This itinerary explores the mysterious Iya River Valley of Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku Island, following the Iya River Valley as much as possible. Given how much there is to see and do in Shikoku, you are encouraged to combine this itinerary with as many other "Shikoku" itineraries, and/or "Festival" itineraries, as you like and have the time for.
The itinerary is in Tokushima Prefecture, the southeastern quarter of Shikoku Island. It should take at least one-day so we would recommend that you break up the itinerary at one of the accommodations mentioned below. Once you have selected this itinerary and saved it, you can change/customize it. If you plan to continue on, you can daisy-chain with other Shikoku itineraries.
Given the geography and more isolated nature of Shikoku Island the rental car outlets tend to be located at the airports and train stations of each of the four main cities of the four prefectures comprising Shikoku: Kochi City, Matsuyama, Takamatsu, and Tokushima City. This will result in some additional driving to get to one end or the other of this itinerary.
ACCOMMODATIONS: There are a variety of interesting and unique accommodation options in the Iya Valley area of Tokushima Prefecture where you can spend the night. One of the most unique options is to spend 1-2 nights in one of eight revitalized/updated "kominka" (old farm houses) in the traditional Ochiai Town, all part of the Tou (MapCode: 357 142 897*17; http://tougenkyo-iya.jp/stay/stay_style_en.html). Each kominka has kitchen and laundry facilities. You will need to purchase your food at stores along the way. Another excellent choice is the Iya Onsen hotel (MapCode: 357 308 132*28; https://www.iyaonsen.co.jp/en/)
You can also easily reverse the itinerary, if you wish, just by following the MapCodes in the reverse order.
See their website for details.
km / 47.7
Iya River Bend Observation Point - イヤ川ベンド観測点
Courtesy of the City of Miyoshi
Min/Max Time :
5 / 15
357 171 382*22
The Iya River Bend Observation Point is marked by a sign indicating the location and providing a little background information about the Iya River. "The Iya River runs out of Mt. Tsurugi, forming a deep valley among the Shikoku Mountains and creates a majestic and beautiful valley for 20 km/12.5 mi. Cliffs at the height of several dozen to hundreds of meters will be covered by fresh vegetation in spring and beautiful foliage in autumn. This spot offers the un-obstructed view of the Iya River winding through the valley in a "V" shape which looks like a Japanese letter "Hi", so it is sometimes called "Hi-no-Ji Valley affectionately."
The Statue of a Peeing Boy is located in an area with a of dizzying succession of sheer cliffs lining the steep gorge carved out of the mountains by the Iya River. This majestic and beautiful valley stretches out for 20 km/12 mi and cliffs at the height of several dozen to hundreds of meters will be covered by fresh vegetation in spring and beautiful foliage in autumn. When looking down at the winding emerald green river from the cliff top, you may feel dizzy as it looks far below, but offers you the beautiful view of river curves along its rim. As a symbol of innocent courage, a statue of a peeing boy stands at the edge of a 200 m/656 ft precipice, which is noted as the most dangerous spot in the Iya River Valley. In the old days, local children and travelers stood up here and urinated to show their bravado.
Open daily 24/7
Matsuo Ikeda-cho, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0165
km / 5.3
Iya no Kazura Bashi - Parking Lot - 祖谷のかずら橋 - 駐車場
The Iya no Kazura Bashi (meaning "vine bridge" of Iya) over the canyon in this secluded mountain area is associated with the legend of the fleeing Heike clan, once the most powerful rulers in Japan (see Genpei War, 1180-1185). This bridge is made of Actinidia auguta (a kind of kiwi vine) and is 45 m/148 ft long, 2 m/6 ft wide. It weighs approx. 6 tons and is suspended 14 m/46 ft above the stream. The bridge is one of an original 13 vine bridges across the valley that once were the only access over the deep canyon into the mountainous area. Today only 3 vine bridges survive (the other two, Oku-Iya Kazura Bashi, are close together further east the valley). This is the largest/longest. The bridge vines are changed every three years for safety (there are also steel cables wrapped inside the vines). It is designated as a National and Prefectural Significant Folk Cultural Asset.
A) The bridge is only "one-way, i.e., visitors must cross the bridge in the north to the south direction only.
B) A short walk past the bridge on the south side of the stream is the Biwa Waterfall. Legend holds that the Heike played their biwa, a Japanese lute, by this waterfall feeling nostalgic for their old city, Kyoto, and comforted each other. The elegant name for this waterfall with the height of 50 m/164 ft originated from this legend.
