Oboke and Koboke
Ōboke (大歩危) and Koboke (小歩危) mean, respectively, "big steps dangerous" and "small steps dangerous" — an apt description of the perils of traversing on foot through these steep gorges in Shikoku. The river views and awesome white water rafting are the big draw for here.
The Iya Valley page lists a variety of car rental options and other area access info.
It is recommended to travel in this area by car. If you get there by train, you'll have a long walk along a noisy road without sidewalks to many places, but some services (accommodations, rafting) offer station pick-ups if booked ahead. It is also hard to find entry points for hiking trails without a car. Unfortunately, the nearest car rentals are located quite far away: Marugame, Takamatsu, and [[Kochi]], however there is a small car rental service in Ikeada at the main station.
National Highway 32 winds along the Yoshino River through the pristine valley of Koboke and Oboke. Coming from Osaka, Kobe or Tokushima, take the toll highway and exit at Ikeda (Ikawa-Ikeda IC). Then follow Route 192 west about 5 minutes to Route 32, then southward towards Kochi. Along Route 32 the valley gets increasingly narrow from here, first passing through Iyaguchi after about 10km (turn here at the sign for 'Deai' if accessing the Iya Gorge area of the Iya valley via 'old' Route 32). Continue another 10 kilometers to first reach Koboke and a little further along through the gorge to Oboke. Route 32 goes south to Kochi from here and the Oboke gorge continues on for a while to Iwahara in Kochi Prefecture.
A tunnel also connects Oboke to the western Iya Valley along Route 45.
From the south (Kochi area) head north on Route 32 (about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Kochi City on this road), or take the toll highway north to the Otoyo IC and head north on Route 32 from here (about 30 minutes to Oboke from Otoyo). Iwahara would be about 10 minutes closer.
Both Oboke and Koboke have stations on the JR Dosan Line from Kochi to Takamatsu via Ikeda. Stops in Koboke are by local train only, though. Nearly all trains (including express) stop in Oboke. Taxi's are available from Oboke, and some places offer station pick-up if booked ahead. Iyaguchi Station to the north and Tosa-Iwawhara Station (for Iwahara in Kochi) further south are only accessible by local train.
Buses that come from Ikeda to Koboke and then Oboke (and then on to the Iya Valley) run sparsely, especially on weekdays (around 4 per day). Weekends and high season offer increased services. See the Iya Valley page for more access information.
See & Do
There's one big reason to visit: the rapids rushing through the gorge below. There are observation platforms on the highway and near the train stations if you're content to gaze from a distance, but more daring types will venture down onto the Yoshino River for a sightseeing cruise (¥2000 for a one-hour loop), and even more adventurous types yet will try their hand at white-water rafting in the class 4 rapids. The rapids are Japan's biggest and most exciting, with amazing rock formations and crystal clear waters.
Canyoning (splashing down through streams and waterfalls with rope) is also available with most rafting companies.
There are several rafting companes in the area.
- Happy Raft, ☎ +81 887-75-0500. Arranges half/full-day rafting trips from ¥5500/10000, mostly mid-spring to mid/late autumn. Canyoning is offered as well. A very chilled out group of experienced guides are here who seem to like having a good time. Good English is spoken by most. Located just near Tosaiwahara station. Station pick-up from Oboke is also available. Cafe and accommodation services are also available as well.
- Mont Bell in WestWest also offers rafting trips, as does Lion Adventure in Iyaguchi (near The Woody Rest) however English service would be limited or non-existent with these and most other rafting companies in the area.
If you survive the experience without developing acute hydrophobia, both Oboke and Koboke have onsen hot springs offering more bubbling water to soak in.
