The Iya Valley region is a scenic area known for its dramatic mountain valleys and old vine bridges. Situated in the western part of Tokushima and nearly in the center of Shikoku, the Iya area is one of the large ‘hidden mountain regions’ in Japan. Although access has improved in recent years, the Iya Valley and the inner parts of Shikoku have historically been remote and difficult to reach.
In modern times, the Iya Valley has become an increasingly popular tourist destination. Deep in the bosom of Mt. Tsurugi, the second tallest mountain in Shikoku, the region is surrounded by the mountains of the Shikoku Mountain district. With a deep valley formed among the mountains cut through by the Iya-gawa river, a tributary of the Yoshino-gawa river.
The Vine Bridge
The vine bridge over the Iya-gawa river, called ‘Iya-no-Kazura-bashi’, is a 45 meter-long and 2 meter-wide suspension bridge with a height of 14 meters above water level. It is one of Japan’s 3 rare bridges and designated as a national important folkloric property. In order to keep the bridge safe to use, the bridge is rebuilt every three years.
There are some legends about why this bridge was made. One is by the famous monk Kobo-Daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. When he visited the village, local people had a problem because it is very difficult to go to the other side of the river, so he created the bridge. Another story is related to the Taira clan.
The Taira were completely defeated by the Minamoto clan in the late 12th century, during the Gen-Pei war. It is said that some of the members of the Taira clan survived and started living in Iya, deep in the mountains to hide from the Minamoto clan. The Taira people made the bridge, but just in case they were attacked by Minamoto, the bridge was made in such a way that it can be cut down easily.
Oboke Gorge Cruise
The scenic Oboke Gorge is surrounded by rocks, crystalline schist from sandstone. Here, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery from a sightseeing boat. Many rocks have special names, for example, one rock looks like a lion, so it is named ‘Lion Rock’. One rock’s tilt is different from the others, so it is named ‘Bigoted Rock’.
The cruise lasts about 30 minutes and costs 1,200 yen for adults and 600 yen from 3 years to elementary student age.
The Oku-Iya area is nicknamed the Japanese Tibet because of its inaccessible location. In Oku-Iya, there is a 300-year-old folk house. American writer and Japanologist Alex Arthur Kerr bought the house in 1973. He restored the house to a liveable state, including re-thatching the kayabuki roof using traditional materials. The house was given the name Chiiori, or “House of the Flute”. The restoration of Chiiori was a project that was started by Kerr and others to preserve Japan’s vanishing arts, culture, and traditional lifestyle.
In 2007, Kerr decided to become more personally involved with Iya. He expanded and reorganized the board of directors of the project and closed the house for a few months for renovations. It reopened in November 2007. You can now stay at the house, or you can visit it by reservation. Be aware that there is no public transportation to Chiiori, so you will have to take a taxi from Oboke station.
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Iya Valley Information
Access to Oboke station (25 minutes walk to the Oboke Gorge Cruise Terminal):
From Takamatsu, take JR Lines to Udatsu, then change the train to Oboke. (about 2 hours)
From Oboke station, you can take a bus to the Vine Bridge (30 minutes).