Iya Valley, Japan

Known as the Tibet of Japan, the remote Iya Valley is tucked away in the mountainous interior of Shikoku, the least visited of the country’s four main islands. Tourism to the region took a leap forward when it hosted the World Rafting Championship in 2017 — putting its turquoise Class Four rapids firmly on the adventure-travel map. New ziplines and hiking trails are sprouting up in the canyons, while upgrades have been made to accommodations in the area’s traditional thatched-roof farmhouses, or minkas.

The secluded valley is characterized by steep mountain slopes and deep rocky gorges which were traditionally crossed by vine bridges. Three of the vine bridges, Iya Kazurabashi and the Oku-Iya Kazurabashi bridges, are maintained to this day and remain some of the most popular attractions of the area. Iya is also well known for its hot springs and outdoor activities.

While Iya Valley is renowned for its beauty, it is hard to access, especially for foreigners who can’t drive. Even for those who can, the drive through the narrow, winding mountain roads can be intimidating as it involves a fair amount of care and reversing to allow cars to pass. However, with the Iya Bonnet Bus, the valley becomes far more accessible!

The Iya Valley offers a different facet of otherwise urban Japan and is a welcomed reprieve for visitors due to its fresh natural environment, slow country lifestyle, and friendly welcoming inhabitants. Simply put, Iya offers the roots of Japan.

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