INTRODUCTION TO SHIKOKU
A student of mine once told me, “If you want to experience traditional Japan go to Shikoku.” Now you can see vestiges of pre-modern Japan in Kyoto and else where but on the island of Shikoku the people have preserved the old Japanese way of life.
I went on a two-day trip to Shikoku as side trip from Hiroshima. So I have not truly experienced everything the island has to offer but I have tasted it and so can you.
THE JOURNEY THERE
We got on a double decker train in Hiroshima train station, the doors closed, and we never looked back as the train darted off towards the least touristy island in Japan.
The diesel train chugged its way along the cusps of mountains, through valleys, past villages and rice fields before it got to its destination—Oboke in the Iya Valley.
The rain pelted the ground but that didn’t stop us as we meandered our way around Oboke. Our first stop was a hostel that a young Tokyoite made out of a 19th century clan house. It did not look like much on the outside but its tatami mats and traditional interior felt rather homey. The owner spoke excellent English and provided us with the necessary information to pursue the reason why we were there. But more on that later.
We put on our rain gear, took out our umbrellas and tried to make the most of the day. There is a beautiful gorge that goes through the village so we made an effort to take a boat tour down and around the windy river.
THE IYA VALLEY AND THE VINE BRIDGE
With the rain not letting up, we decided to head to our main destination—the Iya valley and to the Vine Bridge that is known as one of the 3 SECRET REGIONS OF JAPAN.
The single vine bridge is all that is left of the bygone years when warlords and clans fought one another. The bridges were constructed for two reasons. One was so the local clans could make it across the gorges quickly. Two, so that they could cut the vine bridges down easily in the event that another clan might invade them.
The bridge itself is very sturdy as it is made with a combination of a wooden base and vines for support. In modern times the government has strengthened it with metal wiring. Just be careful, the planks are spaced out enough that your foot could slip through thus potentially loosing your shoe. I write this from experience.
After great effort we made it across the bridge. We were able to hike along the base of the Iya Valley and ended up finding a nice waterfall.
After a long day of traveling and hiking we searched for local cuisine—Iya Soba. It has a savory taste and it is known for its short and thick noodles. I highly recommend it.
Check here for bus times to the Iya Valley and the vine bridge.
The sunshine woke me the next morning. I tossed and turned and finally forced myself up. I walked outside and was in awe by the site before me. Never have I slept in a house on a mountainside. Never had I awoken to such a view. This was the first time and now I always dream about going back there.
My dad eventually came out and was also stunned by the view. His only words were: “How in the world did you find this place?” He said this knowing that if he had only come to Japan as a tourist by himself, he would never have gone to Shikoku. Fortunately for him, I had been living in Japan for nearly a year at the time and had heard about this place through students and colleagues.
We looked out as far as the eye could see and down at the valley below. Across from us, and also along the mountains edge, were small houses owned by elderly Japanese people. The young owner of the hostel tends to the cascading farms for them. After thanking the owner for his hospitality, we made our way back to the train station which is never busy because trains only come and go a couple times a day. I cannot but highly recommend going to Shikoku. I write about this several years after my visit and it is still vividly etched into my memory.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO SHIKOKU? PLEASE WRITE ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES BELOW.