7 reasons to visit Kochi, Japan (hint: one of them is cherry blossoms)

One of the best places in Japan to see cherry flowers bloom, Kochi also offers a rich choice of cultural experiences - from paper making to walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

Two children standing in front of cherry blossom
  • Helen Martin
  • January 2020

Far beyond the neon metropolises of mainland Japan is a captivating city adorned with cherry blossoms, steaming onsens and the beautiful Yoshini River.

See the first cherry blossoms

Because of its location on the island of Shikoku in the south of Japan, Kōchi has a cherry blossom season earlier than much of the rest of the country. The magnificent trees put on their show in about mid-to-late March. Head to the Makino Botanical Garden, which contains about 30 different varieties of the beautiful blooms or trek out to the countryside to see the Hyotan cherry tree, said to be some 500 years old.


Soak in a hot spring onsen

Several onsens await in this prefecture. About 90 minutes’ drive south-west of Kōchi, the Kuroshio Honjin Hot Springs Inn is famous for its outdoor heated sea-water onsen with magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean and indoor hot-spring baths. For spectacular forest and river views in autumn, head to the mountains west of Kōchi to take advantage of outdoor onsens including Matsubakawa Onsen.

Kuroshio Honjin hot springs
Kuroshio Honjin hot springs offers unrivalled views of the Pacific Ocean.

Enjoy the Yoshino River

Kōchi is Japan's number 1 rafting destination so if you are looking for something a little more adventurous head to the Yoshino River. Happy Raft offer a wide range of rafting and canyoning trips, as well as guesthouse accomodation nestled in the beautiful countryside mountains of Shikoku.

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Rafts on the water of the Yoshini River
Happy Raft offer rafting and canyoning trips on the beautiful Yoshino River.

Taste the local fish dish of bonito

The consumption of fish dish bonito in Shikoku’s Kōchi prefecture is reportedly the highest in Japan and it’s most commonly served as katsuo no tataki, lightly seared bonito traditionally grilled over a straw fire. You’ll find plenty on offer at Hirome Ichiba, a large marketplace filled with more than 60 stalls and sociable communal tables packed with the 2.8 million people who visit each year.

A plate of bonita fish
Kochi's culinary speciality is fish grilled over a straw fire.

Drink traditional sake

Sake fans have been bellying up for 400 years at the shop where Tsukasabotan Shuzo is brewed. Visit Akaoka (30 minutes east of Kōchi) in April: the Dorome Festival features a sake-chugging ‘gulp down’ contest.

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Make Japanese paper

In 2001, tosa washi, the paper made here for 1000 years, was designated an Intangible Cultural Property by the government. You can try making it at Ino-cho Paper Museum.

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A Japanese woman making paper
Creatives can try their hand at making paper while visiting Kochi.

Walk the Shikoku Pilgrimage

The 1200-year-old Shikoku Pilgrimage follows the footsteps of ninth-century priest Kōbō Daishi to 88 Buddhist temples around the island (with an optional extra 20 for the truly committed). You don’t have to be a Buddhist nor walk the entire 1200-kilometre circuit (some travel by taxi, bus, train or even helicopter) but it aims to encourage spiritual reflection and personal growth.

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Here’s everything you need to know about Japan’s cherry blossom season.