Iya Valley

Iya Valley (祖谷渓 Iya-kei) is a remote mountain valley deep in the heart of Shikoku. The area is administered by Miyoshi City.

Understand

The Oku-Iya Vine Bridge

One of Japan's Three Hidden Valleys, Iya has dramatic mountain scenery, traditional thatched roof homes, and historic vine bridges. Supposedly a hiding place for the fleeing samurai of the defeated Heike clan from centuries past, the isolation of the Iya valley has a rich history of being a waypoint for wanderers and a place one could go to be away from it all. The valley was somewhat raised into the Japanese and Western consciousness by outspoken Japanese-culture conservationist Alex Kerr. His book Lost Japan (ISBN 0864423705) presented an idyllic picture of a misty valley stuck in a time warp to days gone by.

The Iya Valley offers a different facet of otherwise urban Japan and is a welcomed reprieve for visitors due to its fresh natural environment, slow country lifestyle, and friendly welcoming inhabitants. Simply put, Iya offers the roots of Japan. If merely listening to the grumbles of Kerr, someone may be inclined to think that Iya (like everywhere else) has been devoured by what he calls the Moloch (aesthetically challenged over-development) since his first encounter here in the early 1970's, but the reality is that most of the valley still remains remote, unspoiled, and traditional. One could say that the lifestyle and environment still maintained are about as far from Tokyo's Shinjuku as one could get yet still remain in the same country. And while sections of the rivers have been replaced by the usual concrete channels to prevent landslides, the single-lane road widened (in parts) to accommodate dual-direction traffic, and some mountainsides covered by uniform cedar for logging, the Iya Gorge section at the start of the valley remains unmarred by development, the overall natural splendor of the valley proves to be a great escape while soaking in the bounty of its hotsprings, the tall peaks offer some of the finest hiking in Shikoku, and many of the less-visited mountainside hamlets offer glimpses into a past way of life that somehow still clings on here even though it has utterly vanished elsewhere in Japan.

Orientation

The valley is divided into halves (which together can take about 2 to 2.5 hours by car to traverse completely): the more visited and (slightly) more developed Nishi-Iya (西祖谷 West Iya); and the more remote Higashi-Iya (東祖谷 East Iya ), which is also known as Oku-Iya (奥祖谷 Deep Iya). There are dozens of small settlements going up the mountain sides (some of them abandoned) along the main road that connects the two halves. In the western half, the 'downtown' section of central Nishi-Iya is the most condensed as well as the tourist area around the Kazurabashi. The largest district on the eastern side (Higashi-Iya) is the town center of Kyojo (京上) where many of the town's facilities are located. The historic hamlet of Ochiai (落合) in the eastern part of Higashi-Iya is of significance as it was registered as an important national preservation district due to its collection of traditional homes, terraced farm plots, and ancient walking paths. The far off hamlet of Mi-no-Koshi (見ノ越) at the base of Mt. Tsurugi and the intersection of three main roads is popular with hikers but has only basic facilities.

For anyone coming to the valley, it is highly recommended to get one of the detailed free tourist maps available at any tourist point when entering or within the Iya valley (train stations, restaurants, tourist offices, hotels, etc.). Printed by the local government and available in either Japanese or English, this is not your typical hand-drawn, cartoon-ish, and wildly out-of-scale tourist map so often found in Japan, but a rather accurate road map with clear explanations for points of interest, trail-heads, and other less known landmarks.

The official tourism webpage for Miyoshi City (which includes the Iya Valley) is available in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. It is not as detailed as the information in this Wiki, but it includes a contact page for travel questions in English, which can be helpful if trying to reserve a place that has no email address.

Money and Communications

The only banks in the Iya valley are through the Japan Post (JP) bank. There are three JP banks in Iya, which also serve as the post offices, located in central Nishi Iya (at corner of 'old' Route 32 and Route 45), in the Kyojo area of central Higashi Iya (at the town office building) and a small JP branch office in Ochiai (on the main road). The counters hold regular office hours (Mon-Fri, 9-5pm) but do not do international currency exchange. The ATMs are available 9am to 6pm on weekdays and till 5pm Saturday and 2pm Sundays/holidays. Foreign bank cards are accepted at the ATMs. There are no other ATMs in Iya, nor is there anywhere to exchange cash. The closest currency exchange would be in the major cities (Kochi, Takamatsu, etc) and the closest 24hour ATM would be at the 7/11 in the WestWest rest stop in Koboke.

Most larger hotels accept credit cards, however just about anywhere else does not. So be sure to have yen cash available.

Practically all inhabited areas in the valley are covered by good cell phone service, however many mountain trails and peaks will have limited or no reception. Pay phones (coin and card) are scattered here and there, usually in the more condensed areas. There are no Internet cafes nor library with computers available, and few hotels (if any) offer computers to use. Wi-Fi is sometimes available for use in bigger hotels, and the town has made a push in recent years to start introducing free Wi-Fi hot-spots in common tourist areas.

Health and Emergencies

For any emergency (as with anywhere in Japan) call 119 for fire or rescue, or 110 for police. An English operator can be connected.

