Are you looking for a fun road trip through the countryside? Come on down to Chugei, an often-overlooked part of Kochi with a lot to offer! Chugei is in the eastern part of the prefecture, and includes several villages and towns between Aki City and the Tokushima border. Let’s enjoy!
Umaji is a small yuzu village nestled deep in the mountains, just 30 minutes north of Yasuda. The village is known for its famous Yuzu festival, called the Yuzu Hajimaru Matsuri, which takes place every Fall. Come to see the beautiful autumn leaves, and take a tour of the large Umaji Yuzu Factory. You can also relax at the Umaji Onsen, and sample the delicious local foods (especially at the Umaji Bakery)! Honorable Mentions: Makaichotte-ya (tourist center/market), Yasuda River fishing
Another 25 minutes north of Umaji will land you in Yanase, an even quieter village on a big lake. Yanase has a reputation for its beautiful sakura, which bloom in early April. Camping is very popular at Yanase Forest Park Auto Camp Ground, where they have both tent lots and log cabins. Take a swim in the Yanase Lake, and enjoy some fun in the sun. And while you’re in town, maybe do some hiking at the nearby Senbonyama! Honorable Mentions: Yanase Big Bridge, Forest Railway, Dam Observation Deck
A bit further down Route 55 is Tano, a small coastal town with a rich history. Be sure to check out Oka-Goten, a historical merchant’s mansion with a fascinating museum exhibition, as well as the local Sun-Dried Salt Experience to learn about natural sun-dried salt making. If you have time, don’t miss Ioki Cave, just 15 minutes west of Tano. It’s an enormous cave full of local vegetation and even some snakes!
Nahari is located right beside Tano, just across the Nahari River. In the ocean next to Nahari is a large coral reef to be explored. Head to Naharicho Seaside Center to rent kayaks, paddleboards and snorkel gear, or take a ride in their glass-bottom boat. Also there’s the Nahari Town Minato Festival, a huge festival held every August that has delicious food and a laser fireworks show!
Just 5 minutes north of Nahari is Kitagawa, another small yuzu village with lots of history and charm. Kitagawa is the birthplace of Nakaoka Shintaro, a decorated samurai and close ally to Sakamoto Ryoma. You can visit the Shintaro Museum in Kitagawa to learn more about his story.
And if you’re in Kitagawa, you can’t miss the Monet Gardens! These gardens are modeled after Claude Monet’s famous gardens in France, and they are a sight to see. Take some time to wander around the beautifully manicured florae, and grab some tea and homemade bread at the café overlooking the village. If you’re still hungry, stop by Igosso Ramen, a famous ramen shop in Kitagawa known for their enormous portions.
At the southeastern tip of Kochi lies Muroto, a pleasant coastal town with lots of educational things to do. If you like geology (or just nice views) be sure visit the Muroto UNESCO Global Geopark and Cape Muroto. Here, you can see the unique rock formations that have formed over millenniums. Stop by the Muroto Global Geopark Center to learn more about them!
If aquatic life is more your interest, head down to the Muroto Schoolhouse Aquarium, an aquarium that was made from an abandoned elementary school. There are over 50 species of sea creatures in the aquarium, and a large outdoor pool with sea turtles. If you still want to learn more, next stop should be the Muroto Dolphin Center. Not only do you get to learn about dolphins, you can even swim with them!
And finally, a trip to Chugei wouldn’t be complete without a climb up the Muroto Skyline. Drive up the zigzag road toward the peak of the mountain, and make sure to check out Temple 24 along the way. At the top you can find the Skyline Observatory, a large viewing deck that overlooks Muroto Cape. Enjoy the scenery!
Thanks to David Clattenburg for contributing this article! (April 2020)