C) Every night from 19:00 till 21:30, the bridge is lighted up, creating a magical atmosphere throughout the evening.
D) Just west of the bridge on the south side of the river and up on Highway #32 is the large Kazurabashi Yumebutai (MapCode: 357 130 430*58). It is a combination restaurant, and shopping mall for local souvenirs and food specialties, but it also has a Visitor Information Center at the west end, and a modest museum display at the east end.
Note: This house is off the main road on a narrow local farm road so if you don't have time or interest you may/should skip it.
The 300-year old Kimura House dates from the Gengoku Period (1699-1720). The house is typical of old Iya construction: with wooden floors, irori 囲炉裏 (floor hearths), and massive beams and rafters － all smoked black from centuries of fires burning in the floor hearths. It is an Important Cultural Property.
It is still a private house run by an old couple so you must pay to enter or purchase something to drink. They serve three types of coffee, matcha and wild grass tea, each come with their own homemade mugwort dumplings. Please be patient and courteous!
Please hit the drum and call to get their attention. There are no fixed hours of service.
107 Higashiiyatsurui, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0206, Japan
km / 1.3
Ryugu Cliff Park - Tourist Information Center - 龍宮崖公園観光案内
Courtesy of Google Maps
357 105 224*25
The Ryugu Cliff Park - Tourist Information Center is a small, sometimes unmanned, tourist information center with diagrams of the area and other useful information.
The Old Kita Clan Samurai Residence is the largest home in the Iya area, built in 1763 by the samurai headman of Oeda, a descendant of the feudal lord Kita Rokurosaburo. The area of Oheda in Higashi-Iya is the place renowned for the legend of the fleeting Heike Clan after losing the battle at Yashima. The residence of the Kita Clan is that of the historical family who held high offices in Iya. The house, including “Irazu-no-ma”(room of no entry) for committing ritual suicide, tells the story of the ancient way of life of samurais in the mountain. An 800-year-old cedar “Hokosugi” still grows in the garden and is worth seeing it.
Open daily: 09:00 – 17:00. Closed Tuesdays.
43 Higashiiyaōeda, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0204
km / 3.4
Higashi Iya Museum of History and Folklore - 東祖谷歴史民俗資料館
Courtesy of Higashi Iya Museum of History & Folklore
The Oku-Iya Valley Sightseeing Monorail is an enjoyable, slow monorail ride in the forest and that gives the feeling of trekking the mountain. Fun for adults and children. One can appreciate the benefit of nature as people in Japan commonly engage in so-called forest bathing to breathe in phytoncides emitted to improve their health. The overall length of the monorail ride 4,600 m/2.85 mi, the difference in level 590 m/1,936 ft, the sharpest slope at 40 degrees, the highest point at 1,389 m/4,557 ft. These figures rank the Oku-Iya Monorail first in the world among tourist-oriented monorail services. The monorail is electrically powered and environmentally friendly.
Next door is a ryokan with an onsen and restaurant.
Nagoro Village, a village of less than 30 people, is famous for its over 300 life-size "scarecrows". The scarecrows have been created since 2003 by Ms. Tsukimi Ayano who returned to Nagorao, her native village, from Osaka.
The Oku-Iya Niju Kazura Bashi (meaning "Inner Iya Double Vine Bridge") has two vine bridges. The Heike clan built this double vine bridges to access their riding ground in Mt.Tsurugi (for training) about 800 years ago. It is also the access bridge to the camping ground in Oku-Iya. Since double vine bridges are suspended in parallel, they are sometimes called “Male and Female Bridges”or “the Wedded Bridge” affectionately.
The larger of the two bridges, Husband Bridge (Otto no Hashi), stretches 44 m/144 ft across the river next to a small waterfall, while the slightly lower Wife Bridge (Tsuma no Hashi) is a 22 m/72 ft span just a little ways upstream. The bridges are constructed with steel cables hidden within the vines for safety and are rebuilt every three years. The bridges are connected to each other by a network of paved hiking trails that also lead to camping facilities on the far side of the river.
Another popular attraction is a "Wild Monkey Bridge" found next to the Wife Bridge. This type of "bridge" consists of a wooden cart suspended on a rope over the river. They were used to transport goods and people. Visitors can try out the Wild Monkey Bridge by pulling themselves across the river.