Within the Iya Valley there is no large hospital (the closest is in Ikeda town), but there are two local clinics for general health concerns. The doctors at each location speak basic English, and the staff will also speak a bit as well. See their web pages for maps.

Climate

Though the Iya Valley is located in southern Japan, the temperature can be significantly lower than the rest of Shikoku, especially as one gains elevation. Weather info can be found in English at the Japan Meteorogical webpage, with precipitation forecasts for either Kochi or Takamatsu usually being more accurate for the Iya Valley area than those of Tokushima City (in winter, subtract about 5 to 8 degrees from the Kochi temperature to get an idea if any rain there should be considered snow in Iya). A daily weather log for Kyojo (in the center of the valley) can be found here which can give an idea about recent temperatures and conditions.

Iya Valley fog during the June rainy season.

Get in

Getting in no longer requires a week of hiking along misty mountain trails, but it certainly remains a bit more difficult than most Japanese destinations. To make the most out of your visit, it is highly recommended to use a vehicle (such as a rental car, see Get Around for options) since public transport into and around the valley is limited, with many places unreachable and/or very time consuming to access by bus.

By plane

There are four airports on Shikoku Island, and the central location of the Iya valley makes all of them viable options if you intend to include other sights in Shikoku. Cars can be rented at any airport. See Get Around below for car rental options.

The closest airport to the Iya valley would be Kochi Airport (total 1.5 hours to Oboke via airport shuttle bus with express train) though the flight options are limited (mainly just Osaka and Tokyo).

Takamatsu Airport has more flight options, including international routes, and is about 2 hours away by shuttle bus and train to Oboke.

Tokushima Airport, though in the same prefecture as the Iya Valley, is actually fairly far and has only a limited amount of flight destinations. Expect 2.5 to 3 hours by bus/train combo.

And Matsuyama Airport has the most flight options, both domestic and international, but is the farthest of the bunch. Plan on at least 3 hours by public transport or a bit faster if driving and taking the highways.

For real international connections, Kansai Airport near Osaka is the way to go. Buses go from central Osaka to Awa-Ikeda station several times a day (4 hours).

By train

The nearest train station to the main sights of the Iya Valley is at Oboke, which is along the JR Dosan Line between Kochi and Takamatsu. There are several local trains to JR Oboke Station throughout the day, and hourly express trains from either Kochi city or from JR Awa-Ikeda Station (connecting to Okayama/Takamatsu or Tokushima city.) The hourly Nanpu which runs from Okayama stops here (1 3/4 hours, ¥4410).

From Oboke you can connect to a bus up the mountain and through a tunnel into Nishi-Iya, but services are infrequent: there are up to eight buses per day on weekends only in the high season (April-Nov), and as few as four per day the rest of the time. Taxis from the station can also be arranged but prices are not cheap since the drives to points in the valley can be far.

For those looking to enter into the lower reaches of the valley (Iya Gorge, Matsuogawa Onsen, Iya-Kei Camp Village) one can instead get off at JR Iyaguchi Station (祖谷口駅) for more direct access, and hitch a ride or take one of the few daily buses that pass through the lower valley from here.

By bus

From either Osaka or Kobe, Hankyu Bus runs several a day that go to Ikeda's Awa Ikeda Bus Terminal (阿波池田BT) just near JR Awa-Ikeda station. The trip takes about 4 hours and runs at about ¥4500.

There are several buses daily from Ikeda's Awa Ikeda Bus Terminal (阿波池田BT), which pass by JR Awa-Ikeda Station (one minute away) and travel to the Iya valley in various ways. Some terminate in Deai (Iya Gorge area), some terminate in Nishi-Iya at the Kazurabashi (かずら橋), and a few continue all the way into Higashi-Iya and terminate in Kubo (久保). If you wish to enter via the Iya Gorge, be sure to take a bus that goes via Deai and continues to Nishi-Iya. There are also four buses on weekends/holidays only that travel between JR Oboke station and the Kazurabashi only. For a complete timetable, see Yonkoh for a timetable, in Japanese only; select "祖谷線" (the Iya Valley line) and then look for Awa Ikeda (阿波池田BT) or Ikeda (池田駅前) departure times.

Map of the Iya Valley, Japan

Bus times into the Iya Valley's main points are as follows:

Ikeda Deai Oboke Kazurabashi Kyojo Kubo
6:35 7:08 -- -- -- --
7:15 7:48 -- 8:28 -- --
8:15 -- 8:52 9:20 9:50 10:06
-- -- 10:00* 10:27 -- --
10:25 10:58 -- 11:38 -- --
-- -- 11:03* 11:30 -- --
11:25 -- 12:02 12:30 13:00 13:16
12:45 13:18 -- 13:58 -- --
-- -- 13:03* 13:30 -- --
13:25 -- 14:02 14:30 15:00 15:16
-- -- 15:03* 15:30 -- --
16:25 -- 17:02 17:30 18:00 18:16
16:35 17:08 -- -- -- --
17:45 18:18 -- -- -- --

From Kyojo and/or Kubo, there is a connecting service on a separate bus deeper into the valley in Higashi-Iya (to Nagaro, the vine bridges of Oku-Iya Kazurabashi (奥祖谷かずら橋) and on to Mi-no-Koshi (見の越) at the base of Mt. Tsurugi). Closer points travel daily, while the deepest spots are on weekends or holiday periods only. See Get around below for more information on this service.

