The Eternal Charms of Miyoshi City
Tourism Guide & Pictures
An Unexplored Region in the Heart of Shikoku, Japan
Miyoshi City is located in western Tokushima Prefecture in the middle of Shikoku. The “city” itself was formed in 2006 by joining six neighboring towns into one, and it now encompasses a variety of environments including downtown centers, secluded villages, majestic rivers, and high mountain expanses.
Due to its central location, Miyoshi is recognized as being the “Crossroads of Shikoku”, and therefore it is easily accessed from just about any direction. Miyoshi is also bisected by the mighty Yoshino River, which further underscored its importance as a historic trading hub, and in turn helped to develop the culture of today.
However, Miyoshi City is a vast area. Forests cover 86% of Miyoshi, and since the “city” is also home to some of the tallest mountains in western Japan, including the 1955m high Mt. Tsurugi, large swaths of Miyoshi have been historically isolated.
The upper reaches of the Yoshino River form the awesome gorges of Oboke and Koboke, and the remote Iya Valley, which fills the southern portion of Miyoshi, is known as one of the “Three Most Hidden Regions in Japan”. Indeed, with the mystical Oku-Iya Niju Kazurabashi Vine Bridges, and mountainside hamlets full of thatched roof farmhouses like Ochiai Village, entering the Iya Valley feels a bit like stepping back in time.
For certain, the wide range of offerings that Miyoshi City holds are sure to delight everyone.
A Place Where Sake is Brewed and Beloved
The northern part of Miyoshi City is known for being the area’s commercial hub, with Ikeda serving as Miyoshi’s “downtown” center. For centuries Ikeda had been the place for the outlying people to converge for trading goods, allowing the town to also develop itself as a place for social enjoyment.
The Yoshino River valley widens as it goes out from Ikeda, such that the flattened landscape becomes perfect for farming rice, and when this is coupled together with the pure waters which flow out from the surrounding mountains, all the ingredients are now present for making great sake: fresh rice, clean water, and a thirsty bunch of residents who are looking for a good time.
Accordingly, the relatively small town of Ikeda is home to not one, but three sake breweries, and the sake produced here is renowned for its fine taste that has an honored reputation among connoisseurs.
And in conjunction with being at the “crossroads” of Shikoku, Ikeda is also the location for the “Shikoku Sake Festival” which is held annually each February and attracts dozens of producers from all across Shikoku, who offer up their tastes to the hundreds of patrons who come in to celebrate Japan’s national spirit.
Encountering the Magnificent Yoshino River
Known as one of the “Three Great Rivers of Japan”, the Yoshino River flows across the center of Miyoshi City. In the past the river was used by merchants to transport goods to and from the area, but nowadays it serves as a source for recreation.
Upstream in Miyoshi the Yoshino River passes through steep mountains, and here it forms the stunning gorges of Oboke and Koboke. A popular way to see the fantastic rock formations created over the eons here is by pleasure boat tour.
But for those who are more daring, nothing beats blasting through the roaring torrents of the river by white water raft. Actually, the Class 4 rapids within Oboke and Koboke are so acclaimed that the area hosted the World Rafting Championships in 2017.
Downstream as the valley widens, the waters of the Yoshino flow more gently. In Ikeda a broad lake is formed by the Ikeda Dam, and within here a variety of other water sports can be enjoyed, including canoeing and wake-boarding.
The Enduring Legends of the Heike Samurai
People have been living and passing through the areas of Miyoshi for thousands of years, but perhaps the most legendary people to ever come in were the fugitive samurai of the Heike Clan. After losing the Genpei War in the 12th century, many of the Heike warriors fled far into the mountains, and it is said that some hid and settled in Miyoshi’s remote Iya Valley.
Though they came to Iya to hide, the Heike samurai made a notable impact on the local culture, and perhaps one of their most intriguing remnants are the “Kazurabashi” vine bridges which criss-cross the valley. Only found in Iya, it is said that the hiding samurai built these bridges in order to easily cut them away if they were ever discovered and needed to gain time for escape.
But the vine bridges aren’t the only call-back to the past that the Iya Valley holds. Indeed, the hillsides are dotted with a number of well-preserved historic houses that can be visited, the oldest of which being the 17th century home of the Kimura Family.
Traditional Ways of Life in the Deep Iya Valley
Due to its isolation until relatively recently, the Iya Valley still maintains many aspects of its traditional culture in a country which is otherwise known for its high-tech urbanization.
Within the secluded yet spectacular landscape, the lifestyles of Iya are a throwback to a time which has elsewhere faded away, where people continue to live in small villages that sit perched on the sides of mountains, and where they still grow vegetables and grains using the time-honored methods inherited by their ancestors.
And for those looking to stay the night in one of Iya’s many thatched roof farmhouses, a variety of these ancient homes have been turned into guesthouses, such as those of Togenkyo-Iya within the historic Ochiai Village.
Interacting with the Local People
Though Miyoshi City is full of unique cultural offerings and stunning natural splendor, probably its greatest resource is its vibrant people. Whether making a new friend over a bottle of sake up in Ikeda, or encountering a traditional farmer out in the Iya Valley, everyone you meet is sure to be welcoming.
There are many opportunities to connect with the residents of Miyoshi, whether by taking a tour with a local guide, staying the night in a traditional guesthouse, joining a festival, or engaging in any one of the sports or activities led by one of the local experts.
Indeed, the Miyoshi people are not just proud of their heritage, but they are more than interested in sharing their deeply-rooted ways with the wider world.