The Iya valley is a large and geographically complex area in Miyoshi City, Tokushima. The eastern part of Miyoshi, where the valleys meet Mt. Tsurugi, is called Oku-Iya, which means ‘deep Iya’. This name suggests isolation and inaccessibility, and it is indeed hard to get into and out of Oku-Iya. It involves a long drive on steep, narrow, winding roads that are often closed in winter due to snow and ice.
But the isolation of Oku-Iya is the key to its charm. It’s said that the Heike clan hid out here after their defeat in the Genpei War in 1185, and the hamlets of traditional thatched farmhouses that cling to the valley sides have been here for centuries. The people of Oku-Iya have maintained their way of life based on self-sufficient and sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry. Until recently, their entertainments consisted of the seasonal observations of their Buddhist and Shinto faith, songs, and theatrical productions.
Oku-Iya occupies the southeastern part of Miyoshi. It’s traversed by Route 32 from Nishi-Iya, which becomes Route 439 at Tochinose. Several roads lead off this main road over mountain passes to the north and south.
Kyojo, located in the valley bottom, is the area’s administrative centre with most of Oku-Iya’s public facilities, including the Higashi-Iya Museum of Local History and Folklore. The next habitation is the hamlet of Ochiai, a special preservation district spread out over a mountainside. Many of the old farmhouses of Ochiai have been converted to guesthouses, with every modern comfort. In Oku-Iya, there are several farmhouses where you can stay that haven’t been significantly remodelled, and we recommend a stay in one of these. Even deeper into the valley is Nagoro, known as the Scarecrow Village or the Village of Dolls. Beyond Nagoro are the so-called Double Vine Bridges, smaller but more peaceful than the single Kazurabashi. Just before the valley bumps into Mt. Tsurugi, you come to the lovely Tsurugi Shrine. The last hamlet in the valley, Minokoshi, with its several shops and guesthouses serves hikers heading up Mt. Tsurugi.
There’s a lot to see and do in Oku-Iya, but there are long drives between the attractions, and you can’t expect to see everything in a single day. So it’s best to plan to spend a couple of nights in the area, enjoying the unique atmosphere and hospitality of these isolated valleys.
Name in Japanese: 奥祖谷
Pronunciation: oku iya
Address: Oku-Iya, Miyoshi, Tokushima