A similar but even more restricted service is provided when coming from the north. Normally, the buses from JR Sadamitsu station (貞光駅) do not run all the way towards the Iya Valley, but on weekends and holidays during summer there seems to be a connecting service (3 daily) to Mi-no-Koshi at the trail head of Mt. Tsurugi. See this site (Japanese only for more information. At other times, if you are heading to Mt. Tsurugi (剣山) from Sadamitsu (貞光), the regular (non-holiday/weekend) bus service along Route 438 goes only as far as the lower base of the mountain, and is a long way up. Coming from Mi-no-Koshi (見ノ越), figure on a four hour walk down the mountain to the bus stop there.

By car

Having a car for touring the Iya valley is probably the best for flexibility and convenience due to limited public transport. It is very much worth the cost of rental, and it may even be cheaper than using a bus if more than one person is traveling. See Get around for some car rental options. See the "Driving" section under Stay Safe for driving tips.

If your first or only destination is Mi-no-Koshi (for Mt. Tsurugi), Route 438 from Sadamitsu and Route 439 from Anabuki connect directly into Higashi-Iya and offer the fastest route if arriving from Tokushima, Takamatsu and Kansai. Along the way, try some delicious hand-made udon noodles (手打ちうどん) at the restaurant beside the river. Note that traffic is very light, especially on weekdays if hitch-hiking. The roads are quite narrow and twisty, so this is a long ride up to and/or down from Mi-no-koshi (1.5+ hr from Sadamitsu) and this route is recommended only if your first or only destination is Mt. Tsurugi.

Otherwise, when coming via Ikeda or Kochi, (or if from Tokushima/Kansai and you are not planning to first go to Mi-no-Koshi/Mt. Tsurugi), then the fastest option is drive north/south along Route 32 to enter the valley via Oboke along Route 45. In central Nishi-Iya Route 45 has a junction near the gas station with 'old' Route 32 (yes, the numbers are the same, but the roads are different), allowing one to turn left for the Iya Gorge and Iya Onsen, or turn right for the Kazurabashi and Higashi Iya (Kyojo, Ochiai, Oku-Iya, Mt.Tsurugi). From Oboke to the Kazurabashi is about a 20 minutes drive.

Peeing Boy statue overlooking Iya Gorge

It is also possible to drive the entire length of the Iya valley from the lowest reaches of Iyaguchi along 'old' Route 32 (turn off main Route 32 to follow the signs for Deai). Though not necessarily dangerous, this part of the road is not for the faint of heart, as it is mostly one lane, very twisty, and often on the side of steep cliffs, however the scenery is breathtaking and the gorge here is almost completely undeveloped. Until a generation ago, this was the main way into the valley. About half-way you can also stop at the famous Peeing Boy statue, or ride down to the bottom via cable car for a riverside bath at the Iya Onsen. It's about a 1 hour drive from Iyaguchi to the Kazurabashi.

If driving further into Higashi Iya, the road is sporadically one-laned after the Kazurabashi and what little traffic encountered in Nishi-Iya becomes even less here. The village center of Kyojo is located about 15 minutes after the Kazurabashi, Ochiai Hamlet is another 10 minutes away, and Sugeoi, Nagaro, and the Oku-Iya Kazurabashi are each about 10 minutes apart. A further 10 to 15 minutes of twists and turns brings one to the base of Mt Tsurugi (Mi-no-koshi), making it about 1 hour and fifteen minutes or so from the Kazurabashi to Mi-no-koshi non-stop.

For travelers from Kochi, it is not necessarily advised to take Route 439 from Otoyo, as the road is very twisty and goes over a mountain pass, which all together can take 30 minutes to an hour longer to get destinations in the valley (though the views are indeed quite pleasant).

Note to drivers: Gasoline stations are few and far between in Iya. There are gas stations in Iyaguchi and Oboke along the main Route 32, but within the valley itself the only stations are: in Nishi-Iya at the junction of Route 45 and 'old' Route 32; in Higashi Iya in the town center of Kyojo; and a 'last chance' gas station on the main road in Higashi Iya between Ochiai and the Oku-Iya double vine bridge. These three gas stations in the valley have hours of about 8am to 6pm and may/may not be open Sundays/holidays. So if driving all the way to Mt. Tsurugi (Mi-no-koshi) be sure to have enough gasoline.

Parking is free nearly everywhere in the Iya Valley with the single exception being the main Kazurabashi (vine bridge) in Nishi Iya. The large parking complex charges 300yen.

By taxi

See Get Around for information about taxi service.

Get around

In the valley itself, public transportation is limited to a few buses a day, particularly in Higashi Iya. If using only a bus you will require much more time than if traveling by car, and since buses can be several hours apart and only along the main road, you may be limited to the number of sights that can be seen in a day. And if finances are a concern, it should be noted that two people traveling by bus in/out/around the valley can easily accrue the same or more in bus ticket costs in a single day as would be the rate for a small rental car. That said, car rental or even hitchhiking are the fastest way of getting around, but hitchhikers beware: at times the main road may see only a handful of cars per hour on a weekday. However the locals are friendly enough (expect little to no English) and are inclined to pick up a hitcher when they occasionally appear. There would be little if any security concerns. If asked, some hotels offer transportation services to/from JR Oboke station and some local sights.

