Iya Valley 祖谷渓谷
Kazurabashi in the Iya Valley
The Manneken Pis of the Iya Valley
Credit: Hiroaki Sakuma
The village of Ochiai-Shuraku
Credit: Kimon Berlin
The steep slopes of the Iya valley
Located in the western part of Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku Island, the region of Iya, is a Japanese jungle.
Iya Valley on Shikoku, at the foot of Mount Tsurugi, is surrounded by steep mountains and a deep wooded valley, where gorges, rivers, waterfalls and suspended bridges make up the landscape. It's an ideal place to escape the summer heat.
Due to its isolation, it was the refuge of members of the Taira clan (also called Heike) that hid there to escape the enemy Minamoto clan in 1180. Many years of their descendants are still living in the region, and there is even a small museum, the Heike Yashiki Museum of Folklore, in a traditional house that belonged to a descendant of the Heike, which displays relics of the clan. The garden features a 800 year old tree.
The valley is divided into two parts: the west side (Nishi Iya), served by local buses, is the most accessible and therefore most popular while the east side or "inside" (Oku Iya) that is harder to reach. Not far from Oboke station, the larger gorge (Oboke) and the smaller gorge (Koboke) form two steep narrow slits at the entrance to the valley.
Thirteen bridges made of mountain vines or creepers (kazurabashi) once allowed people to cross gorges and streams. Now only three remain. Steel cables covered with vineyards have replaced the vines - and the bridges are rebuilt every three years - but this hasn't diminished the dizziness you feels as you cross!
Iya no Kazurabashi, at 45 meters long and 14 meters high above the river, is the most famous and most easily accessible bridge. The other two, called Oku-Iya Kazurabashi and Niju Kazurabashi, are located deep in the Oku-Iya valley. They are nicknamed the "husband bridge" (Ottonohashi, 44 meters long) and the "wife bridge" (Tsumanohashi, 22 meters) as they are close to each other. They were built there 800 years ago by Heike clan members who had taken refuge in the valley. A small waterfall is located near "Ottonohashi", while near the "Tsumanohashi" is the "wild monkey bridge", an old wooden cart suspended by cables used to transport goods and people from one bank to another. You can climb in for a little ride across the river. Hidden deep in the valley, these two bridges are difficult to reach unless you have a car.
But the adventure doesn't stop there. The "seven corners" (nana magari) are known as the most dangerous place in the valley. On a huge protruding rock, 200 meters above sea level, a statue imitating the famous Manneken Pis statue in Brussels, is supposed to discourage foolish thrill seekers who might try urinating from this height!
Travel to the distant past
The village of Ochiai-Shuraku sprawls over the height of a steep hill (390 vertical meters) in the center of Higashi-Iya Valley (east of the valley), where rivers and Iya Ochiai meet. The houses were built between the eighteenth century (the Edo era) and the 1930s, and it's one of the most authentic and best preserved villages in Japan.
Mount Tsurugi (1955 meters), is a delight for hikers, although a chair-lift is also available, while the hot springs scattered around the wild region are a reward for tired adventurers in need of relaxation.