In Tokushima Prefecture in the heart of Shikoku lies Iya Valley (祖谷渓谷), a sightseeing area popular with tourists. If you are looking to spend some quality time outdoors, Iya Valley offers a wide range of activities to help make the most of the incredible landscapes. I recently visited for the day during Golden Week and enjoyed it so much that I have decided to go back during the summer to spend the weekend there. Here are some of the activities Iya Valley offers its visitors:
1. Take a boat trip down Oboke Gorge – Designated as a national nature treasure, you can take a boat trip along the Yoshino River (吉野川) and marvel at the scenic surroundings. The rocks you will see were formed 200 million years ago. In the spring, the surrounding trees are covered in cherry blossoms, and duringn autumn the leaves of the Japanese maple trees turn deep red and yellow. Boats depart every hour and cost 1080 yen per adult.The trip lasts around 30 minutes in total. You can find the boat pier just a short distance from Oboke Station (大歩危駅) situated on the JR Shikoku Dosan Line (JR四国土讃線).
2. Take a walk across Kazura Bridge – For those with a head for heights, a walk across Kazura Bridge (かずら橋) is a must. Suspended 15 meters above the river below, this 45 meter-long bridge is made entirely from vines and is rebuilt every three years. It is said that the bridge was originally built hundreds of years ago by samurai who retreated into the forest. The bridge was built to keep their pursuers at bay as it could be easily cut down if necessary. These days it costs 500 yen to walk across. The bridge can be accessed by car or bus.
3. Water-based fun – Close by Kazura Bridge is an area with a small beach that is popular for bathing in the river. The Yoshino River is also well known in Shikoku as one of the best places to enjoy white water rafting. There are a number of rafting companies in the area; non-Japanese speakers can try booking an excursion with Happy Raft. Happy Raft is a local company owned by an Australian expatriate who offers rafting from 5000 yen per person for a half-day excursion. They also provide guesthouse accommodation and canyoning tours if you are brave enough.
4. Take a trip on the Iya Valley Monorail – This sightseeing monorail weaves through the forest and takes you to a height of 1300 meters. The ride lasts for around 70 minutes in total. Each car can take up to two riders, and it's a great way to enjoy the mountain views without having to get drenched in sweat hiking up the mountain.
5. Try the local cuisine – There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in the area, and local specialities include Iya soba noodles and grilled trout. The soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are thick and short. You can also try making them at the Tsuzuki Soba House. Classes last around an hour and are taught by local instructors. You will also notice plenty of stalls set up along the river with freshly-caught grilled trout on sticks. These are usually served with salt.
In addition to the above, there are many other interesting things to do in Iya Valley. For example, you can visit the famous statue of the peeing boy (known as “Shonben Kozo” [小便小僧]) that stands on the edge of a 200-meter cliff drop. You could also visit Chiiori (篪庵), a 300-year-old traditional thatched house that was restored in the 1970s.
Iya Valley is also home to many onsen hotels, amongst them Hotel Iya Onsen, which boasts a cable car to take guests up and down the mountain to the open-air baths. For day visitors, a trip to the open-air baths costs 1700 yen per adult.
However you decide to spend your time in Iya Valley, you are sure to come away feeling more relaxed after being surrounded by the clear rivers, majestic waterfalls, and clean mountain air. For more information on things to do and accommodation options, visit: http://oboke-iya.jp/en/index.html
Top Image: flickr, Christian Kaden
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