Kochi – Osaka

We knew of the vine bridges in the Iya Valley on Shikoku during our pilgrimage walk in 2009 (here) but it was very difficult to get there so we put it in the too hard basket.

Now in 2023 we discovered Iya Valley Tours a small local company offering guided tours. With our guides, Sean on day 1 and Aki on day 2 we were able to explore and enjoy the remotest part of Japan, a boat ride through the Oboke Gorge, walk across the 3 remaining vine bridges and visit the Scarecrow Village of Nagoro.

Iya Valley 13 & 14 November 2023

Oboke George river boats cruise through a canyon with blue-green water
In the 1999 typhoon the river reached the height where I took this photo
Towering rock formations in the Oboke George
The beginning of the steep and narrow Iya Valley
Autumn along the Iya River – the water color comes from minerals in the rock
Misty gorges in the Iya Valley on a cloudy day
Peeing Boy Statue
In the past men used to pee from this rock. The artist made a sculpture of a 5 year old boy to illustrate how childish they were!
Kazurabashi bridge made from wood & rope-like vines may be 1,000 years old
In Japan the vine bridges were only built in Shikoku
The vines holding up the bridge are replaced every three years
Looking down through the bridge above the Iya River 14 meters below
Grilled trout for a snack near the vine bridge – the bones are so soft you can eat it all
Fleeing Heike warriors feeling nostalgic for their old city, Kyoto played their biwa, a Japanese lute, by this waterfall – according to legend
To reach the Kazurabashi Hotel open air Onsen you go up the hill in a cable car
Kazurabashi Hotel open air Onsen with a view
No photography allowed, this photo is from the Hotel
Dinner at the Kazurabashi Hotel
Continuing up the Iya Valley, this is the most remote part of Japan
The Historical Samurai House, built in 1763 is the largest home in the Iya Valley
Iirori floor hearth for cooking and heating
The iron rod within the bamboo tube was for raising or lowering a suspended pot using an attached lever in the shape of a fish
Autumn Ginkgo Tree
View of snow covered mountains from the House at an elevation of 845 meters
An 800-year-old cedar still grows in the garden of the Samurai House
Ochiai, a traditional Iya village spread out upon the hillside, with hand cultivated individual farm plots
Houses are not built in the north-south sections of the Valley but on the northern sides of the east-west valleys, facing south for the sun
Aki, our guide and Pam descending on a steep stone path through the village
There were no roads in the Iya Valley until the 1920s and local residents continue to use these ancient trails
There’s no flat ground so no rice; buckwheat soba is the staple here

The little village of Nagoro is known as the Scarecrow Village. We met the artist, Tsukimi Ayano, who 20 years ago started to replace the village people who left or died with life-sized replicas made of old clothes stuffed with newspaper. These dolls are placed naturalistically around the hamlet, in realistic poses. She lost count after 300!

Further up the valley are two smaller bridges – the larger of these is said to be male
There are only 3 vine bridges remaining of the 13 in Shikoku, we crossed all of them

Okayama 14 & 15 November

We had two nights in Okayama (pop 700,000) to allow us to visit the art island of Naoshima.

Okayama Castle, completed in 1597, is known as the “Crow (Black) Castle”
We had a front row seat for the making of our Hiroshima style okonomiyaki

Naoshima, Japan’s Art Island is an island in the Seto Inland Sea reachable in about 2 hours via train and ferry from Okayama. It’s known for its contemporary art museums, architecture and sculptures. We only wanted to see the iconic Pumpkins via a pleasant 8.4 km walk around the southern part of the island. (Wikiloc)

Red Pumpkin at the Miyanoura ferry port
The art island’s trademark Yellow Pumpkin on a southern side jetty

Osaka 16 & 17 November 2023

Osaka, population 19 million is big, brash, bright and boisterous compared to the cities of Shikoku. We had two nights there so we could have a practice at getting to parkrun, about an hour by metro from our hotel in the “Dotonbori” nightlife and food area.

Gala Resort, a 5 story nightclub is one of the largest clubs in Japan, located along the famous tourist spot “Dotonbori”
Delicious Tempura, biggest prawns we’ve ever seen!
Construction of Osaka Castle started in 1583. It’s been destroyed and rebuilt many times, the current version from 1931
Ichiban Turret was built in 1628, the first of seven watchtowers
A 12-km-long wall using about one million granite stones surrounds the Castle
Tsurumi Ryokuchi (Osaka) parkrun 2nd birthday – cold, wet and windy
Of the 44 participants 30 were foreigners!