- Youkai Attractions Japanese youkai (mythical monsters) are known to all, with their quirky ways and unique characteristics. Some are fun, some spooky, and others just plain weird, they are the sources of popular legends and have greatly influenced manga (comic book) and animation sub-cultures. As it goes, the area around Oboke/Koboke is actually the original home to many of these monsters (there are hundreds if not thousands of these throughout Japan), particularly some of the most popular ones. Supposedly the monsters have traditionally been lured to the danger of the area (rapids, steep gorge, etc) making the area the home to the highest concentration of monsters in Japan. A Monster Museum is located inside the main Rest Stop (Michi-no-Eki), and large carvings of these characters can be seen along the roadsides throughout the area. A hiking course leads to many of the sculptures (maps available at the Michi-no-Eki). In mid-November the popular Youkai Festival is held not far from the Michi-no-Eki, with lots of costumes and events. Great for kids or for any serious otaku.
There are several rest areas along Route 32 between Iyaguchi to the north and the Oboke intersection to the south.
- WestWest The largest and newest of the rest areas, which includes a 7/11, a cafe/restaurant, a souvenir shop, and a Mont Bell outdoor store with various hiking, camping, and rafting gear. Connected to the parking area here is Momiji-te a beautiful old thatched roof home with garden that has been turned into a rather nice soba and udon restaurant, offering views of the river and gorge.
- Oboke Michi-no-Eki (Road Station rest stop) Located between WestWest and the Oboke intersection, this large curvy wood building has 24 hour bathrooms, lots of local souvenirs, a cafe, and plenty of travel information. It also holds a paid museum about traditional Japanese mythical monsters, many of which have their origins in this area.
- Boke-Mart is a small, normal grocery store, and probably the best place to stock up in the area, especially if heading into Iya Valley. It's just 30 meters up the hill from JR Oboke Station.
Eat & Drink
The local specialties are ayu and amego, delicious river fish salted and barbecued on a stick.
- The Woody Rest located on Route 32 a few hundred meters north of the Iyaguchi intersection heading towards Ikeda, local soba and udon are served along with a variety of Japanese sets. The menu is in English and the owner's charming wife speaks English decently as well. Lots of good travel info available. 11-7:30pm, closed Wednesdays.
- WestWest located in Koboke, this large rest area has a cafe in the main building serving various lunch meals, and on the north end of the parking area is Momiji-te, a noodle restaurant housed within a beautiful restored thatched roof farmhouse, offering views of the river.
- Sun River Oboke (サンリバー大歩危). A large hotel with hot spring baths overlooking the Yoshino river gorge and easily accessible, as it's next to the main road (Rt32) or a few minutes' walk from JR Koboke station. Standard rooms start at 9500yen with baths at the main shared hot spring (-with meals from 12,000yen), while rooms with private bath tubs on the balcony go for 15,000yen and up. The main baths are open for non-guests 11am-10pm for ¥700/adult, ¥350/child.
- Happy Guest House, Iwahara Otoyo-cho Kochi (1 min walk from Tosa-Iwahara station), ☎ +81 887-750-500. Overlooking the Yoshino River, four different guesthouses are on offer set in traditional-style homes, each with private rooms and self-contained kitchens. Very friendly staff will pick you up and drop you off from the train station and drive you to your guesthouse. You will need to bring your own food as there are no shops nearby or meals served. The owners also run a rafting company but you don't need to book a rafting trip to stay at the guesthouse (but lodging discounts are given for those who go rafting). ¥3500 per person.
- Ku-Nel-Asob (空音遊 Kūneruasobu), ☎ +81 90-9778-7133. A hostel set in a traditional farmhouse in Oboke — the name means literally "eat, sleep and have fun". The owner is friendly and speaks great English. The communal vegetarian meals that are served are highly regarded. Bathing is done at a nearby hotel (free rides given), which has outdoor baths (onsen) that overlook the river. ¥9000 including dinner.
- Ikeda, the access hub for the Oboke, Kobobe, and Iya region.
- Iya Valley, with more scenic views, historic vine bridges, hot springs, and some great hiking too, it is just up the mountain and through the tunnel from Oboke.
- Kochi, head down south for beaches, bars, and barbecue fish.