Day 19: Oku-Iya Valley and Tokushima

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Continues from Day 18: Ryugado Cave & Iya Valley

After spending yesterday afternoon exploring the slightly more accessible western Nishi-Iya Valley, this morning we’ll be visiting the villages and vine bridges of the more remote eastern portion of the hidden valley known as Oku-Iya.

In the afternoon we then planned to climb the second tallest mountain in Shikoku, Mt Tsurugi, before driving down to the city of Tokushima to enjoy a performance of the famous Awa Odori Dance in the evening.

As usual we had elected for an early breakfast in the morning, so we could get going as soon as possible.

Breakfast was large and consisted of the traditional Japanese style breakfast food, with fish and rice.

After checking out we hit the road only to soon encounter some construction work on the narrow road into the isolated Oku-Iya Valley.

The road was actually so narrow they had to stop all of the traffic in both directions while they did their work and would only open the road for short periods every hour!

The Oku-Iya Kazurabashi Husband Bridge
So we potentially had quite a long wait in store!

Thankfully though we arrived at a pretty good time and were on the move again after twenty minutes.

The drive in was very scenic and led along a small river through many tiny rural villages.

Along the way we stopped within one of the villages to have a look around and enjoy the scenery.

After about a half an hour drive we arrived at the other set of vine bridges the Oku-Iya Kazurabashi.

There are two bridges here which, along with the bridge we visited yesterday, are all that remain of the original 13 vine bridges that formerly spanned the valley for over 1000 years.

Of course no vine bridge lasts that long and they were frequently rebuilt.

The bridges remaining today were rebuilt so recently they actually have some additional safety measures installed, such as hidden steel wire reinforcement.

These Kuzrabashi are called the Husband and Wife Bridges; the 44m long and slightly higher bridge is the husband bridge and the apparently more feminine, shorter bridge is 22m long.

There’s also what’s known as the Wild Monkey Bridge which is a kind of goods transportation system.

How it works is that a wooden cart is suspended from a rope and can be pulled across the valley.

You can either pull the cart across from one side or sit in the cart and pull yourself across- which sounds like lots of fun!

We paid 500 yen to be able to cross these bridges as many times as we liked although we were unfortunately told that the wild monkey bridge was closed!

Unlike yesterday’s bridge there were far fewer people around, and it wasn’t crowded at all.

Like yesterday crossing was a little scary due to the open slats and long drop.

While it would be unlikely to lose a body to the river below, it would be easy to get a foot stuck between the slats if you were not careful.

Looking across the river from one side of the Wild Monkey Bridge
The actual bridges were very solidly built and had very little risk of collapsing.

Even though it was closed we went to have a look at the wild monkey bridge and saw that there was a guy working on it.

He was pretty friendly and offered to let someone go across!

Like seagulls sensing chips at the beach people suddenly appeared and he soon let the next person go across and then me!

I was actually the last person as the guy was helping pull everyone across the river from the other side and understandably soon got tired!

I was really glad I got a turn!!

Around the bridges we also went down and had a look at the creek bed, and at one point we saw a snake slithering along!

I don’t know about Japan but in Australia almost all the snakes have a deadly bite and some of the more harmless ones look very similar to the deadly ones.

Chairlift up Mt Tsurugi
This one wasn’t very long and I have no idea if it was venomous or not, but we made sure to keep away.

Once we were done with the bridges we hopped back in the car and drove up a narrow road to Mt Tsurugi.

At 1955 metres tall this mountain is the second highest in Shikoku and is one of Japan’s 100 most famous mountains.

The name means Sword Mountain, however in contrast to Shikoku’s tallest mountain, Mt Ishizuchi (Stone Hammer), which we’d climbed a few days ago, the hike up Tsurugi is not difficult at all.

In fact, there is a chairlift that goes almost all the way up.

Unfortunately the prices for this mode of transport doesn’t reflect the mountains gentle incline and we had to pay a steep 1,800 yen for a return ticket.

A one way ticket is only 1000 yen, so if time permits, it would probably be a nice idea to take the chairlift up and then hike back down.

Despite the high cost the ride up was quite fun and sure beats hiking up!

Once we reached the top station we then began walking up the final little section to the top.

Mount Tsurugi was quite exposed at the top with not a lot of tall trees or vegetation, which meant we were able to enjoy lots of great views on walk up.

Unfortunately, because of this, we also got a little hot rapidly slogging our way up the steep hill.

Along the way we felt a lot of sympathy for some poor kids hauling up massive bundles of rope with their parents!

After our brief stint we soon reached the small shop and shrine near the summit.

