Iya Valley and Oboke-Koboke Gorges

In the Iya Valley, mountain villages cling to the side of improbably steep hills while turquoise rivers rush through the ravines below. This remote region was once so isolated that it became the retreat of choice for Heike clan warriors after they lost an epic battle to their Minamoto rivals in the 12th century. To get to Iya now, you don't have to string your own vine bridges across ravines like the Heike did, although some of the bridges remain. If you want to feel as though you've escaped modern Japan for a hidden world, you can't do better than here.

After some local government mergers in 2006, the villages in the Iya Valley were combined to become Miyoshi City. Don’t be fooled by the "city" moniker, though—Miyoshi City is actually a collection of rural villages administered from the small riverside town of Awa Ikeda, 32 km (20 miles) north of the Iya Valley.

Next to Iya, the Yoshino River roars through Okobe and Koboke gorges, where you'll find Japan's best white-water rafting. Try your hand at making delicious Iya soba or local crafts, or trek deeper into the valley to hike to the swordlike summit of Mt. Tsurugi.

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