They call the Oboke/Iya valley area of Tokushima prefecture “Hidden Japan”. It is very rural with small towns, rich in history, spectacular scenery, and difficult to get to.
When planning your trip I recommend you book the Bonnet Bus tour, rather than risk driving on these steep very narrow roads. Taking the curves in this 50 year old bus is a thrill ride you will not soon forget.
After picking us up at the JR Awa-Ikeda station the bus headed to The Heike Folk Museum, currently owned by a direct descendent of the doctor who took care of Emperor Antoku. The museum with old artifacts was very interesting, but what fascinated me is the procedure for making the thatched roof fireproof. Using an open fire, the roof is smoked which protects it for 50 years. This was a nice first stop on our journey through the valley. Next we took a lunch break at Iya Bijin Restaurant famous for Iya-soba (Buckwheat) and Amego (grilled sweet fish on a stick). I normally do not do well with bony fish, however this was so good I even ate part of the head.
Moving on was the highlight part of the tour at Kazurabashi (Vine Bridge). This bridge, one of three, is made with vines so that when an enemy tried to cross the canyon they would cut the bridge down, thereby blocking access to the other side. For another adrenaline rush try crossing the bridge without holding onto the vines. I held my camera in one hand while doing a video of Miwa and was very relieved when we finally reached solid ground on the other side. Once you have crossed over turn to the left and walk about 40 meters to the nice Biwa Waterfalls.
Your trip to Iya valley is not complete until you visit the “Peeing Boy” statue. In olden days boys would stand on the cliff and challenge each other by peeing down into the deep canyon. After a short ride we came to the Oboke rest area with their Yokai (ghost) museum and gemstone display. Since we had 30 minutes at the stop Miwa and I took advantage of the very relaxing outdoor foot hot spring overlooking the river below.
Our final destination for the day was a boat ride along the Oboke gorge. There was not much to see traveling down river and the redeeming factor for this place was the excellent gift shop.
On our way back to the station we passed over Hi no Ji Valley. The river surrounding the mountain resembles the hiragana character, “hi" (ひ), or to me a horse shoe.
This tour was well worth the 7300 yen ($65) including the excellent lunch and the old bus joy ride. We were staying at Takamatsu, which is a little over an hour from JR Awa-Ikeda station. At the station, there is a visitor center and after reading some of the brochures we learned that there were many additional area attractions prompting us to declare another visit to Oboke/Iya valley is a must.