Yonkoh offers two tourist bus services, both starting from Awa Ikeda; the first tours Nishi-Iya, the other tours Higashi-Iya via Oboke, with commentary only in Japanese.

By public transport

Although options are limited (and confusing), going deep into the valley is possible by bus, but one must have both patience and an attention to making a realistic schedule. The information center outside JR Awa-Ikeda Train Station has some excellent English brochures including one on exploration by public transport.

For travel by bus within the lower Iya Valley, the areas of the Iya Gorge, Nishi-Iya, and Kazurabashi are serviced by buses to/from Ikeda or Oboke. See Get In for details on these services.

For travel deeper into the valley into Higashi-Iya, four of the daily buses from Ikeda continue past the Nishi-Iya Kazurabashi and onward to Kyojo, Ochiai and finally terminate in Kubo. But if looking to go further, don't despair! It is possible to ride on the Community Bus (also serving as the school bus) to points deeper and occasionally as far as Minokoshi (Mt. Tsurugi base) at the farthest edge of the valley. Be sure to state your destination to the driver when getting on to be sure that it is the correct bus.

This Community Bus begins/ends in Kyojo and runs daily all year as far as Nagaro (Scarecrow Village). Between April and November some buses continue on to the Oku-Iya Kazurabashi and Minokoshi (on weekends and holiday periods only). The Community Bus times are made to allow transfer with the main Ikeda-Kubo bus.

Kyojo Middle School Ochiai Kubo Sugeoi Nagaro Oku-Iya Kazurabashi Minokoshi
-- -- -- 6:48 7:01 7:13 -- --
9:50 9:56 10:02 10:08 10:21 10:33 10:40* 10:58**
13:00 13:06 13:12 13:18 13:31 13:43 13:50* 14:08**
16:20 16:26 16:32 16:38 16:51 17:03 -- --
18:04 18:10 18:16 18:22 18:35 18:47 -- --
Minokoshi Oku-Iya Kazurabashi Nagaro Sugeoi Kubo Ochiai Middle School Kyojo
-- -- 6:23 6:35 6:48 -- -- --
-- -- 7:14 7:26 7:39 7:45 7:50 7:56
11:00** 11:18* 11:25 11:37 11:50 11:56 12:01 12:07
15:10** 15:28* 15:35 15:47 16:00 16:06 16:11 16:17
-- -- 17:03 17:15 17:28 17:34 17:39 17:45
-- -- 18:47 18:59 19:12 19:18 19:23 --

Note: *Buses to the Oku-Iya Kazurabashi run from April 1 to the end of November, and **buses to Minokoshi run from mid-April to the end of November. These buses are on Saturday, Sunday and national holidays only during this time. However, they do run daily during the Golden Week period (usually around April 25 to May 10), during the summer holiday period (usually around July 21 to August 31), and the autumn leaf viewing period (usually October 5 to November 6). But these dates are subject to change each year so be sure to check the official site for accurate listings. http://www.city-miyoshi.jp/docs/2013091900072/ (Japanese only, updated each March)

By taxi

The Kazurabashi Taxi Company ( tel: +81 883-87-2013 kazurabashi.taxi@gmail.com ) is based in Nishi-Iya and can provide service to/from Oboke Station or to/from other sights anywhere in the valley. Prices start at 4300yen per hour.for up to four people and 6500yen for up to nine people. They also offer tourist route courses, with a Nishi-Iya course starting at 7800yen (2.5 hours) and a Higashi-Iya course at 20,300yen (6 hours).

By rental car

To get the most out of your experience in the Iya Valley, it is highly recommended to have your own vehicle. If you are not traveling alone, it pretty much pays for itself in what you'd need to pay in bus tickets, not to mention that it is incomparably more flexible and convenient.

There are many single-laned roads in the Iya Valley. See the "Driving" section under Stay Safe for driving tips.

Car rental is available in Ikeda at the Awa-Ikeda train station with JR Rental Car. Ask at the tourist office just outside for information on rentals. Descent English is spoken by staff here.

For online bookings with larger agencies, one would have to go to the airports or major cities on Shikoku.

One unique and flexible option is Budget Rent-a-Car's Shikoku Pilgrimage Passport (四国巡礼パスポート) allowing 9, 12, and 15-day rental plans where you can either use all the days at once, or split the rental days into various trips within a one year period. Better still, with this plan cars can be picked up and dropped off at any Budget office in Shikoku or Okayama (on Honshu) for no additional cost. Nine day plans start at 37,800yen for a small car. Though Budget Japan's website offers English service, the page for this option is in Japanese only, so for English it would be better to call and reserve by phone or contact through email.

