Six Days in Shikoku: the Iya Valley

We are on a suspension bridge made out of vines extending forward toward the right, leading into a thick patch of leafy tree branches.

The ‘Husband’ Bridge

I was dropped off at Oku-iya-kazura-bashi – the ‘Inner Iya Vine Bridges’, which is in the upper part of the Iya Valley.

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Before the days of steel and cement, people crossed the Iya river by vine bridges. There were once many vine bridges in the Iya Valley, but now only three remain – one in Nishi-Iya, and the two Inner Iya Vine Bridges in Higashi-Iya. These bridges have been here for centuries, though the vines have to replaced from time to time. Most tourists go to the bridge in Nishi-Iya because it’s close to the major highway and Oboke train station. My guidebook, however, recommended the Inner Iya Vine Bridges because a) there are two of them b) it’s much more serene and scenic.

Here's a handy map of the Iya Valley

Here’s a handy map of the Iya Valley

If you are familiar with pre-modern Japanese history or literature, you know about the famous war between the Heike and the Genji clans. The Heike clan lost, and the survivors had to flee from the victorious Genji clan. Supposedly, some of the Heike fled to the Iya Valley, and when the Genji clan pursued them, the Heike cut the vine bridges.

The steps going down to the vine bridges

The steps going down to the vine bridges

I paid the modest entrance fee, and the woman at the entrance agreed to watch my luggage while I was down there.

These two bridges are also called the ‘husband-and-wife’ bridges. The bridge shown in the photos above and below is the ‘husband’ bridge.

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While standing on the husband bridge, I looked down at the Iya river.

We see a blue river flower past white-grey rocks, with lots of leafy green trees hanging over it on the far bank

Below the ‘husband’ bridge is a lovely little waterfall.

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I then went back across the Iya river on the ‘wife’ bridge.

The 'wife' bridge

The ‘wife’ bridge

I looked at the Iya river again.

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Back in the old days, people used a ‘wild monkey’ cart to send things across the river.

Above the river is a set of ropes, with a little wooden cage suspended on the ropes.  As people inside the wooden cage pull the ropes, they move across the river.

The ‘wild monkey’ cart

I decided to cross the river again, this time pull myself along in the cart.

I'm in the cart and ready to pull myself across the river

I’m in the cart and ready to pull myself across the river

There is a cheap campground by these vine bridges, and I seriously considered spending the night here. But I had already sent my tent back to the USA in Tokushima city, and I already had a reservation at Kul-nel-asob. I just didn’t want to take the risk of being stuck there in bad weather with no public transportation. But seeing how nice the weather was when I visited the bridges, and thinking of all the yen I could save by camping, I was wondering if I had made a mistake.

Looking at the Iya river again, this time on the wild monkey cart

Looking at the Iya river again, this time on the wild monkey cart

Even though the Inner Iya Vine Bridges don’t get nearly as many visitors as the vine bridge in Nishi-Iya, there were still a number of cars in the parking lot, and there is basically only one road, so it wasn’t hard to hitch a ride to JR Oboke station.

While crossing the river, I saw these berries

While crossing the river, I saw these berries

An older Japanese man and woman agreed to take me in their car. We moved down through the Iya Valley. At one point, they turned off the main road. I didn’t know why, but I was sure that they weren’t going to Oboke, so I was concerned. They then got lost, and had to ask someone for directions. They then reached the place they wanted to see, and I figured out why they wanted to see it.

There is a tall green mountain, with a long switch-backed road creeping up its face.  Along the road is a village with many traditional Japanese farmhouses

Ochiai Village

The couple went on the side-road because they wanted to see Ochiai Village, and thanks to them, I saw it too.

A close-up of Ochiai Village

A close-up of Ochiai Village

They then kindly brought me to Oboke train station. By then, the weather was getting worse, but that was fine with me because I was done with outdoor activity for the day. I had thought that Oboke was part of the Iya Valley until … I started writing this post. As you can see from the map above, Oboke is on the Yoshino river, not the Iya river, and thus is technically not in the Iya Valley.

I will describe my experience at the Kul-nel-asob guesthouse near Oboke in the next post.

Through a mess of green leaves on tree branches, we can see a vine bridge below

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One thought on “Six Days in Shikoku: the Iya Valley

  1. Pingback: Six Days in Shikoku: Farewell by Ferry | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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