When author Alex Kerr first discovered Japan’s Iya Valley in the 1970s, he was so entranced that he bought an abandoned 300-year-old thatch-roofed farmhouse and made a home here. When you visit, it won’t take you long to understand why.
Sometimes referred to as Japan’s Grand Canyon, the steep mountain slopes, deep rocky gorges and icy teal waters of Iya Valley – found in the secluded heart of Shikoku Island’s Tokushima Prefecture – exude a majestic mysticism that imprints on your soul. Here are four ways to make your Iya experience the best it can be…
1. Stay at Tougenkyo-Iya Mountain Village
There are plenty of places in Japan where you can stay in a traditional house and be surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery. But few of these can offer quite the same experience as Tougenkyo-Iya. This collection of thatch-roofed homes is spread out across the rustic village of Ochiai, which has been designated a Nationally Important Preservation District. Renovated under the guidance of Alex Kerr’s NPO Chiiori Trust, the farmhouses retain all the distinctive architectural characteristics that’ll make you feel like you’ve gone back in time while also offering contemporary finishes and facilities that make this feel like an indulgent retreat.
More info: ugenkyo-iya.jp
2. Walk Across a Historic Vine Bridge
Although Iya Valley once boasted 13 vine bridges, today there are only three left, with the 45m-long Iya Kazurabashi being the most impressive. Legend has it the ancient Heike residents created vine bridges to transport people and goods across the river but also so they could easily cut away the bridge should they be pursued by invading samurai. Rebuilt every three years, this designated Important Cultural Property is not only a significant part of history but also a test of courage for anyone with even the slightest fear of heights.
More info: miyoshi-tourism.jp/spot/iyanokazurabashi/
3. Book an Adventure: Ziplining, Rafting & Boat Cruises
Even though Iya is considered remote, the area is surprisingly geared up for tourists, with plenty of information in English and activities available for the more adventurous traveler. Ziplining high amongst the treetops and across a vast canyon is both terrifying and exhilarating – and will make the white water rafting on Yoshino River feel like a breeze. For the more cautious thrill seeker, there’s the Oboke Ravine Pleasure Boat, which offers a gentle 30-minute cruise that gets you up close to the exquisite waters of Yoshino River.
4. Meet the Scarecrows
Granted, visiting a village that has more scarecrows than human beings (about 200 to 29) is not your average recommended tourist attraction. But this is exactly what makes Nagoro Scarecrow Village so intriguing – if a tad creepy (if you visit at dusk, the scarecrows, which have been placed in various positions outdoors and even in a former school hall, could easily be mistaken for real people). The story behind the giant dolls is heartwarming, though. The project began when Tsukimi Ayano, who grew up in Nagoro, returned to her hometown and began making scarecrows to protect the fields from crows. In this depopulating village, the scarecrows began to take on more meaning, with locals feeling amused and greeting the dolls as they passed by them. Today they are so popular that there’s a Scarecrow Festival on the first Sunday of October around the former Nagoro Elementary School, and Ayano holds scarecrow-making workshops on the fourth Wednesday of every month.
To make a reservation, call 090-8659-4691.