Kochi, Japan

Kochi is the capital of the Kochi Prefecture, which is located on Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands which make up Japan, in a region scattered with temples and forested mountains.

One of Kochi’s main sights is the castle complex, whose main tower, or donjon, is one of just twelve to remain intact across Japan. Its origins lie in the early 1600s, even if most of the buildings were rebuilt after a devastating fire in the mid-1700s. Several points make it unique, notably that its donjon served not just a military function, but as a residence too. Wooden interiors show how the castle would have looked during the Edo Period, and its lookout point offers fine views over the city.

There are 88 sacred temples on Shikoku Island, reputedly established by a Buddhist monk over 1,200 years ago. Today they form an important pilgrimage route, and the reward for visiting each is claimed to be freedom from material desires. Sixteen of these temples are situated in Kochi, including Chikurinji, crowned by a beautiful five-tiered red pagoda.

For those with an interest in Japanese history, Kochi is also the proud home of Sakamoto Ryoma, and his statue appears around the city. He played an important role in the Meiji Restoration, when the emperor Meiji replaced the ruling feudal shogunate and moved the capital to Tokyo. This also marked the start of a modern Japan, and the story can be brought to life at the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum.

In heart of the city, a famous landmark is a small red bridge, Harimayabashi. It’s central to a doomed love story, the secret meeting place of a priest from Mount Godaison and a girl from Kochi. As his temple forbade such relationships, they were forced to flee together.

One of the local delicacies here is katsuo no tataki, very lightly seared slices of skipjack tuna served with spring onions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and citrus. Sake connoisseurs may also visit one of the breweries nearby where you can appreciate the techniques that are specific to the region, handed down from generation to generation.

If you’re in the market for souvenirs, you’ll find several arcades and attractive shopping streets. In particular, Kochi Prefecture is known for its high-quality “washi” or handmade paper. At the Japanese Paper Museum, you can even try your hand at paper-making and create your own unique keepsakes.

If you venture into the countryside, Shikoku’s landscapes reflect the beauty of the seasons. Spring brings cherry blossom, autumn adds rich colors to the trees and snow is common through the winter. One of the island’s many natural attractions is Ryuga-do Cave, a vast limestone cavern filled with stalactites, stalagmites and formations that resemble flowing water or folded fabric. There’s an archaeological element too, as it contains an earthenware pot that’s around 2,000 years old.