A Complete Guide to Visiting the Iya Valley in Shikoku, Japan
The Iya Valley is a remote mountainous area in the less visited Shikoku Region of Japan. Logan and I first visited the Iya Valley when we were living in Japan and it quickly turned into one of our favorite places for outdoor activities.
Historically, the Iya Valley was most notably populated by members of the Heike clan who were rumored to have lived in this area after losing the Genpei War to the Minamoto clan in the 12th century. The vine bridges you’ll find in the Iya Valley were used by the Heike clan to get from place to place in the valley and as a security measure so they could cut the bridges down if they were attacked.
The scenic beauty in the Iya Valley, although growing more popular, is still mostly untouched and today you can view stunning mountain valleys, visit thatched-roof farmhouses, walk across the historic vine bridges, and admire the emerald river cascading through the landscape.
Things to Know Before Visiting the Iya Valley
- Make sure you have enough cash prior to visiting. Some Iya Valley guesthouses and businesses will take credit cards but others are still cash only. There are some ATMs at post offices in Miyoshi but they aren’t as easy to find and have limited hours.
- If you are driving keep in mind that the roads are narrow, windy, and at times one-lane only. Take your time and make sure to learn about Japanese driving rules before you go.
- Bring or wear layers, even in the summer. The temperature can range drastically in the Iya Valley throughout the day depending on your activities. For example, the temperature on Mt. Tsurugi is going to most likely be cooler than at the vine bridges because of the elevation change.
- You can’t always rely on Google hours for restaurants and grocery stores can be difficult to find. I will cover more places to eat in the Iya Valley but one recommendation I have before visiting, especially if you are driving, is to stop at a grocery store on the way to get at least some snacks and drinks.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Iya Valley?
Most of the time when people ask me when is the best time to visit a specific place in Japan I always say “It depends on what you’re looking for and what you want to do” because each season has its own unique charms. But in the Iya Valley, I am more specific. I personally believe that the best time to visit the Iya Valley is in the early summer or fall.
In the summer the Iya Valley has lush green landscapes and you can cool off with the many water activities like canyoning and rafting. It’s still hot, but since this is a mountainous area, there are usually ample places to find shade. Even when we hiked Mt. Tsurugi in the heat of the summer wasn’t too bad although we did chug two Pocari Sweat each once we reached the top! Summer is also Japan’s rainy season so it can rain in the Iya Valley during this time I would try to go mid-May through June to avoid the summer typhoon season.
In autumn, the Iya Valley is bursting with color starting in October through mid-November and it makes for even better scenery. It is also a great time to relax in an outdoor onsen and have less humid, cooler weather for hiking and other outdoor activities.
Spring is also a great time to visit the Iya Valley but can still be pretty cold until mid-May making it slightly less picturesque because the trees don’t start blooming until late May, although the sakura season here is usually late March.
Winter is the time I would advise against visiting the Iya Valley for a number of reasons. For starters, the scenery isn’t as pretty with the leafless trees and a lot of businesses and even some hotels are closed from December-March. Inclement weather can be unpredictable during this time and close some of the mountain passes as well.
How to Get to the Iya Valley
Because of its remote location getting to the Iya Valley isn’t as simple as visiting places like Kyoto but there are a few ways to get to the Iya Valley by bus, train, or car.
How to Get to the Iya Valley by Bus
The most cost-efficient way to get to the Iya Valley is by bus and it also allows you to travel to even more remote areas of the Iya Valley without a car. However, the downside of traveling to the Iya Valley by bus is that the rides are long so this is something to keep in mind if you are pressed for time and only have a day or two to spare in your itinerary.
The Hankyu Bus travels between Hankyu Umeda Station (Osaka) and the Awa-Ikeda Bus Terminal. You will then take a local bus to complete the journey to the Iya Valley area for around ¥600 yen or transfer to a local train, either the Dosan Line or Dosan Limited Express.
