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A bucolic counterpoint to the fast-paced, futuristic side of Japan, Iya Valley offers remote mountainous landscapes with rustic townships, and bridges made from vines. With deep ravines, perilous gorges and lush, forested slopes, this terrain is as beautiful as it is seemingly impenetrable, with a reputation throughout the ages for harboring bandits and disgraced samurai on the run. Today, the area is popular for its hiking and the opportunity it gives visitors to experience "slow life."
The whole point of a trip to Iya Valley is to get away from it all, so the most "touristy" activities here are simply hiking, crossing the valley's famed old vine bridges and dropping into a handful of preserved mountain farmhouses. Plenty of time must be devoted to just enjoying the scenery - of Iya Valley's spectacular gorges and its dense forests - and appreciating one of Japan's least populated, least developed and slowest-moving destinations.
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Visit one of Iya Valley’s most important historical sites with a trip to Buke Yashiki Samurai Residence. This well-preserved thatch-roofed house gives visitors a glimpse of the life a respected samurai family in the 18th century. It also offers fantastic mountain and valley views.
Three Vine Bridges
Cross the river the traditional way – via vine bridge. There were once 13 such bridges in Iya Valley but today only three remain. Iya Kazurabashi, the largest of the three, spans 150 feet over Iya River. Second and third are the Oku-Iya Kazurabashi bridges, a “husband and wife” pair, with the smaller “wife” bridge featuring a wooden cable car.
Ascend to a height of nearly 660 feet to see a Brussels icon in Japan – the Manneken Pis statue. Local children of Iya Valley are said to prove their bravery by relieving themselves over dizzying vertical drops; fortunately this youngster is cemented safely to his spot.
Chiiori Old Farmhouse
Step back in time with a nostalgic look at this 300-year-old thatch-roofed farmhouse, the restoration project of author Alex Kerr. It was Kerr who revived interest in Iya Valley with his book Lost Japan, and now the author leases Chiiori (House of the Flute) for tourism purposes. It is one of the last traditional houses where fire is lit in a floor hearth.
Stroll through an Edo-period village set on the side of a mountain. This scenic township features traditional thatched-roof farmhouses, winding paths and terraced fields with which farmers would cultivate the steep mountain slopes.
Higashi Iya History and Folklore Museum
Gain insight into the daily life of the Heike Clan – the original inhabitants of Iya Valley. Maps, artifacts, tools, photos and scroll paintings give an idea of the cultural traditions of the area as well as its inhabitants’ day-to-day lives.
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Experience a side of Japan that very few visitors get to see on this exciting two-week adventure through Kyushu and Shikoku. Enjoy breathtaking hikes in some truly beautiful places, marvel at spectacular scenery and soak up the local culture in these two unique, remote areas of Japan.
Iya Onsen Hotel
The unexplored beauty of Iya Valley attracts intrepid visitors with its green terraces and soaring mountains dotted with rural hamlets. Nature has protected this small corner of Shikoku Island and it remains largely untouched. What’s more, its life-giving hot springs are a huge draw, and what better way to reap their benefit than with a stay at the Iya Onsen? Here, a cable car carries guests down into the ravine, where open-air baths are filled with bubbling hot spring water. After a day of hiking, exploring and full immersion into nature, guests can retreat to their comfortable rooms at Iya Onsen, complete with tatami mats, gorgeous mountain views and a choice of indoor or outdoor baths. What’s more, the rooms are stocked with traditional yukata robes and Japanese tea and equipped with WiFi, audio player and massage chair for complete comfort in authentic surroundings. Keikoku no Sato restaurant also enjoys views of the valley and here, guests can take their time over multi-course Japanese meals, made with fresh and delicious ingredients.