By bicycle

The popular kazurabashi (vine bridge) in Nishi-Iya

It is possible to cycle the Iya Valley, but you'll need a good bike (you can carry bicycles on Japanese trains if you put them in a bike bag), a healthy pair of lungs and a genuine sense of adventure. Bring water, as even the normally ubiquitous vending machines can prove few and far between in the Iya Valley. Reduce your speed when on narrow roads with limited visibility, use the posted mirrors to see around corners, and keep as far to the left as possible. Most of the locals are cautious drivers. If you make it to Tsurugi-san, you can turn left onto the road leading to Sadamitsu Town, which is a breathtaking 25-km downhill of switchbacks, little crumbling villages and stunning river vistas.

It is also possible to join the Tour de Nishi Awa, which is a large bicycle rally held every spring that traverses different sections of the Iya Valley and its mountain passes. http://tour-de-nishiawa.com/index.html (Their webpage has plenty of photos and videos showing what kind of road conditions to expect).

By foot

Distances are far in the Iya valley, so it may be best to try your luck at hitchhiking along the main road. As there are practically no sidewalks, be careful of vehicles barreling around turns. There are plenty of footpaths both through the hamlets and up into the mountains so one does not need to walk only on main roads. Most hamlet paths are for open public use even though many seem to go through people's property. Be sure to use courtesy if walking along a path close to someone's house, and only photograph people and homes with permission. As the roads up mountains are steep, there are many switchbacks and sharp curves, but these often have shortcut footpaths that bisect the hair-pin turns.

Single-day or multi-day ridge-line hikes are rewarding, allowing one to begin/end in different areas, though accessing and exiting trail heads can be tricky due to limited public transportation. (see Do for details.)

See

Vine bridges (Kazurabashi)

Iya's best-known attractions are the precarious-looking vine bridges (かずら橋 kazurabashi), which used to be the only way to cross the river. There are two sets, a single bridge in Nishi-Iya and a double bridge in Higashi Iya.

The hidden Oku-Iya Niju Kazurabashi

Iya Gorge

The Iya-onsen within Iya Gorge

The lower area at the mouth of the Iya Valley between Iyaguchi and central Nishi-Iya is mostly undeveloped and simply stunning. A twisty, mostly one-laned road meanders through this section ('old' Route 32), and allows for sweeping vista views and a Mario-Cart driving experience. From Iyaguchi the road snakes closer to the river, then after the tiny hamlet of Deai (turn here for Matsuogawa Onsen) you begin to ascend the valley wall. After a few more minutes you will pass the entrance to the Iya-Kei Camp Village, then it starts to get steadily higher and more intense. Panoramic view points are here and there, and when the autumn leaves are changing it is quite spectacular. Stop by the precariously perched Peeing Boy statue for a near vertical view of the turquoise waters a couple hundred meters below, and pass by the middle-of-nowhere Iya Onsen before heading into the central part of Nishi-Iya. Expect about an hour with viewpoint stops when driving from Iyaguchi to central Nishi-Iya. Three of the daily public buses also take this route (Awa-Ikeda Bus Terminal to Kazurabashi route via Deai), or for those looking for a hike, you can take a bus as far as Deai and walk along the winding one-lane road to Nishi-Iya in about 2 to 3 hours. See Get In for bus options.

Ochiai Hamlet

Registered as a national historic preservation district in 2005, Ochiai's (落合) collection of traditional farmhouses dates back to the middle Edo era. Climbing up the side of a mountain, the hamlet is a weave of stone footpaths, terraced farm plots growing the famed Iya soba (buckwheat) and Iya potatoes, and welcoming local residents who are proud to show off their heritage and lifestyle. (However, it's worth noting that this is not a re-creation "living museum" -this is just an actual community of mainly elderly residents somewhat stuck in a time-warp). In recent years an effort has been made to restore the buildings here. Several of these thatched-roof homes have been beautifully restored and are now available to stay in overnight with Tougenkyo-Iya (See Sleep for details on staying in one of these traditional homes). On the opposite mountainside across the valley, a viewpoint has been built (equip with sparkling new public toilets) where one can take in the whole view of Ochiai. This can be accessed by road or hiked.

To access the base of Ochiai village by bus, take either a bus that goes to/fom Ikeda (see Get In) or one of the Higashi Iya community buses (see Get Around). From the bus stop on the main road either walk up via the village roads or one of the many foot paths.

Ochiai Hamlet in summer

Scarecrow Village (aka Valley of the Dolls)

This is one of the more extreme oddities of Japan, and a reflection of the realities of rural life in the country. Local artist Ayano Tsukimi, who was born and raised in Higashi-Iya, moved back to her house in the early 2000s after years away, only to see her once active hamlet nearly deserted, as is the case with many country-side towns. She began making life-sized dolls on a fluke to help "re-populate" her neighborhood, but it has now become her life's obsession. One can see examples of her dolls (known as "kakashi" 案山子) throughout the whole valley at tourist spots here and there, but for the full blown mind-bending experience one needs to head out to the remote hamlet of Nagaro along the main road on the way to the Oku-Iya double vine bridges and Mi-no-Koshi. Here one can see her extensive work of hundreds of humanoid dolls which at first glance may be mistaken for actual people as they are waiting at bus stops, working in fields, and even attending the now defunct elementary school. See Get Around for bus access information to Nagaro.