It takes around four hours to get to the Awa-Ikeda Bus Terminal and costs around ¥5,000 one-way. Tickets can be booked in advance on the Hankyu Express Bus website or Japan Bus Online searching between Osaka and Awa-Ikeda.
The JR Shikoku Bus is another bus service that goes from Osaka and Kyoto to the Miyoshi Bus Stop. Tickets for this bus also cost around ¥5,000 one-way. The only trouble with this route is that it does not directly take you to Awa-Ikeda which has more transportation options to the Iya Valley and local buses can be inconvenient at times, only have seasonal hours, or randomly are non-operable so if you decide to take the JR Shikoku Bus, I would instead recommend transferring from the bus to a train at Tokushima Station so you can take the Tokushima Line to Awa-Ikeda. However, if you do decide to travel to Miyoshi Bus Stop be sure to look at the bus timetable in advance.
How to Get to the Iya Valley by Train
Getting to the Iya Valley From Osaka
From Osaka you will take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Okayama Station and then transfer to the Dosan Limited Express Train from Okayama Station to either Awa-Ikeda Station or Oboke Station, these are the two stations that allow for easy transfers or are the closest stations to many of the things to do in the Iya Valley. This part of the journey takes around 3 hours. You will then transfer to a local bus to get from place to place in the Iya Valley (see transportation in the Iya Valley in the next section below).
Getting to the Iya Valley From Kyoto
From Kyoto, the fastest way to get to the Iya Valley is by taking the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Okayama Station and then transferring to the Dosan Limited Express Train from Okayama Station to Oboke Station (or Awa-Ikeda Station). The entire journey takes around 3 hours. You will then transfer to a local bus to get from place to place in the Iya Valley (see transportation in the Iya Valley in the next section below).
Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari Train
If you want a unique luxury experience consider riding on the Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari Train. This luxury train includes a bento lunchbox and comfortable seats facing special viewing windows to enjoy the scenic journey.
From Okayama Station take the Dosan Line Limited Express Train to Tadotsu Station. The journey takes around 1 hour and costs approximately ¥2,940 one-way. You will then transfer to the Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari Train to travel from Tadotsu Station to Oboke Station with a stop at Kotohira Station. Alternatively, you can also depart from Kotohira Station which is one stop from Tadotsu Station.
Bookings on the Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari Train are available up to 30 days in advance and it is best to book early, especially in peak times. Bookings are available online in English for both the fare and lunch box only at around ¥10,000 or you can book in person at one of the Green Windows of any major train station which omits the online handling fee of ¥870 and you can also opt out of the lunch which makes the fare-only cost around ¥3,600.
If you have an All Shikoku Rail Pass, the base fare for this train is included and you’ll only have to pay the reserved green car seat fee of around ¥2,400 in person with an active rail pass.
How to Get to the Iya Valley by Car
Depending on where you are driving from in Japan there are a number of ways to get to the Iya Valley. However, regardless of where you travel from, you are bound to cross the Onaruto Bridge (coming from Osaka), the Seto Bridge (from Okayama), or the E76 Bridge Route (from Onomichi).
Tolls in Japan can be quite expensive and the expressway bridges range from ¥2,500-¥10,000 depending on if you have an ETC card and are not usually covered in Expressway Passes. If you are driving in Japan, I always recommend getting an ETC card with your car rental. It usually only costs around ¥1,000 to rent and allows you to pass through toll booths without stopping and can give you a discount on tolls.
If you plan to travel around Shikoku make sure to look into the San’in-Setouchi-Shikoku Expressway Pass (SEP) which in combination with the ETC card will allow you to use nearly all expressways in this region for a fixed price. Passes are available for 3-10 day periods and are available to purchase at one of the car rental stations outlined on their website.
Transportation in the Iya Valley
Because of the remoteness of the Iya Valley public transportation is infrequent and sometimes difficult to navigate which is why we usually opt to drive in the Iya Valley when visiting. However, there are still some public transportation options you can utilize. There are two bus companies you can use in the Iya Valley, the Shikoku Kotsu Bus and the Local Miyoshi Municipal Bus.
