Updated: Aug 17, 2020
Hello everyone, it's been some time since I wrote about Japan travel. During the state of emergency, I debated if I should continue writing about previous places I've travel to when no one is able to do so. It didn't feel right, if you know what I mean. So I stopped.
Things are far from normal, but I decided to restart it - kind of as a feel-good type of post, and for all of us to look forward to our next trips in the future. So I hope you enjoy the pictures in this post!
(I had taken this trip in Spring of 2019)
Shikoku is an island off the main land of Honshu, just below the Kansai, Okayama and Hiroshima area. It consists of 4 prefectures: Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime and finally, the prefecture I will talk about today - Kochi.
I started my journey in Kochi city after a night in Iya Valley in Tokushima (which I will hopefully get to write eventually).
As you can see, Kochi is a pretty big prefecture, and lots of tourist spots are quite sparsely spread out. We were only here for one night, which meant it would be impossible to see everything. At times like these, we had to make the most convenient route back to Matsuyama but hopefully still be able to find some peach and cherry blossoms along the way.
(I had no idea at the time, but I was about to see some of the most beautiful blossoms this country had to offer. Even Kyoto was no match!)
Let's start in Kochi City!
Day 1 (half day)
I don't know why, but no matter what city I visit, I always have to go check out their train station. Of course if you're coming by train, you see it automatically, but even as I started taking trips via car, I still enjoy going to the main station for a visit.
It doesn't feel like you've completely entered a new city until you've seen a train station, if you know what I mean.
Outside the train station is a few statues. The middle is one for Sakamoto Ryoma, as Kochi was his place of birth. He was a famous samurai close to 2 centuries ago, depicted in tons of popular culture in Japan in this current time. I wish I knew more on the history, but since I don't, I will leave this link here for you to read more about it.
After the train station, we headed to dinner in Hirome Market.
This is more like a food court with lots of izakaya style foods, so you can grab a beer, order food from various stalls to try and eat the night away.
But before you fill your stomachs with just any Japanese food, make sure to grab some of their famous Katsuo from Myojinmaru:
No one makes Katsuo quite like they do - they grill the outside of the fish right before your eyes before they serve it, making the raw fish have a good charred & grilled flavour. It's absolutely delicious.
Brotip: they have a sit-down restaurant outside of Hirome Market, but the prices are slightly cheaper inside Hirome, so unless you really want that restaurant experience, I highly recommend just getting the meal in Hirome.
After food, we headed down to Kochi castle - just a stone's throw away from Hirome.
How gorgeous is this? They had lit up the castle at night and put out lanterns for people to have night hanami. It definitely creates a good atmosphere for celebration!
Along the way up to the castle, they had also lit up the path and certain trees that were in blossom. It makes it extremely photogenic and easy to enjoy the blossoms.
On the 2nd day in Kochi, we headed west into the blue area of the map (from the first photo I posted). In particular, we headed towards a town called Niyodogawa. The town is situated next to the Shimanto river, which is well known for its clear blue waters.
The town's best kept secrets, are their peach and cherry blossoms. While they often blossom separately, I was extremely surprised to see both peak at the same time in Niyodogawa.
The first location in town is through some very local, narrow roads.
As you can see in the map below, the approximate location we were trying to get to is one looooooooooooooong white line that does not have other roads intersecting through from the main route (Route 439).
Especially during spring peak season, when it's kind of the only reason why non-locals would use these roads, this road gets very busy. The locals try to circumvent this problem by making it solely a one-way road. Which means once you get to the view point, you need to drive out the other way (which takes much longer).
Of course, you also have to be decently comfortable driving through narrow Japanese roads. It took us a good solid 2 hours total drive (about 30-40 minutes to the viewpoint, another 1 hour out the other end).
If you can catch it during peak, this drive is absolutely worth it.
However, if this drive to the peach field was a bust for you - head over to the Odo Dam Park and try your luck with the cherry blossoms.
Located just next to the Shimanto River, this gives the cherry blossoms an even more unique backdrop for cherry blossom viewing. Even if you cannot see any cherry blossom, the crystal clear waters in the Shimanto River is a sight in itself.
As you can see in the first picture, cherry blossom trees are littered all along the Shimanto River at many points in Niyodogawa. Unfortunately we didn't have time to explore those spots as we had a long drive back to Matsuyama, but as we drove a stone's throw west towards the Odo Dam Bridge back to the main route, we were met with even more trees:
I've seen loads and loads of peak cherry blossom - but nothing still beats what I saw in Niyodogawa that day one year ago. There are some close contenders, but this is still my absolute favourite!
If you can drive, and is visiting Shikoku around mid- to late March - please absolutely consider going to Kochi prefecture and taking a drive out to Niyodogawa. I cannot guarantee full peak season during the time of your visit, as nature does what nature does, but I promise that whatever you see will not disappoint you!