Lost amid the mountainous interior of Shikoku, the steep-sided, densely wooded Iya Valley encloses a world few Japanese, and even fewer foreigners, realize still exists. It was here members of the Heike clan took refuge after the Genpei War of the 12th century, and where they constructed bridges from wisteria vines that could be cut to protect them in the event of an attack.

Miraculously, a few of these bridges survive: these days they’re reinforced with (invisible) steel cables to make them safe, but still offer a vertigo-inducing experience as you sway 45 feet above the river. A single-track road winds through primeval forest into the remote southeastern end of the Iya Valley, where the farmhouses of Ochiai village cascade down the mountainside, connected by ancient ‘rido’ footpaths.

 

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