On the southern coast of Shikoku lies the capital city of Kochi. Small and friendly, the city was voted one of Japan’s most livable cities and offers several attractions worth visiting. Kochi is the home town of Sakamoto Ryoma (1836-1867), an important historical figure who played a key role in the realization of the Meiji Restoration. The Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum located atop a hill on Katsurahama Beach showcases the life and times of this Japanese hero. You will also find a large statue of Ryoma on the beach itself overlooking a very scenic area.
Katsurahama is a very picturesque beach located just south of city center. Due to strong currents, swimming is not permitted on this beach, but visitors do not mind as there are so many points of interest in and around the area. On a rocky point just above the beach you will find the small Katsurahama Shrine. This vantage point offers an excellent spot for viewing some of the most beautiful sunsets Japan has to offer.
The Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum is interestingly housed in a very modern building. It has several fascinating exhibits including his pistol and swords, written documents, a letter written by him just two days prior to his assassination and several blood-splattered screens and scrolls from the soy sauce shop he was staying in at the time of his murder.
Sakamoto Ryoma was born in Kochi in 1835 and was one of the architects of modern Japan. He was instrumental in negotiating an alliance between the Choshu and Satsuma clans that helped to bring an end to Japan’s feudal age in 1868. He left Kochi at the age of 28 and worked tirelessly all over Japan to reform the national political and economic system. He formulated an “Eight-Point Program” for the modernization of Japan, a political guideline for the new government and cabinet. Unfortunately, in November 1867, Ryoma was assassinated in Kyoto by the Shinsengumi secret police at the age of 33. He had lived to see only a month of the drastic change Japan was undergoing. The Meiji Restoration was near at hand, but he never saw the modern Japan he had struggled so hard to build.
The museum, located at 830 Urado-shiroyama, Kochi City, is open year round from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM. Admission is ¥500 for adults and students (excluding university students) are admitted for free.
Kochi Castle is perhaps the town’s biggest attraction and completely original. First constructed between 1601 and 1611 by Yamauchi Katsutoyo, the castle burnt down in 1727 and was rebuilt between 1729 and 1753. A unique feature of Kochi’s castle is that its donjon (main tower) was not only used for military purposes, but also as a residence. In most other castles, the lords usually resided in separate palace buildings rather than in the castle keep.
In an effort to help preserve the original state of the eight traditional tatami rooms, you will be required to take off your shoes before entering the palace. However, if you have been in Japan long enough, you will find this is a common practice and won’t mind it as much. Visitors can only view the rooms from a walkway along the perimeter and consequently the castle tour will be fairly quick. After touring the castle you may want to make your way to the large grassy area ideal for picnics and springtime cherry blossom viewing. The castle grounds are part of a public park, where local music events and festivals are held and you may get lucky enough to visit the castle during one of these times and enjoy the offerings.
South of the castle on Kenchomae-dori near the banks of the Kagami River you will find the carefully preserved samurai barracks of the castle guards, known as the Kyu-Yamauchi-ke Shimo-Yashiki-Nagaya. You can tour these barracks free of charge.
Kochi is known for its local tuna fish and healthy vegetables grown in the surrounding countryside. There are many covered arcades such as Ohashi-dori and Obiyamachi where you can find a number of good restaurants, bars and izakaya serving dishes made with these local ingredients.
The city is easily accessible via the JR express trains to the JR Kochi Station from Takamatsu (2 hours, 30 minutes) and Matsuyama with a change at Uwajima. There are also highway buses available from Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kobe, Matsuyama, Tokushima and Kyoto.
Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum Web page: http://www.ryoma-kinenkan.jp/en/