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Snorkeling, Surfing and Sustainability in Kochi

Snorkeling, Surfing and Sustainability in Kochi

Snorkeling, Surfing and Sustainability in Kochi

Shikoku conjures up images of misty mountains and pilgrims walking the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. But the far tip of Shikoku Island in Kochi Prefecture is an off-the-beaten-path destination for divers, surfers and whale watchers. There’s also a local community of outdoor enthusiasts running lodges and showcasing the hidden secrets of Kochi’s outdoors. 

Kaiyu on the shores of Oki Beach is an escape for ocean lovers looking to reconnect with nature. Don’t be disappointed by Kaiyu’s exterior: on the outside, Kaiyu is a seven-story bleached-white resort condominium built in the “Bubble Era” during Japan’s heyday. But what gives this place its charm is the family that runs it and their commitment to sustainability. 

Getting Outdoors at Oki Beach

Kaiyu Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

After several decades of working overseas in hospitality, the ebullient Mitsuhiro Okada moved back from Bali two decades ago to take over his father’s hotel. Together with his wife Taeko, he transformed the interior into an unpretentious hot spring resort. Kaiyu literally translates to “ocean healing,” and Okada hopes that guests will be able to find solace through nature and the ocean here. 

Kaiyu Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

“I grew up here at Oki Beach and have been swimming in these waters even before I was in elementary school,” remembers Okada, who is to this day an avid snorkeler and freediver. “I would catch fish and octopus and bring it home to my family. We started Kaiyu to show our kind of lifestyle: taking time to appreciate nature and enjoy natural food.” 

Kaiyu Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

Oki Beach is a one-and-a-half-kilometer stretch of white sandy beach: a cozy, protected bay with subtropical, turquoise waters. Although there are moderate waves here, it’s far from any major city, so surfers willing to make the trek can enjoy waves to themselves. It’s also a spawning ground for endangered loggerhead turtles. 

“Fifteen years ago, there used to be 100 turtles who would lay their eggs here annually,” says Okada. “But every year that number decreases. There are only twenty now.” 

Kaiyu Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

Okada guides guests to his favorite snorkeling spots where you can find sea turtles, eagle rays, pufferfish, nudibranch and many tropical fish. Guests can also rent snorkeling gear and surfboards for free. Ashizuri-Uwakai National Park is also a short drive away. It’s a breeding ground for colorful marine life and also attracts whales, dolphins and sea turtles. 

For a unique snorkeling experience, Okada also offers a cycling and snorkeling tour to a “secret river” in the mountains behind Kaiyu. 

“The river water is really clear, but also cold—like 15 degrees Celsius in winter. But hey, it’s great in summer especially after you’re sweaty from cycling,” laughs Okada. 

Kaiyu Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

Sustainability and Hospitality

As mass development and food production spreads throughout the country, many travelers who stay at Kaiyu are those who have developed recent allergic reactions and are trying to find an all-natural getaway where they can heal their bodies. 

“The family who’s staying here right now are temporarily escaping their nearby field’s fumigation,” explains Okada as a mother and two children run past. “Their bodies are very sensitive to chemicals, so when the farms started getting fumigated, they started getting nosebleeds!” 

Out of the 70 rooms, 22 are run by Kaiyu while the rest belong to other owners. Each room is designed differently, but they all face the ocean and use local wood such as hinoki (Japanese cypress) and sugi (Japanese cedar) and natural building materials not harmful to the body. Okada collaborates with local carpenters and WWOOFers (traveling volunteers through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to give the hotel look an uplift. Since Okada is mainly working on the renovations by himself and occasionally a small team, renovation is still ongoing. 

Kaiyu Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

After a day outdoors, relax in the onsen facility which Okada built himself. The water is sourced from one kilometer underground and contains hydrocarbonic acid and salt. The hydrocarbonic acid smoothens and moisturizes skin and the salt warms the body for a long time even after the bath. Firewood from demolished homes nearby are used to boil the hot spring water, which makes the water more effective. It’s said that hot water boiled with firewood does not cool as easily due to the far-infrared effect. Aside from the water, the granite stones in and lining the bathtub are said to emit far infrared rays and warms the body. 

“We had one lady who was battling cancer, who lives nearby in Ashizuri. She bathed in our onsen everyday for two months. Then miraculously, the cancer left her body,” says Okada. “We’d like to believe the hot spring’s healing effects helped.” 

For guests’ first night at Kaiyu, Taeko-san prepares a family-style feast in the main hall. She uses local ingredients like Kochi’s specialty: freshly caught bonito, and as many organic ingredients she can find including tofu, ginger, garlic, onions and salad greens. Just like eating with family or close friends, dinner is set at a specific time on a big table made from upcycled wood. To break the ice, one guest is asked to “start off the meal” with a simple “Cheers” in their own dialect or language. To close the meal, another guest has to perform a song or dance (if that sounds too daunting, sharing what you enjoyed most that day will suffice). 

Kaiyu Kochi Shikoku Outdoor Japan

“Before the pandemic, we used to feed twenty guests at one time,” remembers Okada. “But I think the best number is eight people, because we can all sit around this table comfortably and communicate. It has a more intimate feeling, like you’re eating with family.” To make sure every guest gets the opportunity to enjoy this dinner, guests alternate eating at the hotel. Each room has a kitchenette and there are several izakayas and restaurants a drive away. 

Kaiyu continues to accept a minimum number of guests so that travelers can enjoy Oki Beach’s peace and quiet, and also so that the Okadas can maintain their outdoor lifestyle. 

“If we’re hosting guests but we ourselves are not happy or too busy or distracted to talk with and take care of our guests, I don’t think they would be relaxed either,” explains Okada. 

Kaiyu is accepting reservations through their website. Depending on the room, it costs ¥9,000 to ¥23,000 per night (additional ¥2,500 per person), and discounted during off season and for longer stays. Family dinner is by reservation only. To reserve or learn more, visit their website here.

Getting There

Kochi Ryoma Airport is an hour and a half flight from Tokyo, and Kaiyu is a three-hour drive south of the airport. As the prefecture is big with limited public transportation, the best way to get around is by renting a car near the airport or in Kochi City.

Read about Sustainable Washi Paper Making at Kamikoya in Kochi.

Learn more about traveling Kochi by camper van here.

Visit Kochi’s official tourism website here.

Snorkeling, Surfing and Sustainability in Kochi

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