Japan’s Most Secretive Valley


WordsClémence Leleu

©Clémence Leleu

With its small single-lane roads winding through coniferous forests, villages that seem to be barely hanging off the mountainside and deep torrents flowing down the valley, the Iya Valley leaves travellers with the impression they have travelled back in time. Here you’ll find a small pocket of ancient, rural Japan, as it is rarely seen today.

Located in Tokushima prefecture on the island of Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands of the archipelago, the Iya Valley, one of the three hidden valleys of Japan (alongside that of Shiiba in Miyazaki and Shirakawa-go in Gifu), is a peaceful refuge. At the end of the 12th century Iya was the place of withdrawal of the Heike clan, who, after fighting in vain for power against the Minamoto clan, found refuge in this place so difficult to access.

A valley refuge

Today, clan war is in the distant past, but a fierce desire to escape the frenzy of the big cities persists, making the Iya Valley the perfect base for those wishing to discover one of the most mysterious places in the archipelago. 

The Oboke and Koboke Gorges, surrounded by cliffs sculpted by water and wind, with deep emerald green water that stretches for more than eight kilometers, make a perfect entry point into the valley.

Next, head west of Iya to Nishi Iya, easily accessible by bus, where you will find the Kazurabashi bridges, suspended over the rivers. Initially thirteen in number, there are now only three, the Iya-Kazurabashi bridge being the most famous. At 45 meters long and 14 meters high, it’s a must see for thrill seekers.

To the East

If to the west, the Iya Valley is now a little more touristy thanks to its access facilities, the eastern side of the island, Higashi-Iya, has meanwhile remained much more wild. It is for good reason though, you will have to travel a long time on narrow roads to get there, and have your own vehicle because here, no buses or no trains circulate.

Here you will find typical villages such as Ochiai-Shuraku, with houses built between the eighteenth century and the thirties. If you then take the route 439, you will plunge into the heart of the valley, untamed and lush, below the Iya river, your faithful travel companion.

Hot springs, loved by the Japanese, punctuate the excursion, like those at the hotel Iya Onsen. Its baths below a cliff are accessible by a small cable car, allowing you to relax in the warm water with a breathtaking view of the river and the surrounding nature.

Finally, all 1955m of Mount Tsurugi will delight hikers, especially in the summer, when the archipelago is plunged in an almost stifling heat, while temperatures in the heart of the valley remain perfectly temperate.

©Clémence Leleu

©Clémence Leleu

©Clémence Leleu

©Clémence Leleu

©Clémence Leleu