Other sights

Do

Hiking

View from Mt. Tsurugi towards Jirogyu

Hiking in the valley, especially the eastern end, is quite popular and there are many trails of various lengths mapped out. For information in staying at the mountain huts see details in the 'Budget' section of Sleep. Be sure to understand weather conditions of Iya by reading the Climate information at the top of this webpage. And for problems associated with hiking, be sure to read the Stay safe section at the end of this webpage

Mountain trail map of the Iya valley
Mt Tenguzuka peak

Onsen

Hotsprings (Onsen) There are several options for day-use hot springs to soak away your troubles, mostly at the major hotels. Admission fees for non-guests usually run about ¥1000 (other price is noted). Soap/shampoo is provided, but bring your own towels. See the full listing for these places under Sleep. A quick run-down from lowest in the valley to the upper end near Mt. Tsurugi:

Festivals

There are several festivals of various size held throughout the year.

Preparing to carry the mikoshi at the Sanjo Shrine festival.

Most local Shinto shrines host their own festivals for the surrounding neighborhood hamlet, usually once or twice a year according to their own traditions. In these events, local customs often call for a group of men to carry a small (70-150kg) portable shrine (mikoshi) around the shrine grounds while accompanied with drummers, people in costume, and sometimes pairs of people throwing long bamboo staffs. Each shrine and neighborhood has its own customs (one or two even have the attendees engage in sumo wrestling), but unfortunately, due to an ever dwindling population, many of these traditions are being lost. Dates vary from shrine to shrine and are according to the lunar calendar, so unless directly contacting a local resident, one would probably happen upon such an event only by chance (though if you do, you'd be warmly welcomed). But for a more sure opportunity, see "San-jo Jinja" under the Ochiai Hamlet section of See for more specific information and dates for this large shrine festival event.

The largest general festivals in the valley are the summer festivals, one each in Nishi-Iya and Higashi-Iya. They are held at the middle-school grounds on the weekends before the national Obon Holiday (August 15) as this is a common time for family members who've moved away to return home for a visit. These events are open to anyone and include food tents, games, performances, and fireworks, so if visiting the area in August ask around or look for promotional posters for exact dates. (Nishi-Iya festival is usually the first weekend of August. Higashi-Iya festival is usually on August 13. Typhoon or heavy rain may cause different date.)

Autumn Leaf Viewing

The colors begin to change in the upper valley (Mi-no-koshi) in early October, and won't begin to change until late October in the lower parts, with most of the valley in full splendor the last week of October to mid November. This can be a popular time to visit, especially around the national holidays. Large patches of the valley are filled with cedar and cyprus trees which are green all year, but in between the colors can be brilliant due to abundant maples, chestnuts, and oak. Some of the recommended areas (with fewer evergreen trees) for dazzling autumn color from low to high in the valley are as follows:

Other activities

Oku-Iya Monorail Billed as the world's longest monorail of this type (nearly 5km), the small cars putter steeply up the mountainside and through the dense forest for a 60 minute loop of sorts. The view opens up at the top at 1380m, looking far along the valley out to Mt. Tsurugi. It could also be good option for families with children or those who want to experience the mountain scenery yet are unable/unwilling to hike, but not necessarily a super thrilling experience (it's not a roller-coaster). Bring a beer or three for a more enjoyable ride. Leaves on request from the Iyashi-no-Onsenkyo Hotel (see 'Stay') . 2000yen adults, 800yen children, kids under 6 free (ticket includes a free hotspring bath at the hotel)

Tsuzuki's Soba Atelier (古式そば打ち体験 都築) +81 883-88-5625 www.iyjiman.com (in central Higashi Iya, across the river from the Kyojo Tunnel) For a fantastic hands-on experience, learn how to make the famous Iya soba noodles yourself, from grinding the buckwheat by hand in a stone mortar, to rolling out and chopping the noodles, and then chow down on what you've made. Also be entertained as Ms. Tsuzuki sings a traditional soba-making ballad, and be overwhelmed with the hospitality. Definitely a memorable experience not to be had elsewhere. Two-hour classes are ¥3000 per person, and include more soba than you could ever eat.

Yama Yoga www.yamayoga.weebly.com The energetic English speaking instructor offers a variety of scheduled drop-in classes and private classes at the picturesque main studio (located at the Ryugugake Cottages in Higashi Iya, non-guests are welcome to attend without reservations), as well as private lessons at other accommodations in the valley. A unique option is to reserve one of the "Yama Yoga Experiences" ('yama' means 'mountain' in Japanese) where you can go out with the instructor to do yoga within some of Iya's breathtaking scenery, including hidden mountain houses, deep forest glens, and panoramic valley viewpoints. First-time yoga students welcome, as this is also a great way for local interaction that isn't just idle sightseeing.

White Water Rafting Some of the best rafting in Japan is located just outside the mouth of the Iya Valley, and can easily be included with any trip to the valley (about 15 minutes from central Nishi Iya). See the Oboke and Koboke page for details

Buy

Iya doesn't have even a single chain convenience store (one of the only places in Japan?), but there are some mom-and-pop type grocery shops throughout the valley, and quite a few more souvenir shops (particularly near the main vine bridge in Nishi-Iya). It's best to bring along anything even remotely exotic. You can get good supplies of groceries from Boke-Mart, the local grocery by the station at Oboke, but selection would be better at the full sized supermarket in Ikeda near the bus station. (See the Grocery section under Eat for more details on buying food in the valley.)

