Enjoy the majestic beauty of Iya Valley – waterfalls and rivers, historic villages and sacred mountaintops – to make amazing memories in rural Japan.
Shikoku is the smallest of the four main islands of Japan, but it boasts some of the most incredible scenery and exciting adventures! It is also filled with more history, culture and stories than you could ever learn. We set out on our first family trip to Shikoku with one region in mind: the Iya River area in Tokushima Prefecture.
I was looking forward to this trip for a long time, and it still blew past all my expectations! It could be because Matt was so busy this last month and we finally had time together, or maybe it’s because of all the awesome things to do here – either, way this trip was amazing.
We normally have our trips planned out to the smallest details. That was not the case with our Shikoku trip. We had a general idea of what we wanted to do but our priority was to relax. Instead of rushing out the door early in the morning, we actually slept in a little! When the kids woke up, we had breakfast and took a leisurely drive to the island of Shikoku.
Our first stop when we got to Shikoku was Forest Adventure. Matt had done some ziplining here during a previous trip, so it was my turn!
They sent an American guide over to translate for me. This was nice because there are a lot of detailed instructions on how to get hooked up to the cable, how to slow yourself down and what you should and shouldn’t hold on to.
The obstacle course looked like a lot of fun. You go from tree to tree with different obstacles in between; the zipline is at the end of the course. We opted for just the zipline. The price was ¥2,200, and you cross the river twice. Each leg is about 1,000 feet! It is awesome!
There is a small train with little carts, perfect for the kids, that takes you through the forest. We gave Royce and Jeannie the option to ride the train or stay inside and make animals out of pieces of wood at a craft table.
They chose the crafts. There is a little craft table set up with glue, markers, wood, a saw, stickers, tape and examples of little wood animals you can make. The kids had a ton of fun creating little creatures. The price for the train ride is ¥500 for an adult and ¥300 for a child. The crafts are free!
The river is incredible. The water is a vivid aqua-green! Once we went down to the river, I realized the water is super clear; there are green rocks throughout the gorges that give the water its color. It’s really something you need to see for yourself! If you want to really experience the water, there are several companies that do white water rafting tours. We saw dozens of boats floating the river. We added rafting to our bucket list for the next time we visit Iya Valley!
Our next stop took us to a unique and historical vine bridge. Hundreds of years ago there were 13 of these bridges in the Iya Valley. They connected villages and, according to legend, allowed locals to escape from their enemies and quickly cut their bridges behind them. Kazurabashi bridge is 1 of 3 bridges left out of the 13. The price was ¥550 to cross the bridge one time. I assume that the cost is to help with the rebuild they do every three years.
It was crazy walking out onto this bridge that was made of just vines, boards and some backup cables. The bridge goes 45 meters across the Iya river and is 14 meters high with wide gaps between each step – wide enough for a child to fall through. We carried the kids!
Just down the road after crossing the bridge we walked to a very tall waterfall, Biwa-no Taki. Iya Valley is filled with so many waterfalls; you’ll see dozens as you drive the mountain passes or follow the winding rivers. After checking out the waterfall we let the kids throw rocks in the water while we enjoyed how surreal the colors of the water and rocks were.
Peeing Boy Statue
Not far from the bridge there is a statue of a peeing boy. Random, right? The locals used to dare each other to pee off the edge of this cliff. Now there is a statue to reminisce about those young kids who completed the challenge!
Yoki Cafe and Guesthouse
We had dinner near the Forest Adventures at Yoki Cafe and Guesthouse. We actually wanted to stay here but they were full for the weekend. The food was delicious! We got there just before closing and they were so nice to sit us down – we didn’t feel rushed at all. It was a set menu so we said that we would take whatever they had. (It was getting late and there are not a lot of food options in the area!). They made us amazing pesto chicken sandwiches with a salad and fries, and the kids had grilled ham and cheese. We all but licked our plates clean!
Our hotel was…interesting. We stayed at a shared house where there are a common area and rooms for different families to rent out. We had accidentally rented a place like this when we first moved to Japan and we canceled that ASAP.
This time, we were running out of options since we waited so long to book a hotel (the night before!). The bathroom was separate from the bedroom and the shared living room. It was like a glorified outhouse! It was a really nice – his and hers Western-style toilet, nice sink – it even smelled good!
Upstairs near the bedrooms there was a shower room. It was of typical Japanese-style. The bathtub was small but deep!
Something to be aware of when sharing a space like this is to make sure to keep important things with you. Japan is super safe and trustworthy, but it’s just good practice. We thought that one of the other families took our drinks since we were all told that anything in the fridge is free. As it turned out we had forgotten them at home!
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