The Shikoku Kotsu Bus starts at the Awa-Ikeda Bus Terminal and travels to many destinations in the Iya Valley. Additionally, there are a few buses that start at Oboke Bus Terminal and travel to Kazurabashi. As for the Miyoshi Municipal Bus, these buses are often seasonal and do not travel every day making it a little more difficult to navigate.
The best resource for navigating local buses in the Iya Valley is by using the current bus timetable provided by Iya Time. There are currently no trains in the Iya Valley.
If you decide to drive to Miyoshi and the Iya Valley area there is parking near most of the things to do in the Iya Valley or pull-off spots for quick views of the scenery.
Iya Valley Day Trip Guided Tours
For those who don’t want to drive in the Iya Valley and are unsure about public transportation is the Oboke-Iya Sightseeing Tour. This 6-hour tour starts and ends at Awa-Ikeda Bus Terminal and costs around ¥9200 for adults and ¥8900 for children.
The tour is given by an audio guide and will take you through the many Iya Valley sights as you drive by or stop along the way. The fare includes your transportation, entrance fees, a lunch made with local ingredients, an Oboke Gorge Sightseeing Cruise, and sightseeing stops to the most popular Iya Valley destinations including the vine bridges.
Reservations can be made up to 90 days in advance on Japan Bus Online (English).
Taxi Services in the Iya Valley
Another option for getting around the Iya Valley without a car is to hire a taxi by the day. There are a few taxi services in the Iya Valley that offer metered service to and from specific points of interest or you can arrange a touring course for a flat rate. This is the most expensive option with rates starting at ¥4900/hour but it does allow you to have a private tour and more free time at each tourist destination.
Taxi Service Companies in the Iya Valley:
Places to Stay in the Iya Valley
The Iya Valley has many unique places to stay including hotels, affordable guesthouses, traditional farmhouses, campsites, and mountain cabins. Here are some of our recommendations for places to stay in the Iya Valley.
We stayed at Yoki Guesthouse during our first visit to the Iya Valley and found it to be the perfect place for our first time in the Iya Valley for a number of reasons. First, it is centrally located to many of the popular Iya Valley destinations making it easy to visit them and take day trips to nearby destinations. Second, it is an affordable place to stay and offers room and board options so you can add on breakfast and dinner.
YOKI Guesthouse also has partnerships with some of the rafting and ziplining companies so arranging those activities is a breeze. Last, YOKI Guesthouse also has parking on-site although because of the remoteness of this area, you’ll find that most places to stay in the Iya Valley have parking available.
Location: 375-3 Nishiiyayamamura Ichiu, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0101, Japan // MAP
Kazurabashi Camp Village
If you want to go camping in the Iya Valley, Kazurabashi Camp Village is the closest campsite to some of the most popular vine bridges and many other Iya Valley attractions. It has campsites and cabins with shower facilities. Campsites are available for around ¥1,000/night while cabins are ¥5,200 and can accommodate four people.
Location: 233 Nishiiyayamamura Kanjo, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0102, Japan // MAP
For a truly unique experience, you can stay at Kouya, a renovated and preserved traditional home that is over 100 years old. Here you can truly connect with nature while enjoying the scenic area as well as local cuisine prepared over a traditional hearth. Kouya also offers traditional soba-making classes and other activities on-site.
Location: 311 Higashiiyakubo, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0202, Japan // MAP
Hotel Kazurabashi is a beautiful hotel just minutes away from some of the vine bridges and other popular attractions. They have full room and board available for their guests as well as many other amenities including indoor and outdoor onsen, tea lounge, and souvenir shop.
Location: 33-1 Nishiiyayamamura Zentoku, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0102, Japan // MAP
Hotel Iya Onsen
If you are looking for a luxurious place to stay in the Iya Valley check out Hotel Iya Onsen. This hotel is a short distance away from the Statue of the Peeing Boy and near other Iya Valley attractions.
