On the 30th of December 2019, I boarded the 8:25 AM train for Kochi at Takamatsu station. The train was dark green in color and had only four coaches. Why Kochi? I had read about Kochi in Murakami’s Kafka on the shore and wanted to go there. Kochi was a place the young protagonist gets lost in the magical woods.
I had a reserved seat and was armed with a blueberry sandwich from 7⁄11, water, and some cheese balls. As the train rolled forward I sat agape, looking at the beautiful lush fields and green hills outside. We took a circuitous route, stopping at Sakaide and Marugame before slowly moving south west. Around the one hour mark the train was going through hills and forests. Even here, there were small towns every ten minutes or so. I spotted a river on the map and we went alongside it for a long time, before crossing it and making a u-turn near Awa Ikeda. Surprisingly, a lot of towns in this area were part of the Tokushima prefecture. I am curious how towns are allocated to a prefecture - do they look at historical and geographical reasons, or arbitrarily pick one?
We trudged on and on until we finally reached Kochi around 10:35 AM. I got off the train, feeling tired as I had woken up at 7 am. I glanced at the map - I wanted to check out Hirome market and the castle - and they appeared to be close to each other. I decided to walk it though it was 2-3 km away. That way I could see more of Kochi. I walked until I hit the red bridge, Harimayabashi, which has a love story legend based on it. The story goes that a young monk fell in love with a girl in 19th century Kochi and they would meet near the bridge. Since a monk was forbidden to fall in love those days, the monk was exiled and the girl was sent far away. This sad story has been immortalized by a statue near the bridge. When I saw it, the bridge was tiny and more of a memorial than an actual bridge. I snapped a photo and turned right towards the castle. I walked through a couple of the arcade markets which are great for protection from rain - and the weather was depressing that day - mild rain and mountains covered with more fog than I had ever seen in San Francisco.
I was tired when I reached the Hirome market. I didn’t realize it was completely indoors and was filled with mostly food stalls. I did want to try the local dish, katsuo na tataki - a dish where the local tuna fish is seared on top of fire and had with salt, garlic and wasabi. I was hesitant to order a full dish because I did not know how to reject the dish if I didn’t like it. I sat down at an Izakaya-esque place where they were serving the fish and I tried asking them if they had a smaller size. There was a lady sitting to my right and she tried to help out - but no one spoke English. So I took out my Google translate and asked again - no, there was no smaller size available. I gave in, you need to be adventurous when you are traveling solo. Surprisingly, I am more conservative when I travel alone. I think in a group there is the element of competition and showing off which is sorely lacking when you travel solo. Unless you make local friends , which is what happened next.
To the left of me were two guys, eating snacks and drinking beer. It was 11:45 am and I thought, “Isn’t it a little too early for beer, huh”. The guys were friendly and helped me eat the katsuo. I was so clumsy I couldn’t cut the fish with chopsticks. True to my South Indian heritage, I still don’t understand chopsticks, or any utensils used to cut or handle food. I can use chopsticks to pick up noodles in my ramen or eat sticky rice and veggies - but cutting fish is beyond my capabilities. So my co-eaters helped me get a fork from the servers. The fish was actually delicious - I loved it with salt and garlic. The wasabi was too strong. I tried to grab the seven spice chilli pepper to add to the fish but the lady on the right said “no, no” and handed me the soy sauce instead. The fish was best with salt.
Eventually, the lady on the right finished her meal and left, but me and the guys on the left had made some occasional conversation. I decided to ask them about the local yuzu drink and they ended up gifting me a bottle of Yuzu Sake. After beer, they were having some colorless drink and seemed to be enjoying it. I asked what it was - they said it is konatsu - I had never heard of it. They offered me a taste and I loved it. It was a very refreshing drink and I think it may have been made of Yuzu and some liquor. I ordered more of it. They ordered some local Kochi sake, and more food. I tried horse meat while getting drunk with them. They bought me so many drinks! The entire conversation was had through Google translate. They would speak Japanese into the app on their phones and I would speak English into mine. Technology is wonderful when it actually works. We exchanged names - they were Yuta and Kouta.
Sometime later, we were joined by two more friends of theirs: Shyun and Kent. Since Yuta and Kouta had been so generous with drinks I treated them all to some Indian food at Hirome Market. Yuta kept asking me if I was drunk and I said no, but I was very buzzed. Around 3:30 PM, we decided to part ways and exchange emails. I walked to Kochi Castle and back to the station, ruminating about my day. A day very well spent.
Here is me with Yuta, Shyun, Kent and Kouta!