Unexplored regions of Japan・Iya Valley and the tale of the Heike hidden between vine bridges.

Deep in the mountains of Western Tokushima Prefecture, lies a place called “Iya” - an area full of unspoiled nature, and considered to be one of Japan’s top three remote regions. Iya is a popular tourist destination not only for its hot springs, but also for providing visitors with a unique experience that cannot otherwise be found in urban areas. And finally, amongst the dense forests hangs the famous Vine Bridge stretching across the Iya River.

Watch out! Crossing the swaying Vine Bridges of Kazurabashi. 

The Vine Bridge, called “Kazurabashi”, hangs 14 metres above the surface of the Iya River. Designated as a National Important Tangible Folk Cultural Property, it is 2 metres wide and 45 metres long. It takes a lot of guts to cross the swaying bridge to reach the other side! Take a look at the photo of the bridge and you might get an idea of how it might sway.

Although suspended on both ends, it is almost certain that the vine bridge will sway when crossing. The bridges are made out of Kiwi Vines (Actinidia Arguta), and during the daytime it is possible to cross from one side to the other. Each plank of wood is spaced out wide, and every step you take causes the bridge to sway - it’s an absolute thrill ride! There is plenty of excitement to be had just by crossing this bridge surrounded by the unspoilt nature of Iya, but as a matter of fact, there is a legend hidden between the ropes of Kazurabashi.

The Legend of Heike hidden between the Kazurabashi…!

The material used to construct the vine bridges is called the “Kiwi Vine” (Actinidia Arguta), which, compared with other plants, has a strong and hardy quality. However, as you can see from how the bridge sways from side to side, it does not have the same solidity as wood for example, and could be considered as an unsuitable material for a bridge. So, what was the specific reason for using Kiwi Vine? It is said that the answer lies within the legend of the Heike, hidden amongst the forests of Iya.

The legend begins in 1185, during the “Battle of Yashima”, fought between the Minamoto Clan and the Heike Clan. It is thought that the Heike Clan fled to the deep mountains of Iya after they were defeated in battle. The Kazurabashi is one of the remaining pieces of evidence of their life in Iya.
As the defeated Heike Clan fled from the pursuing Minamoto Clan, a great danger remained that the enemy could invade their new home. The Heike Clan built bridges using the “Kiwi Vine” so that they could easily be cut, in case of an imminent enemy attack.

Additionally, situated near the Kazurabashi is the “Biwa-no-Taki” (Biwa Waterfall), where it is said that defeated soldiers would play the Biwa Flute to each other as a form of comfort. It is a powerful spot where the Heike Clan would gather strength to recover from their defeat.
It is just a legend, so whether to believe it or not is up to you, but for Japanese history fans Iya is certainly worth seeing!

The double vine bridges - explore more untouched beauty!

There were originally 13 Vine Bridges, but now only three remain. One is Kazurabashi, associated with the tale of the Heike Clan mentioned above. With hotels and restaurants in the area, it could be considered a little touristy for some visitors. The remaining two bridges, called the “Oku Iya Double Vine Bridges”, are located in the deeper region of Iya, called “Oku-Iya”. The untouched nature surrounding the two bridges in Oku-Iya is incredibly beautiful in comparison with the main Kazurabashi. Personally, we would recommend to skip visiting the main Kazurabashi and go instead to the Double Vine Bridges. There are camping grounds in the area, so it’s the perfect place to escape the summer heat!

This summer, why not discover Iya and learn more about the tale of the Heike Clan?