Experience a true Japanese paradise with a taste of life in remote Iya

More and more people are looking to escape from the crowded tourist attractions of the city and head out on unique rural adventures where life is simple and time moves slow. Deep in the mountains of Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku, is a tiny village called Iya. Dramatic, gorgeous valleys and settlements made up of charming old-fashioned homes await visitors who want to experience something different from Japan’s urban jungles—different food, different accommodations, and different scenery. Here in Iya, you’ll feel less like a tourist and more like someone who’s come home.

Old Japanese farmhouse inns complete the magical remote experience

Ochiai village in Higashi-Iya

Tokushima Prefecture is located in the eastern part of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s major islands. Nearly eighty percent of it is covered in mountainous terrain, making it the perfect place to experience the natural beauty of deep valleys and verdant forests. Iya Valley itself is surrounded by Mt. Tsurugi at 1,955 meters and several other peaks more than a thousand meters in height. In summer and early fall, it is cloaked in lush, green vegetation that explodes into a riot of red, orange, and yellow after mid-October. The hourlong drive here from the closest highway exit (the Ikawa-Ikeda interchange) floods the senses with rich, soothing natural beauty. There’s more to see here than just these gorgeous valleys, however. The real mystique of hidden Japan lies deeper.

About fifty minutes out of Iya Valley by car, the view opens up to reveal tiny clusters of traditional Japanese homes clinging to a steep slope that rises some 390 meters along a mountainside. This is Ochiai village in Higashi-Iya, and it doesn’t get more remote and unspoiled than this. The footpaths, stone walls, and farmland carve out unique shapes born out of generations of local life, making it a rare and wonderful place even in Japan. The extraordinary scenery here was recognized for its specialness in 2005, when it was officially designated as an important preservation district for groups of traditional buildings.

For visitors headed to Ochiai, the highlight of the trip isn’t just the beautiful scenery or the accommodations—it’s the fact that they get to feel as if they truly live here. Every tour is customized so that people can explore their surroundings, eat, or participate in activities that suit their fancy. In Ochiai, you get to choose your own adventure.

About fifty minutes out of Iya Valley by car, the view opens up to reveal tiny clusters of traditional Japanese homes clinging to a steep slope that rises some 390 meters along a mountainside. This is Ochiai village in Higashi-Iya, and it doesn’t get more remote and unspoiled than this. The footpaths, stone walls, and farmland carve out unique shapes born out of generations of local life, making it a rare and wonderful place even in Japan. The extraordinary scenery here was recognized for its specialness in 2005, when it was officially designated as an important preservation district for groups of traditional buildings.

For visitors headed to Ochiai, the highlight of the trip isn’t just the beautiful scenery or the accommodations—it’s the fact that they get to feel as if they truly live here. Every tour is customized so that people can explore their surroundings, eat, or participate in activities that suit their fancy. In Ochiai, you get to choose your own adventure.

A taste of daily life in Ochiai

Tougenkyo-Iya is a group of eight Japanese farmhouses built over a century ago, now repurposed as guest accommodations. Visitors rent out an entire home, each with its own distinctive features to choose from. Some have tatami rooms, others a traditional hearth, while others have an open, two-story maisonette floor plan. And although the thatched-roof exterior preserves an antique look, the interiors are comfortable and full of all the modern amenities you could ask for, including updated bathrooms, induction cooktops, air conditioning, heated floors, and more.

Since you have your own place in Ochiai, there’s no curfew and no concerns about bothering other guests or staff—so you’re free to explore the area however and whenever you chose. For meals, you can either buy food and cook it yourself, or have the inn provide you with a delicious homestyle meal. You can even sign up to stay in a villager’s home and enjoy a traditional homecooked meal with the family. Other fun customization options include learning to make fresh soba noodles with the local women or taking a guided tour of the village. How you enjoy Ochiai is up to you!

Take a scenic drive to the sightseeing spots and gorgeous valleys around your traditional farmhouse accommodations

Left: Kazura bridge  Right: Historical wooden residence

Iya Valley and the village of Ochiai, Higashi-Iya are pretty much only accessible by car. You’ll start your journey at the Ikawa-Ikeda interchange. From there, take Highway 32 for Iya Valley. One the way, you won’t want to miss the scenic beauty of Kazura Bridge in Iya, located about an hour into your drive. The bridge spans the Iya River, and is draped with hardy kiwi vines—perfectly complimenting the stunning view of the valley. You can actually see the river rushing below your feet between the footboards as you cross the bridge, adding a thrilling dimension to the beautiful scenery. There are many traditional farmhouses nearby, but the most treasured of them all is a historical wooden residence built more than three hundred years ago and designated as an Important Cultural Property. The structure still serves as a private home to this day, though the family operates a farmhouse café to allow visitors to enjoy it as well. It’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy a cup of tea on the tatami mats by the hearth as you take in the lush natural views outside along with the rustic charm of the interior space. Getting there requires that you climb up narrow, twisting mountain roads—so please be careful when driving!

A visit to Iya isn’t something that one can do quickly, and navigating the country roads can be a challenge. Neither is it scattered with convenient shops and outlets. But it is the fact that this tucked-away village is so hard to get to that makes it such a memorable destination. We guarantee that a stay in Iya is a special experience you won’t soon forget.

For more information, visit the Oboke-Iya Tourist Navigation website:

Tougenkyo-Iya

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