Today’s adventures took us further into the Iya Valley – into the Eastern part of the valley, an area known as Oku-Iya. This part of the Iya Valley has no public transport links at all and is even less accessible than Nishi-Iya (i.e. Western Iya), where we went exploring on Sunday (and where we’ve been staying). We went up tiny mountain roads, through a village populated mostly by scare-crows, hiking through wild forests, and across more vine bridges.
After yesterday’s torrential downpours it was great to wake up this morning to chirping birds, sunshine, and (mostly) blue skies. We were supposed to drop our rental car (aka: The Bat Skate) off this morning but, given the improved weather conditions, Shane rang the car rental company and arranged for us to keep the car until later in the afternoon. That gave us the chance to do some of the exploring we didn’t get to do yesterday, which was great.
The Iya-gawa (i.e. Iya River) was a raging torrent compared to Sunday. Swollen by all the rains, it seemed like a very different waterway to the bubbling stream we cruised down the other day. We also passed many waterfalls, created as water rushed down the mountains towards the river.
The drive across to the Eastern part of the valley was slow going thanks to the still-wet roads and occasional mini-landslide across the road. It took us almost 2 hours to travel the 30kms (including numerous photo stops, of course) from our hotel to Oku-Iya.
We were told that most people do not go past the (relatively) accessible sights of Nishi-Iya, mainly due to the fact that the roads are too narrow for buses and there are no trains. You either get here by car, foot or donkey (if you have one). What this meant for us was unobstructed views of epic scenery, quiet moments enjoying the Iya Valley at its best, and the opportunity to be the objects of interest for some of the locals in these tiny villages (it seems many people living up in the remotest parts of valley have not seen gai-jin like us very often).
One of the more curious sights we saw during our tour today was the village of Nagoro, a tiny hamlet populated by just 35 people and 150 scare-crows. This small village has, like many in rural Japan, suffered the effects of depopulation as younger residents move to the city. A few years ago one of the locals decided to start repopulating the town with hand-sewn scare-crows. The result is quite cute, though a little creepy, as the whole village seems to be populated by silent, staring dolls. We saw scare-crows sitting at bus stops, loitering under trees, and sitting behind desks in the now-empty school.
Our ultimate destination was the area around the Oku-Iya kazurabashi (i.e. Eastern Iya vine bridges). Like the vine bridge we saw on Sunday, these are remnants of a once vital means of crossing the river. There are 2 vine bridges left in this remoter part of the Iya Valley; the larger of the two bridges, known as the Husband Bridge, stretches 44 meters across the river, while the slightly lower Wife Bridge is a 22 meter span just a little ways upstream. We crossed via the Husband Bridge and then hiked through the forest on the other side of the river.
There is a network of hiking trails in the area that lead to a waterfall and picnic area. The perfect spot for lunch!
To get back across the river we forwent the vine bridges and crossed using the “Wild Monkey Cart”. This primitive contraption is a reconstruction of an old Iya Valley form of transport that was used to get people and goods across the river and ravines. Basically it’s a wooden box suspended across the river with ropes that allow you, via a simple system of pulleys, to pull yourself across. I wasn’t convinced it wouldn’t toss us into the river so I sent Shane across first to try it out. Good news: it held.
Following our adventures in the forest it was time to drive back along the windy roads to Awa-Ikeda where we dropped The Bat Skate off and again caught a train out of the Iya Valley. We went all the way around the Northern part of Shikoku this evening on the train, to Matsuyama, our base for the next couple of days. The best part of the train journey was seeing all the mountains of central Shikoku on one side, and the Seto Inland Sea on the other.
Tomorrow we’ll go out exploring Matsuyama, but for now a warm shower and bed beckons. Oyasumi nasai blog fans!