Kochi (prefecture) : Shimanto
Shimanto is a new city that is actually a conglomeration of six towns. The main "downtown" area is made up of the former town of Nakamura, the name by which locals still refer to it. It is a small rural city with a population of approximately 35,000.
In 1475 court noble Ichijo Norifusa, formerly imperial regent, fled Kyoto and the devastation of the Onin War and moved to Nakamura. He established the Tosa Ichijo clan (Tosa is the former name of Kochi prefecture). Later in life, he returned to Kyoto, but his son, Fusaie, remained in Nakamura. The Tosa Ichijo clan faced defeat at the hands of Chosogabe Motochika, chief of the Chosogabe clan, in the 17th century when he took over Tosa, and their castle fell into ruin. Despite the defeat of the Tosa Ichijo, Nakamura survived, and today its inhabitants retain a number of customs and festivals related to the clan.
Shimanto was heavily damaged in the 1946 Nankai earthquake and tsunami, which destroyed many of its historic buildings. In total, 1330 people died across Japan. Experts are uncertain when the next Nankai earthquake will occur, with predictions ranging from the next 3 to 4 years to within the next 40 years. Shimanto is not directly placed on the coast, but it is close enough to the Pacific Ocean that tsunami damage can be anticipated.
Today, Shimanto is a small, sleepy, laid-back city that rarely sees tourists. Few young people remain, preferring to seek work or education elsewhere, often in Kochi city, but many return when they marry and have children. A recent popular television drama, Ososaki no Himawari, is set in Shimanto, which has raised the city's profile across Japan.
As with many parts of Shikoku, public transportation options are sparse. Driving is both the cheapest and easiest option, especially considering the lack of toll roads in Kochi. Additionally, the roads are rarely crowded, making driving less difficult in Kochi than in other parts of Japan.
The nearest airport is Kochi Ryoma airport, which is two hours away by train or car. The Matsuyama airport is probably equally accessible.
Trains run from Kochi city fairly regularly during the day. The stop closest to the downtown area is Nakamura station.
While the downtown area is quite small and easily accessible by foot or bike, it is highly recommended to rent a car. Most of Shimanto City's best sights are in rather remote areas around the city, and public transportation in the city itself is virtually non-existent.
Summer is Shimanto's best season as it opens up the wide variety of outdoor activities available. You can swim or canoe in the Shimanto River, much of which is fast but shallow. From December, you can fish for sweet-fish or collect shrimp, but given the temperature of the water this is probably best reserved for enthusiasts.
Nearby Kuroshio also offers many options. Here, you can surf at Irino Beach, scuba-dive, or go on a boat-trip, which affords the opportunity to see whales and dolphins. In August and October, early risers can see turtle eggs hatching, and watch new-born turtles making their first journey to the sea. An elderly man has set up a hatchery where the eggs can be protected from predators until they hatch, and he welcomes visitors who come to see the eggs or the turtles. Arrive early, preferably around dawn, if you wish to see the turtle migration.
Shimanto is not known for its shopping. There are plenty of places to buy everyday items such as groceries, toiletries, clothing, books and so on, but relatively few shops selling much else. There is a small shopping arcade called Tenjinbashi that is about 15 minutes' walk from Nakamura Station. Next to it is a small Marunaka (supermarket) which sells the essentials. Near to the station (within 5 minutes' walk) are Apia Satsuki and Fuji. Fuji sells groceries mostly. Apia is a small shopping centre, with a supermarket, a 100-yen shop, a book-store, a shoe shop and a cosmetics shop on the ground floor. On the second floor you can buy DVDs, manga, video games, and game consoles. Near Apia is a second-hand shop. Turn left going out of Apia, and it's a little further down the road on the left, the shop with the neon-pink frontage set a little back from the street. This shop sells an assortment of miscellany, from video games and sunglasses to replica katana and kimono.
Further out, Kotsuka offers a few opportunities. Go left out of Nakamura Station and walk to the crossroads, where you turn left again. Cross the bridge and follow the road round as it curves to the right and you will find yourself in Kotsuka. Sunny Mart is effectively three buildings in one: a large supermarket with an adjacent Baskin and Robbins, a pharmacy, and Quest, an outdoor shop that sells various furnishings such as heaters, cushions and chairs, gardening equipment, DIY equipment, pet-food, and so on.
There is also the Gudou area, which is the furthest from the station. It has a small shopping centre called Fuji Grand, a large Marunaka (which in addition to groceries also sells cosmetics, shoes, clothing and some electronics), a bookshop and a large sports shop. Fuji Grand mainly sells food and groceries.
Shimanto is known for the freshness and quality of its fish and seafood, particularly given its proximity to the Shimanto River. Its river shrimp and sweet-fish are especially well-known. Shimanto also produces the Kochi speciality katsuo no tataki, bonito quickly seared under high heat so the surface is cooked while the inside is still raw. Accordingly, there are a number of restaurants that specialise in fish and seafood dishes.
Kochi Prefecture is famed for its drinking culture, and Shimanto is no exception. Liberal amounts of alcohol feature in most any social occasion. Non-drinkers won't be ostracised, but may be met with some bafflement. Drinking is a big part of local culture, and locals regard drinking together as an important part of social interaction and a way to get to know someone.
There are a large number of bars and izakaya in Shimanto, but they are often squeezed into side streets or alleyways, and it may take some hunting to find somewhere good. Most of the best places are concentrated around the Tenjinbashi shopping arcade, some 15 minutes walk from Nakamura Station.