one of several in town, that is open to casual day-time visitors. Entrance is self pay and remember to bring a towel. Why did Kuma, now one of the world's most famous architects decide to literally "donate" his time and talent in creating some local masterpieces? Apparently during a slow period for the economy, Kuma discovered the woodworking skills of Yusuhara carpenters, given that it was an old timber town, and when the Mayor asked him to designed a civic building for them, Kuma jumped at the chance of applying modern design with ancient methods still used by the local craftsmen.
Continuing downhill, at least as far as the map is concerned, route 439 will take you to the Bakery "Che-moi" (that's how the owner spells it), which features some of the best home-baked bread and pastries in the area. This is a great place to stop for lunch or a snack, especially since just a bit further down the road is a walking course called the Kubotani Therapy Road - much like the Tengu Highlands pathway, this one is also delightful and takes you into the peace and quite of the forest along a well prepared track.
Our last stop is our destination for the evening, the Hakoba farm stay in Taiso Nakatsugawa village. After meeting the owner and getting oriented, we strongly suggest you take a late afternoon stroll around the village and its lush fields. You will find the lighting and the scenery perfect for iconic rural photos in Japan. Walk down to the river and get on to the Chinkabashi there. Wonderful views up the valley and looking across the terraced rice fields of the village and the mountains behind.
Dinner will be Japanese style, and your host is a little old lady who has lived in the village for many years and who is friends with pretty much everyone there. Once the locals know you're staying there, you'll be treated like family.
The last day of the tour is always a bit stressful. There's the 120km (2 1/2 hours) drive back to Kochi airport, and the rental car to return. But the best strategy is to get up early, be out of the farm, stay by 8am and make at least several of the stops we recommend along the way.
The first stop is Temple No. 37 on Shikoku's famed Ohenro pilgrimage trail. This temple, known as Iwamoto-ji, is run by Kubo-san and has been in his family for over 100 years, although the temple itself has been going much longer than that. What is special about Iwamoto-ji, apart from the lovely foliage and Buddhist artwork, is the prayer room ceiling. About 40 years ago, Kubo-san's father decided to run a national art competition and have people paint the ceiling tiles in a vast array of personally important subjects (hardly any of which are Buddhist). The result is an amazing kaleidoscope of about 600 painted tiles, all in vivid colors and different styles. See if you can't find the Marilyn Monroe portrait?!
Your second "must-see" stop is the Kure Taishomachi Market place, which is home to some of the finest seared bonito in the world. In fact, the Tanaka fish shop at the end of the open-air arcade is ground zero for "wara-yaki katsuo-no-tataki" (straw-roasted seared bonito). It's not only fresh, coming from the morning's catch, but more importantly tastes out of this world. You'll be challenged to stop at a single helping. Just make sure you get there before 12 noon, because there will be a run on the place by locals and tourists alike.
Finally, it's time to leave the lovely Shimanto region and head back to civilization. Please take note of your flight time, and leave enough time to drop off your vehicle and do a local flight check-in. Our suggestion is that with a 1 hour prior check-in, you will need up to another hour to take care of the rental return. If you prefer not to get into the details, please note that we offer a service at additional cost to take care of your rental returns for you. Let us know if you need this.
Included in price
- Pre-visit consulting with one of our travel experts
- Rental vehicle (2-3 persons: compact; 4-8 persons: van)
- Pre-visit arrangements to each visit location you request from the activities option list. Actual activities will occasionally be self-pay, which we will inform you about prior to your trip
- Authentic farm stay, home stay, or temple stay, depending on the Itinerary presented. Alternatives available in some locations, please ask.
- Dinners at the farm stay location and breakfasts the following day
- Chat and voice support in English
- Tolls, gas, parking, fines/penalties for vehicle
- Insurance for vehicle or yourself and passengers
- Admission to any additional attractions that have gate/entry fees
- Vehicle accessories such as child seat, freezer box, etc.
- WiFi Router or phone SIM unless purchased separately, as recommended
- Guides or other persons in attendance
- Equipment for any other activities you may plan to do independently (unless booked separately with us)
- Lunches. We will recommend locations to eat, but these will be self-pay.
Other Important Information:
- Farm-grown food and fermented products are seasonal. We may change the visit itinerary depending on the departure date of your tour.
- Farm stay availability will vary depending on your travel dates, and we may substitute a nearby farm stay or other accommodation of similar grade if not available.
- Most meals in Japan are either meat or fish-flavored. If you have dietary restrictions, we can organize other cuisine, but be sure to let us know well in advance. Also, let us know if dashi stock is OK or not.
- You will need a working cell phone for navigation. If you need a WiFi Router, we have high-performance, reasonably priced units in stock. We also have SIMs should you need one.
- Some parts of the route may be modified depending on weather and seasonal conditions.
- Japanese traffic laws are quite strict about parking, so please use car parks provided, or seek permission of land owners before leaving your vehicle for any period of time.
- Traffic in Kochi is generally pretty good, but can get heavy from 17:00-19:00 each day, so if you are taking a late flight, factor in the extra time to get to the airport.
Know before you book:
- 4 weeks prior to the day of your trip - 10%
- 2 weeks prior to the day of your trip - 40 %
- 1 week prior - 50 %, On the day - 100 %
- No-show - 100 %
Japan is a safe country and this tour is low-risk, however, we advise you to consider personal and third-party travel insurance out of abundant caution.
If you are renting a car, we recommend you buy the car rental company's insurance policy.
What you need to bring :
- Your driver's licence! Be sure that licences from your country are recognized in Japan. Licences from Brazil, China, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia are NOT recognized.
- Windbreaker during the spring and autumn months. Although Kochi is semi-tropical, the wind chill can be significant.
- Working cell phone (usable in Japan) or apply for our WiFi Router or SIM rental
- Battery extender/charger
- Any pre-purchase passes, route maps, and other information
- Sunglasses, water bottle, and other personal accessories
Organised by Japan Travel KK
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