Why the Spiritual and Secluded Iya Valley Should Be Your Next Japanese Getaway

What are some of its main attractions?

Hinoji Bend at Oboke and Koboke Gorge is one of the most photogenic spots in the valley. A horseshoe of emerald water separates the towering tree-lined hill, which you can appreciate from a lookout above or on a boat trip below. The rivers of the Iya Valley also offer incredible class three and four rapids, with rocky drops and choppy waters briefly interrupted by more serene sections.

In the traditional villages and towns of Iya, you will find authentic crafts and architecture. Home to exiled warriors, you can still see preserved samurai houses and spot the increasingly elaborate buildings udatsu in Wakimachi and Sadamitsu. Originally a fire preventative, these covered walls have become a status symbol for the tobacco and indigo traders of the Iya Valley. Sadamitsu is also home to Teramachi, a Buddhist temple complex comprising 1,300-year-old temples. In Ochiai, you can see hillside village life and stay in one of the traditional thatched roofs chimney buildings.

Another highlight is the unique Iya Valley cuisine, with soba (buckwheat) replacing traditional rice. Soba grows well in the Iya field, blanketing the landscape in white in October. Enjoy hot soba noodle and soba rice stews, charcoal-grilled wild game and river fish, and freshly picked mountain vegetables. The region is also famous for its light and slightly sweet sake, made in four regional breweries.

When is the best time to visit?

Iya can be visited all year round, each season offering a different aspect and activity. Spring and fall are the best times to see the landscape change. In the spring, cherry the trees paint the river valleys pink with Cherry tree, while the fall foliage lights up with scarlet and saffron. Summer brings long days for hiking the interior of Oku-Iya, clear skies for stargazing, and the best weather for tackling the river rapids. Winter is the most difficult season to travel in the valley, as it often snows heavily, making its narrow and winding roads harder to navigate. Still, winter is ideal for exploring traditional towns like Sadamitsu, Wakimachi, and Tsuji, relaxing with a hot sake from one of the local breweries. It’s also perfect for Iya onsen, where you can bathe in the hot spring waters and watch the snow fall on the mountains.

Plan your trip

Kansai International Airport is the closest airport to the Iya Valley, with regular flights from the UK. From Kansai, take the train to Okayama or Kochi, before changing to Awa-Ikeda or Oboke stations on Shikoku. Buses from both serve the better served Nishi-Iya area, but the wilderness of Oku-Iya will require a rental car. For more information, visit nishi-awa.jp/english

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social networks:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter