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3-Day Model Trip Day1 / Kochi - Kotohira

East Chugoku Shikoku

3-Day Model Trip Day1 / East Chugoku Shikoku / Kochi - Kotohira

Kochi is a long, fan-shaped area stretching from east to west, which takes up almost all the southern half of Shikoku. In the north is the Shikoku mountain range of 1,500 m peaks. The south faces the Pacific Ocean where the Kuroshio Current flows, while Shimanto-gawa River and other clear streams irrigate the land. In the past it was called "Tosa-no- Kuni (Tosa Country)", and that name is still widely used today. Because of its warm, nearly subtropical climate, around 40 years ago there was a popular song containing the words, "Leaving Nangoku - the south country". This became a big hit, and the image of "Nangoku Tosa" has been fixed in the minds of many Japanese ever since. Otesuji, the main street in the city of Kochi, contains the prefectural government headquarters, and is lined with palm trees, giving it a "south country" atmosphere.

Every Sunday along the 1 km road from Otesuji to Kochi Castle, the Sunday Market opens, featuring about 600 outdoor stalls. All sorts of products are on sale, including fresh vegetables and seafood, daily sundries and curios. Sometimes, wondering what an article is, you might lean over and find something rare. You can of course bargain for lower prices, and the atmosphere is very informal. This Sunday market began in 1690, and is said to be the oldest market in Japan that still opens regularly. Also on this road is the location for the Yosakoi-matsuri Festival. Fifteen thousand dancers dress up in colorful clothes and compete with each other at dancing. Appropriately for Nangoku, this is a carnival exploding with power and fascination. If you walk west along Otesuji, you will come to Otemon, the main gate to Kochi Castle. Walk under this sturdy gate and there is a flight of stone steps. At the side of this stands a statue of Itagaki Taisuke, who was a politician in the latter half of the 19th century. Kochi prefecture produced many people who contributed to Japan's modernization in the 19th century, and Itagaki Taisuke is one of these. He spread Western ideas of freedom, but was assassinated by a thug while giving a speech. After his death, both his name and the words "Itagaki is dead, but freedom will not die." became etched for eternity in modern Japanese history.

After walking up the stone steps and passing through a square where cherry trees grow, you will arrive at the entrance to the 18.5 m castle tower. Kochi Castle was built on top of this 42.8 m hill in 1601 as the residence of the then-feudal ruler Yamanouchi Kazutoyo. It was destroyed once by fire, but was rebuilt in 1753. In the present day, Otemon and the castle tower have been designated Important Cultural Properties. Artifacts such as the feudal rulers' suits of armor are displayed inside the castle tower. The tower has three stages and six stories, and from the top you can look down on the city of Kochi.

The center of Kochi is around Harimaya-bashi Bridge, a little over 1 km to the south of Kochi Castle. This is about 800 m south of Kochi Station, and is the point where National Roads 32 and 55 intersect. Around here are clustered department stores and shopping centers, a streetcar stop and a bus terminal. Harimaya-bashi Bridge, the symbol of Kochi, is a small bridge that crosses the now filled-in Harimaya-gawa River. It was originally built here 400 years ago as a private bridge by the wealthy merchant Harimaya. Later, so many people used it that it became a public bridge, and it has been rebuilt numerous times since then. Not just the people of Kochi knew this bridge, but also people all round Japan, because of a kind of local song and dance called "Yosakoi". One of these includes the words, "I saw a Buddhist priest on Harimaya-bashi - buying an ornamental hairpin." The song is based on a true story in the middle of the 19th century, when a Buddhist priest from a sect with strict commandments fell in love with a local girl. They were discovered when he bought her an ornamental hairpin at a small haberdashery at the approach to Harimaya-bashi, and the two were banished separately. When you look at the bridge after hearing this story, the bow-shaped red railing looks just like an ornamental hairpin, and it becomes tinged with romantic emotion.

We have just spent 20 minutes on the bus from the bus terminal near Harimaya-bashi, and alighted at the final stop, Chikurin-ji. Chikurin-ji Temple was built in 724, and is one of the most outstanding ancient temples in Kochi. In 824, Kobo Daishi Kukai, a priest who founded a Buddhist sect called Shingon, helped make the temple one of the Shikoku's eighty-eight sacred places. Believers who trek round Shikoku's eighty-eight sacred places are called "o-henro-san - pilgrims", and it is believed that those who complete the journey round all eighty-eight will lose their carnal desire and have their wishes granted. Chikurin-ji Temple is full of pilgrims wrapped in white clothes and carrying canes. After you pass under the main temple gate, a straight stone staircase leads towards the inner temple. After you have reached the top, on your right you will find a guesthouse designated by the prefecture as a cultural property, and a garden that is one of the prefecture's designated scenic spots. This garden has skillfully arranged moss and stepping-stones, and is supposed to be a fine example of the 17th century style of garden construction. One level further up are the inner temple and Daishi-do - a temple of a great Buddhist teacher. This inner temple is known for its enshrinement of Monju Bosatsu, the Buddha of knowledge.

Behind Chikurin-ji Temple stands the 139-meter Mt. Godai-san. The whole mountain has been designated a Prefectural Town Park, and is loved by the townspeople for its summit, which has lots of footpaths and is famous for its cherry trees and azaleas. Now we are standing on the view spot, we can see below us a great view of Kochi Port, Urado Bay and Katsura-hama Beach.

We are now on a Limited Express on the Dosan Line, traveling from JR Kochi Station to Kotohira. Kotohira is known for Konpira Shrine, which houses the guardian god of the sea. When we arrived in Kotohira, the town was already cloaked in darkness, but the giant stone dedicatory lanterns were lit up to welcome us. One of these is Takatoro, which was completed in 1860. It is 27 meters high, and used be a landmark to guide ships navigating the Seto-naikai Inland Sea, as well as travelers walking through the town. I too have managed to use this lantern as a landmark to find our hotel without any trouble.

We have now been back to the main part of Kochi, changed buses, and traveled 30 Minutes to Katsura-hama Beach, one of the most picturesque spots in Tosa. The contrast between the gently curving white sand beach and the dark blue sea is beautiful, and the pine trees growing at the cape make the whole beach look like a garden. This beach is also known as the name of a moon, and has even been sung about in a yosakoi song.

The whole area has been built as a park, but in one corner stands a bronze statue of a man looking out over the ocean. This statue is Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai from Kochi, who played a large role in Japan's political strife in the 19th century. With original ideas and unprecedented dynamism, he greatly influenced the political regent of the time. Even today, many people idolize the way he lived.

Before leaving Kochi, we ate the local specialty, chopped bonito. Fresh, raw bonito is exposed to a strong flame for just a moment so that only the outside cooks. This is then eaten with garlic and onion slices covered with a vinegar and soy sauce. In Tosa, where fresh bonito can be caught, it makes a simple, pleasant dish. It has a light taste with no smell, so can be recommended even to people who don't like sashimi.

We are now on a Limited Express on the Dosan Line, traveling from JR Kochi Station to Kotohira. Kotohira is known for Konpira Shrine, which houses the guardian god of the sea. When we arrived in Kotohira, the town was already cloaked in darkness, but the giant stone dedicatory lanterns were lit up to welcome us. One of these is Takatoro, which was completed in 1860. It is 27 meters high, and used be a landmark to guide ships navigating the Seto-naikai Inland Sea, as well as travelers walking through the town. I too have managed to use this lantern as a landmark to find our hotel without any trouble.