The Iya Valley's location deep in the mountains of Shikoku has kept it far off the beaten path, rewarding those who come with unspoiled natural scenery, narrow river gorges, rustic vine bridges and relaxing hot springs.
Access Iya Valley by flying from Tokyo's Haneda and Narita airports to Kagawa's Takamatsu Airport and take a direct bus connection to the valley.
Japan's major carriers Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) fly to Takamatsu Airport from Haneda Airport , and the budget carrier Jetstar flies from Narita Airport . Buses from Takamatsu Airport run directly to Kotohira Shrine and Iya Valley.
Several buses run between Hankyu Umeda Station in Osaka and the Awa-Ikeda Bus Terminal. Ideal for travelers on a budget, this route costs just under 5,000 yen for the four-hour trip. Around six buses per day run this route. Take a local bus from the Awa-Ikeda Bus Terminal to the Iya Valley area.
The Iya Valley is one of the most remote places in all of Japan. Its historical inaccessibility led it to become a hideaway in the late 12th century for members of the Heike (Taira) clan. They reportedly fled to Iya Valley after being defeated by the Genji (Minamoto) clan in the Genpei War, which paved the way for the first samurai government in Kamakura, near Tokyo.
The majestic Yoshino River is Tokushima's largest river and flows across most of the prefecture from west to east. Following the river upstream you'll come upon the Oboke and Koboke canyons, and the entrance to the Iya Valley. Wild deer, boar, and monkeys inhabit this area.
At Oboke Canyon you can cruise gently down the river on pleasure boats, admire the emerald color of the water and the steep, rocky cliffs towering above. In the warmer months, whitewater rafting further upstream is a popular pastime for those seeking a more thrilling adventure.
Iya's kazura-bashi or vine bridges are one of the most unique sights in the area and are one of three most unusual bridges in Japan. These suspension bridges were traditionally made by weaving together vines harvested from the mountains and served as important lifelines for people in this mountainous region.
According to one legend, these bridges were constructed by the defeated Heike soldiers fleeing from their Genji pursuers. The sway of the bridge coupled with the sight of the water below your feet is a tremendous thrill. One of the bridges is in Nishi-Iyayama Village while two more are located in Higashi-Iya further up in the mountains closer to Mt. Tsurugi , the second tallest mountain in Shikoku.
The Peeing Boy of Iya Gorge is another icon of the Iya area. This statue of a small boy standing and urinating at the edge of a 200-meter-high precipice.
Known as the Nana Magari (Seven Curves), this is regarded as the most dangerous spot in the Iya Valley, and local legend has it that the statue of the Peeing Boy was built in commemoration of travelers who would come here to urinate off the rock to show their bravery.
In the historic hamlet of Ochiai in eastern Higashi-Iya, steep slopes forced its residents to build their homes at staggered levels up the side of the mountain and to plant rice and other vegetables in stone-walled terrace gardens. The area is registered as an important national preservation district because of its traditional thatched-roof farmhouses that are centuries old, as well as ancient walking paths.
The narrow mountain roads make for slow travel. Take your time and savor the relaxed pace of life here. There are several options available to visitors who want to stay overnight. You'll find various campgrounds and a restored 400-year-old farmhouse in the upper parts of the valley, while the hot spring resorts in Oboke and Iya offer an excellent way to unwind and savor the local cuisine.
A visit to the Iya Valley can easily be combined with whitewater rafting, a scenic sightseeing boat cruise or other fun activities at the nearby Oboke and Koboke canyon area.