For those looking for camping supplies, there is a well equip Mont Bell outdoor store at the WestWest rest stop in Koboke, and the home center (hardware store) in Ikeda near the main bus station has some camping gear.

Eat

Drink Like a Local

Iya people like to drink, with beers often in hand on weekend mornings (and sometimes weekdays). But for large gatherings (such as banquets, shrine festivals, and weddings) the valley also has a unique drinking style unheard of in the rest of Tokushima Prefecture. This is a very social style of consuming alcohol, and one should feel honored to partake in this tradition if somehow the opportunity arises (but don't expect it in restaurants, regular festivals, or simple home parties).

Though mainly done with sake, if need be beer or even tea can be used so that everyone can partake. After an initial toast, the custom calls for one to give their cup to whomever they are next to, pour that person a cupful, upon which they are obliged to immediately consume it so they can return the cup and fill it for the original giver. This needs to be drunk quickly as the person who just received will then give their cup to the first giver and the process is repeated. This exchange can go on for several times over while a conversation is had, with drinking circles sometimes consisting of five or six people. But above all, it is customary to try to have such an exchange drink (or three) with every person present, so if there are 60 or 70 people there, expect to get very drunk.

Iya has a wide variety of locally produced foods.

The local tofu (known here as iwa-dofu or ishi-dofu, which translates as "stone tofu") is unique in that it is so dense that it was traditionally carried around with a strap of rope. With a rich flavor and hearty mouth-feel, it's unlike any other tofu in Japan. Most large hotels serve it with the course meals and some smaller places have it available as a side dish.

Iya potatoes are a traditional staple grown in the small terraced farm plots seen throughout the valley. The potatoes are small and dense due to the rocky terrain. And for the culinary aficionado, try the locally produced konyaku which is a rubbery gelatin produced with Japanese yams and attains its grey color by being mixed with the ash of burnt cedar tree branches.

Wild game in the form of deer meat and mountain boar has become more common in recent years due to a hunter's butchery being established in Higashi-Iya in 2014. It can be found in some places but may only be available at special request.

Nishi-Iya and Mi-no-Koshi have the usual range of rice and noodle joints for visitors, all a bit on the expensive side by Japanese standards. Try grilled amego (a local river fish) that are encrusted with salt at 500 yen a pop, sold by little stands here and there by the vine bridge. Or opt for a roasted skewer of dekomawashi which consists of the dense local tofu, even denser local konyaku, and the even denser still local potatoes and all slathered with miso paste at about ¥300 each.

Many places advertise the famed Iya soba noodles, made with buckwheat grown in the valley and renowned throughout Japan for its pure flavor. If you've ever been to another mountain in Japan you'll recognize the topping as the same sansai mountain vegetables served everywhere else, but with luck you'll stumble upon a local place that pickles their own sansai, which grow in abundance here but require effort to cure.

And only available in Iya, hirarayaki is a dish made from many of the local specialties such as tofu, potatoes, konyaku, and amego trout. Traditionally cooked on a large flat rock and heated by fire below, more commonly it is cooked on an iron griddle where thick walls of miso paste encircle a mixture of sake and miso, such that it cooks the ingredients like a stew. However, finding this on offer can be a challenge as it's usually only for special occasions, but it is available at the Oku-Iya Hotel as well at some of the larger hotels in Nishi-Iya.

Also, food and snacks can be found at Fureai Center and Michi-no-Eki in Nishi-Iya (see: "Buy"), both near the Hikyō-no-Yu Hotel close to the central district.

Grocery

For those looking to buy food to prepare themselves, the closest real supermarket is located in Ikeda town. In Oboke a few dozen meters from the JR train station is Boke Mart and has possibly the biggest/best selection outside of Ikeda. Within the valley itself there are several mom-and-pop shops, with some that are so-so in their basic offerings and some that are indeed dismal.

Some of the 'better' ones in Nishi-Iya include one near the post office and another two on the main road near just above the Kazurabashi (if coming from the town center do not take the straight road to Kazurabashi but instead turn left just after the Hotel Kazurabashi as if heading to Higashi Iya. They are located about 200-300 meters further along from here near the Kazurabashi bus stop).

In Higashi-Iya the best selection can be had at Tani-shoten which is located close to the center of town near the intersection of Rt 439 and Rt 32 (if coming up from Nishi-Iya, turn right off the main road before entering the Kyojo Tunnel onto Rt 439 towards 'Kyoboshira Pass'. It's on the left about 100 meters along past a few houses) and sells frozen meats, basic staples, snacks, beer, fruit and also houses a pharmacy. Come early in the day and you may be able to get a brick of fresh tofu or some wedges of konnyaku (or reserve for the following day if sold out). There are also shops in Kyojo (near the gas stand) and Ochiai (on the main road) but don't plan to prepare a seven course meal with what's on offer.

Yoshida Tofu shop in Kyojo (on the small side street opposite the town office) makes and sells the valley's famed dense tofu.

