Situated in a remote western part of Tokushima prefecture lies Iya Valley (祖谷渓 Iyakei, in Japanese). The breathtaking rocky gorges and lush green rolling valleys draw many people to this quiet secluded area. With the sound of the trees softly swaying in the breeze surrounded by birdsong it is impossible not to notice the lack of hustle and bustle of the cities. You can truly get away from it all as you take in the spectacular views of the valley. Iya Valley remains almost virtually untouched since settlers first arrived and as such has its own unique atmosphere.
The best way to take in these views is by staying in Iya Onsen, virtually the only place to stay due to the remote nature of the area. Iya Onsen is a Ryokan with traditional Japanese rooms that offer amazing panoramic views of the steep slopping valleys below. The Onsen also has its own dining area offering delicious traditional Japanese food with ingredients that have been sourced locally. Dinner is served to guests from 5.30 to 9pm. The Ryokan also offers a traditional Japanese breakfast in the mornings. One of the main draws for guests at the Ryokan is Iya Onsen itself. This is a natural open air Onsen located at the bottom of the valley which is only accessible by cable car.
The five minute cable car journey allows you to take in the views from either side of the slopping hills. The open air Onsen is separated into areas for men and women. Stepping into the water it is noticeably white and cloudy due to the source of the mineral water being an underground spring in the valley itself. The mineral water is known to contain properties that are good for your skin and as you step out of the water you notice that your skin becoming soft and supple. Besides the beautifying waters the Onsen offers scenic views of the valley, the jagged rocky gorges set against the vibrant lush green hills. For guests visiting during the day the Onsen is open until 6pm whereas guests staying at the hotel can bathe in the Onsen until 9pm. Entry fees for the Onsen is 1700 yen for adults and 900 yen for children.
The other big attraction in Iya is the famous vine bridges which were traditionally used to cross the gorges. These bridges are still well maintained to this day and are a popular attraction for visitors to the valley.
Photo: Christian Kaden on Flickr
Before you leave don`t forget to take a picture of the peeing boy statue which is located very close to Iya Onsen Ryokan overlooking the valley. The position of the statue offers you almost vertical views of the turquoise blue waters at the bottom of the valley. Not to be missed!
A nearby spot that should also not be missed is the now famous Scarecrow village or valley of the dolls. This is quite possibly one of the strangest tourist spots in Japan, where local Ayano Tsukimi makes life sized dolls to fill the deserted village of Nagaro. These dolls sit waiting for buses that will never come, or are placed in windows or even at desks in the closed elementary school. These dolls look so natural that they could even be mistaken for humans. A very unique experience!
For a break surrounded by nature and awe-inspiring views look no further than Iya Valley!