“Tour de Nippon”, a bicycle project organized by PAPERSKY, is held in various parts of Japan with the underlying theme of “Finding the magic of Japan’s rural districts”. The project, which began in 2011, usually takes place in small cities and regional towns that aren’t always on the tourist radar. In late November of 2020, the Tour de Nippon made its debut in Kochi. Kochi was the only one of four prefectures I hadn’t visited on the island of Shikoku, so my expectations were high. Before I delve into the wonders of the tour, here’s how it all began.
I connected with Lucas (Editor-in-Chief of PAPERSKY) through an e-mail from a mutual friend who lives on the Big Island of Hawaii. Our friend saw an immediate connection between the two of us because travel is a big part of both of our lives. However, since Lucas is based in Shibuya, and I between Kyushu and Okinawa, we weren’t actually able to work or travel together until now.
Kochi is located just across the sea from where I live on the Kunisaki Peninsula, but the train journey to Kochi station took approximately six hours which is actually longer than it takes to get to Tokyo! But I know from experience that far away destinations are often filled with hidden gems.
On the first day, we explored the surrounding area on foot, met the PAPERSKY team and the twenty or so travel companions who we’d be together with for the next two days. When one thinks of Shikoku, the “Ohenro” comes to mind. The 24th to 39th sacred sites of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage go through Kochi. Passing through a field of cosmos in full bloom, we walked on a centuries-old pilgrimage path to our first destination, Makino Botanical Garden. This garden, which the Pilgrimage route also passes through, is what I was most looking forward to on this trip. The garden opened in 1958 in recognition of the achievements of Dr. Tomitaro Makino, a native of Kochi Prefecture and the father of Japanese botany. The garden also functions as a unique botanical research center.
During our lunch break, I could see the Pacific Ocean beyond the lush green hills of the garden. As someone born and raised in the western part of Shizuoka Prefecture, Kochi is somehow familiar to me. The scenery, rich with a variety of citrus fruit and rivers flowing through the valleys, lies somewhere very close to my soul.
After lunch we explored the expansive compound. Welcomed by our guide Uesugi-san, his gentle and gracious tone relayed the love he had for the plants and flowers of the garden. Dr. Makino, who believed himself to be a ‘botanical spirit’, would’ve been pleased.
Returning to the city, we were told that dinner would be prepared in the parking area outside the hotel. It was freezing outside. But with picnic tables, chairs, music and even a wood-framed food truck, it was clear this was going to be a feast! In Kochi, a gathering or a celebration like this is called Okyaku, a generic term for celebrations such as weddings and Hanami (cherry blossom viewing). It’s fascinating because the word itself (the literal Japanese meaning “invited guest”) has become synonymous with the feast. With a variety of colorful fresh vegetables, locally sourced cuisine and sake, we knew we were in for a treat for the rest of the trip.
Mornings in Kochi begin with Asa-ichi, a farmer’s market. They’re held several times a week in different locations of the city, with the main one held on Sundays. The history of the market can be traced to the Edo Period, and these days, along with fruit and vegetables, items such as plants and tools can also be purchased. Fortunately, as the second day of our trip fell on a Sunday, I visited the market with Ben, a great guy I befriended on the trip. A visit to the market makes it clear it’s very much a part of daily life here.
Our cycling journey began at Sakawa Station. We first formed a circle to stretch and loosen up. Some were riders who rode regularly, while others, like myself, hadn’t ridden for some time. Still, what we shared was a sense of exhilaration for the journey ahead. We went over the hand signals, and then rode through the streets of Sakawa lined with traditional sake breweries. Though the cold wind felt sharp on my cheeks, my mood was suffused with warmth.
It didn’t take long for Niyodo river, our destination for the day, to appear in sight. We enjoyed lunch at a Snow Peak campground along the river. Sitting on the riverbank, I couldn’t resist putting my hands in the pleasingly cold water. Swimming was not an option at this time of year, but kayaking was. While allowing the water current to guide us, I was awed by the clarity and beauty of the river. In a world that seems at once tumultuous and stagnate, the ever flowing, ever-giving river is truly a source of inspiration.
Finishing our two-day trip, we all had a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. The secret of this tour is the pure charm of Kochi, a place of overwhelming richness as a home of mountains, river, and sea. And it carries the story of people who cross each other’s path, learning from one another. Tour de Nippon connects locations all over Japan, creating places to visit and people to meet, rather than just tourism for consumption. In this organic fashion, the tour builds a network of people that want to repeat the experience to visit the places and see the people again. As I said my farewells to my fellow travel companions, in my mind, I had already started to plan a family summer trip to Kochi, and this time we’d say hello to the Pacific Ocean. Evidently, I too was touched by the Kochi Magic. The journey never ends.
Kochi Visitors & Convention Association