Tokushima’s town of Kakimatsu, or “Kamikatsu-cho” as its called in Japanese, is known as one of the most beautiful villages in Shikoku, with impressive mountain backdrops, scenic rivers, and lush green valleys as far as the eye can see. On top of being blessed with great natural beauty, the local community is small but thriving, and there are a range of interesting projects and delicious eateries, as well as an American-styled craft beer brewery.
How to get to Kamikatsu
Getting to Kamikatsu-cho using public transportation is easier than expected, with local bus connections running throughout the day. From Tokushima Station, get on bus number 82 to Yokose-Nishi. You will be dropped off at the Yokose-Nishi bus stop, close to Kamikatsu itself.
The drive from Tokushima to Yokose-Nishi is not unpleasant, with the concrete cityscape eventually giving way to winding mountain roads, surrounded by trees and a river trailing along the roadside. To the left-hand side, occasional shrines and temples can be seen, while fishermen cast out their lines into the water on the right.
When you finally reach your destination (after approximately an hour-long ride) Yokose-Nishi is not a difficult place to wait, with a crystal-clear river running behind the bus stop area, and trees as far as the eyes can see, mixed with a few houses in various states of use.
After waiting at Yokose-Nishi, the local Kamikatsu bus will pick you up – the bus itself is more like a medium sized shuttle, and the driver is friendly and helpful, alerting you when you reach your destination. (Personally, I stopped at Onsen Iriguchi, which is close to Café Polestar as well as a scenic river view.)
Getting around Kamikatsu: Food, Folklore, and Friendly locals.
The Kamikatsu area itself is thickly forested, and the road into the main part of the town is filled with citrus trees drooping onto the roadside, and an impressive swath of green spanning from the bottom of the valleys to the top of the mountains.
There are a number of volunteer taxi drivers in Kamikatsu, who are happy to interact with foreign visitors and act as a guide. The volunteer guides have a wealth of local knowledge, and traveling alongside a local ensures that you will not miss any interesting details, facts, or folklore about the town. One such bit of local knowledge is that in Kamikatsu, money does quite literally grow on trees.
A notable source of income for the Kamikatsu area is the sale of decorative leaves, or tsumamono. Many of these leaves are prized as decorations by restaurants, hotels, and other businesses around Japan. These ornamental leaves can also be found alongside the fare at Cafe Polestar, a trendy and delicious cafe that wouldn’t be out of place in Osaka or Kyoto.
The area is also home to many wild animals, including deer, wild boar, and the notorious tanuki, or raccoon dog. In Japanese folklore, the tanuki is said to possess magical properties, which usually materialize in the form of benevolent, or at least benign, tricks. One such trick which is undoubtedly familiar to Kamikatsu locals is the ability to turn leaves into gold – perhaps it is for this reason that the town features a number of tanuki-related decorations, including a large painted mural by the roadside.
To call Kamikatsu a town is perhaps somewhat of a misnomer, as it consists of 52 or so smaller areas or subdivisions. While the population is fairly stable around 1600, many cottages and farms are hidden behind or nestled among imposing mountains and forests. In winter, the area is blanketed with a layer of snow thick enough to effectively block many people from leaving their homes.
Nevertheless, there is a strong sense of community and togetherness here. It is not unusual for the local school teacher to stop in the middle of the road because he has some extra sweet potatoes to share with an acquaintance. Similarly, the openness and warmth is extended to foreign visitors, who are greeted with a surprising and enthusiastic amount of English.
Ecotourism in Kamikatsu: The Zero Waste Town
One of Kamikatsu’s main international claims to fame is its devotion to the local Zero Waste Project – an initiative which seeks to eliminate the waste which often comes with modern consumer culture. In Japan especially, it can be difficult to escape the omnipresent plastic-wrapped serviettes, individually packaged snacks, and single-use utensils.
The local waste management site in Kamikatsu is bustling with activity, and through strenuous recycling, reusing, and reducing, the local zero waste project is a unique and successful model for environmentally conscious living.
It is no wonder that the town’s inhabitants should seek to maintain their environment, being exposed to some of the most beautiful and pristine mountain vistas in the country. Kamikatsu is home to the Kashihara rice fields, ranked among the top 100 in Japan, which certainly live up to their reputation. A good view of the town’s beautiful rice terraces can be seen from the superb vantage point of the Moku Moku Moku artwork.
While Kamikatsu’s agricultural scenery and impressive mountain backdrops alone are worth visiting for, there is also a small but thriving local culture scene. As well as the aforementioned Cafe Polestar, which seems to attract a large variety of people, there is also Rise & Win – a craft beer brewery resembling a red barn transplanted straight from Portland, Oregon.
Both exterior and interior are an interesting sight in rural Tokushima, and even those with virtually no Japanese language skills can find themselves discussing Belgian and New Zealand beer varieties with one of the knowledgeable staff members.
The local farmers’ market is also not to be underestimated, and is one of the most scenic you’ll find anywhere, with a dramatic valley backdrop behind it, visible from the viewing platform out back. There is a wide range of delicious organic produce, as well as baked goods created using special yeast known as Tennen Koubo.
Kamikatsu is a must-see for anyone interested in Japanese eco-tourism, or experiencing a taste of life in rural Japan. With its beautiful rice fields, sweeping valleys, and looming mountains, the natural area is stunning, and complemented by the genuine friendliness and welcoming nature of the local population.
Kamikatsu Farmers Market
Address: 76−2 Shimohiura, O’aza Fukuhara aza, Kamikatsu-cho, Katsuura-gun, Tokushima
Close on Tuesday
Address: 32−1 Hirama, O’aza Fukuhara aza, Kamikatsu-cho, Katsuura-gun, Tokushima
Hour: 10:00-19:00, close on Thursday
Rise & Win Brewery
Address: 237-2, Hirama Masaki, Kamikatsu-cho, Katsuura-gun, Tokushima
A travel writer and wildlife enthusiast currently based in Shikoku, Japan. Having previously lived in New Zealand, I'm especially interested in exploring places with a focus on ecotourism and the natural environment. Highlights of my experience in Japan so far include being mobbed by rabbits on Ōkunoshima, sleeping in a beachside Mongolian yurt on the art island of Naoshima, and countless trips around the many natural wonders of Shikoku.
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