Drink

If you want nightlife, you are completely in the wrong place! But a beer vending machine is available till about 11pm on the corner opposite the Higashi-Iya town hall in Kyojo. Yanamoto's in Kyojo also serves as an impromptu pub.

Sleep

It is highly recommended that you make a reservation before arriving in Iya. Some places can fill up on busy weekends, while some smaller places may not be able to handle on-the-spot arrivals (often there is only a single staff on hand who may be unable to prepare a room without notice, and if no rooms are booked that night, there may even be no staff there at all).

Also, it is customary in Japan to state the time you plan to arrive when reserving (as in "about 4:00pm"), so if you foresee arriving later than planned, you should call to say when you will come, even if calling the same day as arrival. Not doing so can lead to problems, the worst of which would be that you are considered a no-show, and if no other guests are there, the staff may go home for the night, leaving you alone in the dark without a place to sleep.

Budget

Camping at the Iya Kazurabashi Camp Village

There are no youth hostels in Iya the nearest are in Oboke and Ikeda, outside the entrance to the valley but it's an excellent place for camping. But be sure to understand weather conditions of Iya before pitching your tent (see Climate at the top of this webpage). For finding camping supplies, see the Buy section.

Mountain hut on top of Mt. Miune

Camping in the woods

If hiking, it is not advised to camp in unmarked spots nor should tents be pitched along trails. Some may wish to do some commando-style camping secretly out of sight, but this is not recommended and one would be scolded severely and forced to move if caught. Japanese hikers often rise very early to see the sunrise from peaks (note to those sharing the free mountain huts), so it would be hard to ensure that one could get away with such camping. However, if one doesn't mind being exposed to the elements, just rolling out your sleeping bag and maybe covering it with a waterproof cover (a bivouac, not a tent) then it is possible to crash out on a peak for the night and enjoy the stars. Japanese hikers may find exception to this minimalist option, though one should be ready to get up if people arrive at sunrise. But be warned, summits get chilly overnight and/or freezing for much of the year, winds can be constant even on clear nights, and storms sometimes move in quick. (See Climate to have an idea what to expect)

Mid-range

There are several great options (including onsen) for those not looking for top-end luxury nor the price that comes with it. Whole cabins can be quite affordable (in most other parts of Japan the prices would qualify as 'Budget'), most offering kitchens which allow for self catering. On the other hand, those looking for a 'classic' experience can try one of the several simple minshukus in Nishi-Iya, Kyojo and Mi-no-Koshi. The basic bed-only sudomari (素泊まり) rate starts at around ¥3500 per person, higher with dinner and/or breakfast. It also is worth checking the 'Splurge' section for accommodation as well, as several there offer rates of less than 10,000yen per person depending on what you're looking for.

Iya Gorge Area -At the bottom entrance of the valley, this area has an immediate sense of remoteness.

Central Valley Area (Nishi Iya / Kazurabashi) -Though in the center of the Iya Valley, the compact area around the popular Kazurabashi is comparably built up, with several classic style minshukus (the much nicer hotels are a couple minutes by car farther out, see Splurge) as well as a collection of souvenir shops, snack stands, parking areas, and ramshackle buildings (some occupied and some abandoned). A convenient area if this is your final destination (especially if using the bus), but if you plan to venture further up the valley, consider accommodation somewhere less frequented.

Upper Central Valley Area (Higashi Iya / Kyojo) -Not nearly as uninspiring or touristy as the Kazurabashi area in Nishi-Iya, this area around the sleepy "downtown" section of Kyojo in Higashi Iya is a good central base for exploring the more remote and certainly more rewarding parts of the valley. No group tours here, so if looking for charm and a sense of seclusion, this is where to go.

Mi-no-koshi area (Mt. Tsurugi base) -At an elevation of 1400m and the point where the trails and chairlift for Tsurugi-san begin, Minokoshi has several minshuku on offer during the hiking season (early April to late November. All closed in winter). Far and away from most other valley sights, the main reason to stay here would be if one wants an early start (or late return) for climbing the mountain. For info about sleeping in huts atop the summit, see Budget / Camping.

Splurge

Even though the places listed here are the valley's top-end in both price and offerings, they aren't all break-the-bank expensive, and some can even be in the realm of mid-range with per person rates less than 10,000yen per person. If looking to reduce the price, dig a bit through their website to find different options regarding meal plans, room type, and number of people per room/cabin.

Central Valley Area (Nishi Iya / Kazurabashi) -All the places in this part of the valley include their own hot spring baths (onsen). They are also all set up to accommodate large group bus tours, which are quite popular here among Japanese and other East Asian tourists.


Upper Central Valley Area (Higashi Iya / Ochiai) -Bus tours are few to non-existant in this part of the valley (mainly due to insurance restrictions for the sometimes single-laned roads), so if looking to get away from the crowds and a chance to stay in some of Iya's famed thatched roof farm houses, this is where to head.

Stay safe

The Iya Valley is one of the safest places in Japan, and the local people will go out of their way to be of assistance if necessary, even though they may not speak any English.

Asian Giant Hornet
Please see Hornets for further details
Please see Centipedes for further details
Please see Dangerous animals for further details on Bears and Snakes

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