Like the other hotels, it also has its own indoor and outdoor onsen and even a new private cable car to get you to their onsen located by the Iya River. You can also get guest rooms with private open-air baths! With your room, I recommend adding on a dining plan option that features local cuisine kaiseki-style.
Hotel Iya Onsen also offers its guests transportation accommodations for hotel guests to get to and from JR Oboke Station to the hotel. Arrangements must be made ahead of time.
Location: Matsumoto-367-28 Ikedacho Matsuo, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0165, Japan // MAP
Places to Eat in the Iya Valley
As you might have guessed based on its remote location, finding restaurants in the Iya Valley is not always simple. While there are some terrific restaurants to choose from, many of them are open at various hours and close early so you might arrive at a restaurant based on its Google hours only to find it closed for the day.
This happened to us on a number of occasions during our time in the Iya Valley but don’t let that discourage you from trying, especially for lunch! There are so many small, hospitable family-owned restaurants that are worth visiting in the Iya Valley.
You might also be surprised to find that while a konbini like 7-Eleven or Lawson is on nearly every corner in cities in Japan, the closest one you’ll find is in Oboke.
During our first trip to the Iya Valley, we relied on getting most of our meals at our guesthouse. The majority of accommodations in the Iya Valley have the option for adding half board (breakfast only) or full board (breakfast and dinner) making it easy to account for.
The meals you will have at your accommodation will likely be full of local ingredients because the residents of the Iya Valley depend greatly on their agricultural heritage, hunting wild game, fishing for ayu (sweet fish) and amego (salmon trout), and even distilling their own sake and shochu. A meal at a guesthouse, ryokan, or minshuku in the Iya Valley truly brings a whole new meaning to “farm to table.”
Restaurants in the Iya Valley
One of the most popular restaurants for lunch in the Iya Valley is Senkichi! The lovely owners of Senkichi prepare the fresh soba noodles throughout the day and it is also a great place to try other Iya Valley specialties including iwa-dofu (stone tofu) and iya konnyaku (a sticky potato cake).
Location: 323-3 Nishiiyayamamura Oinouchi, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0101, Japan // MAP
Nakatoyoya is a small cafe that serves a variety of comfort foods like omurice (omelet over rice), karaage (Japanese fried chicken), Japanese curry with choice of fried cutlet, hamburg steak, and chicken nanban (fried chicken with tartar sauce).
Location: 139-4 Okubo, Otoyo, Nagaoka District, Kochi 789-0248, Japan // MAP
Yanamoto is a local restaurant owned by the Yanamoto family who makes fresh soba, udon, and other traditional Iya Valley dishes.
Location: 345-4 Higashiiyakyojo, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0204, Japan // MAP
Kazurabashi-tei is a small restaurant inside the Kazurabashi Yumebutai rest stop. It serves local cuisine including soba and udon. It’s a great spot to stop at in a pinch because their hours are usually always correct online!
Location: 345-1 Nishiiyayamamura Imakubo, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0102, Japan // MAP
Things to Do in the Iya Valley
Take A Ride on the Okuiya Kanko Shuyu Monorail
Currently, the Okuiya Kanko Shuyu Monorail is closed for maintenance.
The Okuiya Kanko Shuyu Monorail is a 5km path that takes you on a one-hour journey through the mountains and deep into the forest so you can experience the natural beauty of the Iya Valley and its wildlife. This is a great option if you are tired from other activities, don’t have time to hike, or simply just want to relax and enjoy nature. It is especially beautiful to visit during the autumn months when the fall foliage is at its peak but it’s terrific in the spring and summer too.
Location: Japan, 〒778-0201 Tokushima, Miyoshi, Higashiiyasugeoi, ２８ // MAP
Take in the Views of the Hinoji Valley
The scenic views of the Hinoji Valley from the Iya River Bend Observation Point are a quick stop on this Iya Valley guide. From this viewpoint, you can see the emerald-green waters of the Iya River in a V or U-shaped valley surrounded by stunning foliage.
Again, the autumn months are the best time to take in the view here because the mountain turns fiercely red but when we visited in the summer the view was stunning too! It is worth a quick stop to check out this striking area before heading to your next destination.