From there we then walked a little longer to get to the where there were a bunch of boardwalks and platforms built to protect the landscape.

We’d had some bad luck with cloud cover this trip but today’s clouds were not too low so we were able to enjoy excellent views of the surrounding mountains, valleys and countryside.

While we were up here we had a bit of a relax and also played with the camera, doing things such as making videos and trying to capture a photo of ourselves mid jump.

Along with the boardwalks, the top also held a helicopter pad and a bunch of communication & transmission towers.

After we’d had a long enough stay at the top we walked back down to the chairlift and rode it back down to the car.

Before driving off we had a little look inside the souvenir shop and I sampled some kind of delicious biscuit.

It was so nice I actually bought a packet of them, but for some reason the packet version didn’t taste as nice as what was for sale!

Oh well.

Anyway, from here we drove out of Iya Valley and all the way down to the coastal city of Tokushima.

After a two or so hour drive we pulled into the city just after 5pm, and filled the car up with petrol ready for its return.

As the Toyota car rental drop off location wasn’t too close to our hotel (Toyoko Inn Tokushima Ekimae), we decided to drop Kate off at the hotel first with the luggage where she would wait while I took the car back.

I didn’t have any issues dropping it off, apart from a little traffic, and after a quick check it was done.

Toyota were also kind enough to drop me back off at the hotel!

I arrived back to find Kate waiting outside with the luggage, and I helped her carry it in so we could check in.

At around 7pm, just on sunset, we walked down to the Awa Odori (Awa Dance) hall and ropeway station at the foot of Mt. Bizan.

Bizan means eyebrow and the mountain is so named as apparently that’s what it looks like, from all directions.


Upon arrival at the hall we paid 1020 yen for a return trip to the top of the mountain (lots of money today on ropeways!) and another 800 yen for a ticket to tonight’s Awa Odori performance!

As the dance started at 8pm, we first went up the mountain to have a look at the view.

The gondolas were a pair of two cylindrical capsules that went up together and you could choose the top one or the bottom.

They were also a little hot inside.

Mount Bizan isn’t a particularly tall mountain, at 290m high, but we were able to get another great view this time out over Tokushima and across to the Naruto Straits.

As we arrived right on sunset we were able to watch the city brighten with lights as darkness crept over the landscape.

We couldn’t stay up for too long as we had the dance booked, but we had enough time to have a look at the rest of the facilities at the top which included a shop and one or more restaurants.

Also, there was some sort of feast going on outside- an all you can eat and drink Japanese/Korean BBQ that looked really good!

The price was also only 4,000 yen and included a return ropeway ticket, which was great value!

As it neared 8pm, we caught the gondola back down to the Dance hall building and found some seats for tonight’s performance.

The room wasn’t actually too big and we had a really fun time!

For the first half we watched them dance; there were two types with different music that contrasted with each other, a boy’s dance and a girl’s dance where they wore funny hats.

After this performance the emcee came out to interact with the audience and explain a bit about the history.

The dance is part of a dance festival that dates back over 400 years, is held every year during Obon (in August) and is the most famous of all dance festivals in Japan.

The name Awa comes from the old name of Tokushima festival and the dance is nicknamed the ‘Fools Dance’ after the lyrics of a common dance song which go “Fools dance and fools watch, if both are fools you might as well dance”.

So in the spirit of the song, next it was time for the audience to learn how to dance!

The emcee asked where everyone was from (lots of people were from overseas) and selected a bunch of people to teach the dance to on the stage!

Kate and I were among those selected!


Apparently the moves are simple to learn but not for me!

I was probably the least skilled of those selected which contrasted with Kate who was one of the best.

In fact the instructor actually came over and pointed at Kate yelling “Good” and then pointed at me and said “Bad!!!”

After the tutorage everyone from the audience danced in a circle and then some people were chosen to get a prize and lead off the final dance- one of which included Kate!

I was not selected, which suited me as I was able to get a good video of Kate doing the Fool’s dance!

After that fun experience we then looked in the building’s souvenir shop which was kept open for the audience to browse after the show.

Some people actually came up to Kate during this to compliment her and ask if she was a dancer (she’s not)!

Once we’d done with the dance we made our way back to the hotel and called it a night!

Tomorrow we’ll be travelling back to Osaka via the Naruto straits which is a famous narrow body of water featuring tidally produced maelstroms.

The plan was to then visit these whirlpools on a small cruise boat and then catch a bus back to Osaka in time for the Tenjin Matsuri. This festival is of Japan’s top three and is famous for its fireworks and boat precession.

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