Iya Valley, Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku 祖谷渓谷
Iya Valley Onsen is a quiet mountainous valley region in the centre of Shikoku, well known for its spectacular scenery and old-fashioned lifestyle. Unlike many tourist spots across the world, this area has kept all its charm and authenticity. While it is firmly on the tourist map, this sparsely populated area is much quieter than similar spots on Honshu and therefore great for travellers - in particular hikers - wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of many Japanese cities.
History of Iya Valley
Due to the remote location of Iya Valley, is has always been a more difficult place to visit than most in Japan. Things have much improved now, but in the past retreating warriors and samurai used to flee into these deep forested mountains to escape their enemies. Most famous were members of the Taira clan, who were rumored to have escaped to Iya Valley after defeat in the Genpei War in the late 12th century.
Iya Valley Attractions
Head first to Iya No Kazurabashi, a rather daunting tree vine suspension bridge over Iya River. The suspension bridge is over 45 metres long and 14 metres above the river surface. Classed as one of Japan's three rare bridges, it is a must-visit in Iya Valley. Hold your breath, don't look down and enjoy walking over!
After walking over the bridge, visitors are welcomed by Biwa Waterfall. A tall waterfall that flows into Iya River, there are also a few casual restaurants and bars around for refreshments and meals.
Top spots are Takami for traditional Japanese teishoku (set) meals and Ikoi for something a little more upmarket. Many people also bring their own bento boxes and enjoy eating them near the waterfall.
If you travel deeper upstream into the valley, there is another set of bridges. Called Oku Iya Double Vine Bridge, the area consists of two bridges, one for men and one for women. This area is quite difficult to reach by bus, so is only recommended for those hiring a car. Otherwise, most visitors are satisfied with just doing Iya No Kazurabashi and then checking out other tourist spots in the valley.
Along the way to Oyunuma, there are a host of things to see and do. As you make your way around there are a few observations areas for sights over Oyunuma and Oku No Yu, and everyone stops off at Oyunuma Brook and Footbath. Visitors are free to just have a sit down on the wooden seats, dip their feet in the hot water and relax surrounded by the beautiful virgin forests.
Some say the Japanese take life too seriously, but Statue of a Peeing Boy is a rather humourous show of Japanese culture. Legend has it that many years ago travellers to this region would relieve themselves while standing on this rock high up in the valley. The rock is now closed off for safety, but visitors love to see the statue. Walk back down the valley to Iya Onsen Hotel if you need food or drinks after.
Those looking to go hiking should visit mount Mount Tsurugi. At 1,955 metres tall and located to the east end of the valley, it is the second tallest mountain in Shikoku.
Mount Tsurugi is not too much of a challenging climb, and a chair lift can be used to skip some of the distance. From the end of the chair lift it only takes 30 minutes to the top, which has boardwalks, a shrine and amazing panoramic views over the valley. There is also a second route via Otsurugi Shrine that takes 35 minutes. Mount Tsurugi is accessible by bus in summer only.
Iya Valley Onsen Accommodation
Most famous is Iya Onsen Hotel, situated high up in the valley, looking over the amazing scenery. There is a shuttle bus to the train station, which is very useful considering the lack of frequent local bus services. The Iya Onsen Hotel also has a restaurant and hot spring, so is a good place to base your travels in the valley.
Obokekyo Mannaka is a larger and cheaper option, a modern hotel in the village. There are also some campgrounds in the valley, such as Kazurabashi Campground near Iya No Kazurabashi.
Tourist Information Center
Iya Valley's main Tourist Information Center is in Miyoshi town.
Miyoshi Tourist Information Center
1810-18 Sarada, Ikeda-cho
Tel: 088 376 0877
Hours: 9am-6pm (closed for New Year's holidays)
Access - Getting To Iya Valley Onsen
There are trains from the south and north to Iya Valley, and most people alight at Oboke Station and take a bus from there. Buses around the valley are about hourly, and last buses are from 5pm to 6pm, depending on the current schedule.
Be sure to check the schedule and pick up a map from the station when you arrive as schedules often change. Sights are rather far away from each other and connected by narrow one-lane roads, so walking lots is not recommended.
From Kochi Station in Kochi, take a Limited Express Nampu to Oboke Station (48 minutes, 1,280 yen). Some trains have an Anpanman theme, so check when you reserve tickets if you are traveling with kids. These trains have playground carriages and themed seats.
From Marugame Station, take a Limited Express Nampu to Oboke Station (64 minutes, 2,980 yen). Anpanman trains also use this route.
From Okayama Station in Okayama, which connects to the shinkansen network, with bullet trains coming from Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka to the east and Fukuoka, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima to the west, a Limited Express Nampu train takes 95 minutes (4,740 yen) to Oboke Station.
Matthew is a blogger and writer living in Tokyo, Japan. He has lived cheaply in Japan for over 6 years, and writes for Super Cheap Japan, a travel guide dedicated to budget travel in Japan.
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