Location: Japan, 〒778-0101 Tokushima, Miyoshi, Nishiiyayamamura Tanouchi, 国ヶ滝 // MAP, no parking available, pull-off spots are close by
Visit the Cheeky Statue of the Peeing Boy
Near the Iya River Bend Observation is the Statue of the Peeing Boy. The legend of this statue goes back to before its existence when it was said that travelers, local children, and adults would climb on the ledge as a dare or thrill and pee off the ledge to show their courage.
I had heard about it prior to visiting but couldn’t believe it when I first saw the ledge because it is extremely narrow and one unsteady step could easily lead to your death! Honestly, just thinking about it again is dizzying. Apparently, the statue was placed there to deter more “pee offs” and tell this comical story of local lore.
Walk Across the Infamous Bridges of the Iya Valley
Perhaps the most notable thing to do in the Iya Valley is visit the infamous vine bridges. These vine bridges were originally created by members of the Heike Clan around 1180-1185 after they sought refuge in the valley after losing a war, a story very similar to the one we heard in Gokanosho.
These bridges acted as a safe passageway for crossing the gorge while also allowing them to be cut down should a threat arise. At one point there were 13 bridges to visit but today only three remain. When you cross these vine bridges you’ll still feel them bend and sway deeply, but have no fear, they have since been reinforced with cables and are replaced every three years for safety.
Vine Bridges to Visit in the Iya Valley
- Iya Kazura Bridge: This bridge is perhaps the most visited and is near Biwa Waterfall.
- ¥550 adult, ¥350 child
- Oku-Iya Double Vine Bridges: The double vine bridges are a little further away from the Iya Kazura Bridge and are often less visited. I personally found them to be even prettier and as an added bonus you have to try the Yaen “Wild Monkey” Cart that runs parallel to the bridge.
- ¥550 adult, ¥350 child
Other Bridges to Visit in the Iya Valley
- Higashiiya Suspension Bridge: This suspension bridge offers beautiful views of the narrow Manpu Gorge and leads to Ryugugake Village.
Take A Journey to the Nagaro Scarecrow Village
Nagaro is a unique, tiny town in the Iya Valley where dolls outnumber the people who live there. These dolls are created by Japanese artist Ayano Tsukimi who moved back to the village she grew up in once she found out that most people in the village had moved away or passed – in fact, less than 40 people now live in Nagoro.
After creating a Kakashi (scarecrow) that looked like her late father she had an epiphany – she could create life-size dolls modeled on former locals. She has now created over 350 doll citizens that can be found all over the town; outside and in buildings as well. While at first it may seem creepy to some, I found it incredibly charming and bittersweet. The dedication that Tsukimi has is inspiring.
Location: 629番地5 Higashiiyasugeoi, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0201, Japan // MAP
READ MORE: The Story of Nagaro Doll Village
Hike Mt. Tsurugi
Hiking Mt. Tsurugi was actually completely unplanned in our Iya Valley itinerary but I’m glad decided to make the trek because it ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. We happened to be driving through the mountains of the Iya Valley when we saw a chairlift from a distance going up a mountain path. We had some extra time so we decided to pull over and see where the lift led to.
At first, we thought the chair lift would take us all the way up to the top of Mount Tsurugi, but it only took us part of the way. Because we weren’t prepared to go hiking that day we didn’t have the right supplies but since the hike to the rest center was short (and after Logan spent some time trying to convince me) we decided to continue up the path.
The hike to the rest center was only about 30-45 minutes one-way. The hike isn’t extremely difficult despite being named “Sword Mountain” and the view from the top is exceptional making it worth the pitstop!
