Iya Valley

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Iya Valley
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The Iya Valley (cJk, Iyakei) is a secluded, mountainous valley along the Iya River in western Tokushima Prefecture. Its steep forested slopes are connected to the outside world by a winding, sometimes unbelievably narrow mountain road that navigates the valley. While the deeper parts of the Iya Valley may be difficult to access, this remoteness is what draws visitor to the area to experience a traditional, rural culture that is difficult to find in modern Japan.

Historically the Iya Valley has been difficult a place to enter, and has long served as a refuge for members of the defeated Taira Clan (also known as Heike) who escaped to the region toward the end of the 12th century after losing the Gempei War (1180-1185). Their descendants can still be found around the tiny mountain villages that dot the region.

A rural mountain farmhouse in the Iya Valley

The Iya Valley was eventually "rediscovered" and promoted by Alex Kerr, author of "Lost Japan", who fell in love with the area after a visit. He bought and restored an ancient farmhouse, Chiiori, which he now operates as a non-profit project to introduce people to traditional Japanese life. Chiiori can be visited on a daytrip or overnight. Kerr is currently working on a project to open several more restored traditional homes around the Iya Valley to tourists.

The Iya Valley is commonly divided into two areas. Nishi Iya (West Iya) around the entrance to the valley is slightly more developed and more accessible with relatively frequent buses to some of the major attractions. Oku Iya (Inner Iya, also called Higashi Iya or East Iya) lies further back into the valley and is difficult to reach without a rental car or other means of private transportation. The following attractions are listed relative to their location within the valley.

Nishi Iya

Manikin Peeing Boy Statue
At the edge of this dizzying, 200 meter high cliff stands the statue of a boy posed as if he were peeing off the ledge down to the valley bellow. The statue is located at a beautiful scenic spot a few steps from The Iya Onsen Hotel, where local folklore says passing travelers would climb out to pee off as a testament to their bravery. A railing discourages visitors from attempting this dangerous act today.

Iya Onsen Hotel
Daytime Hours: 7:00 to 18:00 (entry until 17:00)
Daytime Admission: 1500 yen (including outdoor bath, indoor bath, and cablecar)
Overnight Stay: from 12,000 yen per person including 2 meals
The Iya Onsen Hotel is perched high up on the steep slope overlooking the Iya Valley. The hotel's outdoor hot spring baths are located along the river some 170 meters below the hotel itself and are connected to the upper buildings by a steep cable car. The bath water is a lukewarm 39 degrees Celsius.

Shin-Iya Onsen Hotel Kazurabashi
Daytime Hours: 10:00 to 16:00
Daytime Admission: 1200 yen
Overnight Stay: from 14,000 yen per person including 2 meals
Shin-Iya Onsen's Hotel Kazurabashi has three outdoor baths, one for each gender as well as a mixed gender bath, that offer nice views out over the Iya Valley. The baths are found high up on the mountainside above the hotel, and can be accessed by a short cable car from the main building.

Iya Kazurabashi Bridge (more details)
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Closed: No closing days
Admission: 500 yen
In the past, 13 suspension bridges constructed of mountain vines served as the main means of crossing the Iya River. Only three such bridges still exist, of which Iya Kazurabashi is the largest and most easily accessible. The 45 meters long bridge stretches 14 meters above the river and is reinforced with hidden steel cables for safety.

Oku Iya

Higashi Iya History and Folk Museum
Hours: 8:30 to 17:00
Closed: Weekends and holidays (Dec to Feb), New Year holidays
Admission: 410 yen
The Higashi Iya History and Folk Museum is a small history museum at the entrance to Oku Iya. Inside you will find exhibits and displays of tools, household items, clothes, and other traditional items of the region.

Samurai House
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Closed: December to March
Admission: 310 yen
This restored samurai residence high up in the valley's steep slope is the former home of local village leaders. It displays a set of samurai armor, as well as tools and implements necessary for daily life in the remote village. A rental car is recommended to access the house, as the nearest bus stop is about a 45 minute walk away.

Oku-Iya Kazurabashi Bridges (more details)
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Closed: December to March
Admission: 500 yen
An additional two vine bridges stand side by side deep in the Iya Valley near Mount Tsurugi. Dubbed the husband and wife bridges, the taller and longer bridge is the Otto no Hashi (husband bridge), and the slightly smaller one is the Tsuma no Hashi (wife bridge). Nearby the wife bridge is a wooden cable cart used for transporting goods across the river.

Mount Tsurugi (more details)
Mount Tsurugi is 1955 meter high mountain that lies at the far end of the Iya Valley. Visitors can take a chairlift most of the way up the mountain to a station from where it is an easy 30 minute hike to the summit.

Get There and Around

Nishi Iya is accessible by relatively frequent buses from Awa Ikeda Station (one bus every 1-2 hours) and Oboke Station. Some buses from Awa Ikeda operate as far as Kubo in Oku Iya, where travelers can transfer to another bus further into the valley. The Oku-Iya Kazurabashi Bridges and Mount Tsurugi are served only on weekends and holidays from April to November.

A rental car is recommend, especially for visiting the less traveled Oku Iya area. Note that the roads are very narrow and have frequent blind curves, which make driving both hazardous and slow. Rental outlets are available around Oboke and Awa Ikeda Stations.

How to get to and around the Iya Valley

Last updated: June 7, 2013
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Hotel Iya Onsen

A secluded onsen ryokan with stunning view of Iya Valley. Open-air bath 170m down by cable car is a must-try. Free shuttle to/from JR Oboke Sta. Wi-Fi available.