Mt. Tsurugi Chair Lift Information
- Hours: 9am-4:30pm (summer hours start at 8am). Open from mid-April-November
- Cost: One-way – ¥1050 adult, ¥520 child, round-trip – ¥1900 adult, ¥900 child
Location: Higashiiyasugeoi, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0201, Japan // MAP
Shop at Kazurabashi Yumebutai
Kazurabashi Yumebutai is a rest stop next to the Iya River and the Iya Kazura Bridge that has tourist information inside and is also the perfect place to purchase some local souvenirs and traditional goods from the Iya Valley. Inside there is also Kazurabashi-tei, a restaurant serving local cuisine.
Location: 345-1 Nishiiyayamamura Imakubo, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0102, Japan // MAP
Book A Soba Making Class
The Iya Valley has its own special kind of soba and you can learn how to make it at Tsuzuki Soyaten. You start by learning the traditional Higashi-Iya soba method which involves grinding your own flour with a stone mill. Traditional songs are sung during the process making it a unique cultural experience as well!
After you make your soba you’ll get to enjoy it alongside local, wild vegetables, tempura, and other small sides. Make sure to reserve in advance.
Location: 84-1 Higashiiyawakabayashi, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0204, Japan // MAP
Go Rafting or Canyoning on the Yoshino River
If you are a thrill seeker and are visiting the Iya Valley between March and November, cool off by going rafting or canyoning on the Yoshino River! These Class 3 & 4 rapids have been highly regarded by locals and tourists, even making them the home of the 2017 World Rafting Championship. Local guides and companies have experiences for beginners to those more advanced as well as half-day and full-day tours.
Rafting and Canyoning Tour Companies
- Packraft Adventures: Offers half-day and full-day courses.
- Oboke Koboke New Yard Rafting: Offers morning and afternoon rafting courses.
- Amici Adventures: Offers a leisurely small boat cruise on the calm part of the river.
- Shikoku Lion Adventure: Offers short and long tours as well as rafting tours geared towards families and SUP tours.
Take A Leisurely Boat Ride on the Oboke Gorge
If you want something a little more low-key than river rafting you can also take a 30-minute pleasure cruise on the Yoshino River. Tickets for the riverboat cruise can be purchased at the Oboke Gorge Center on the day of your ride.
After purchasing your ticket you will receive a waist or regular life vest to wear during your ride then you’ll head off! As you begin the journey, your guide will provide you with details about the significance of Oboke Gorge (there are translations available in a number of different languages).
You’ll see many stunning sites along the way including the emerald waters of the river and the beautiful cliffside edges of Oboke Gorge. There is also a lot of wildlife in this area so be on the lookout for a vast variety of birds, monkeys, and possibly even deer, Japanese serow, or wild boar!
Hours: 9am-5pm (last departure 4:30pm)
Cost: ¥1500 adult, ¥750 child
Go Ziplining Across the Iya Valley
Zipline across the Iya Valley with stunning scenic views! Most companies offer different courses including tree trekking journeys through the forest and ziplining courses where you can zipline across the Iya River or Oboke Gorge.
A Few Zipline and Tree Trekking Companies:
- Forest Adventure: Offers tree trekking and zip lining including the longest zipline in the area!
- Amici Adventure: Offers tree trekking and bungee.
Take A Dip in Hot Springs
What better way to wind down after outdoor adventures than by soaking in the Iya Valley’s hot springs? The Iya Valley has many hotels in the area that offer their scenic onsen to their guests but many have day passes for those who are not hotel guests.
Onsen in the Iya Valley are available indoors and outdoors but my favorites are the ones that are outdoors facing the lush trees.
Here are some places to enjoy hot springs in the Iya Valley:
- Hotel Kazurabashi: Accessible by cable car, this onsen offers the most stunning scenery of the Iya Valley as well as a foot bath and traditional tea house
- ¥1200 adult, ¥600 child
- Hotel Iya Onsen: Also accessible by cable car, these hot springs are located at the bottom of a gorge near the river.
- 7:30am-6pm (last entry 5pm)
- ¥1700 adult, ¥900 child
- Hotel Hikyo-no-Yu: Offers stunning indoor and outdoor hot springs made with local stone.
- 10am-9pm (closed Tuesdays)
- ¥1000 adult, ¥500 child