Terrie's Take 992 (Tourism Edition) - Iya-Otoyo: One of the 3 Most Famous, Least Visited Places in Japa
terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Jul 8 16:55:30 JST 2019
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie Lloyd, a
long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan. (
Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, July 08, 2019, Issue No. 992
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+++ Iya-Otoyo: One of the 3 Most Famous, Least Visited Places in Japan
Four years ago, an Australian friend and I decided to do a cycling road
trip together that would culminate with our participating in the Shimanami
Kaido "Cycling Taikai" out of Imabari, Ehime, in Shikoku. The Shimanami of
course being an amazing string of suspension bridges that island-hop the
Seto Inland Sea between Honshu and Shikoku, and which was engineered to
have a cycling lane all the way across. Whomever thought of appending that
cycling lane was a genius, because now the Shimanami Kaido route is
probably the most famous Japanese cycling course for foreigners (Lake Biwa
is the busiest course for Japanese) and it attracts tens of thousands of
inbound riders every year. Those riders are injecting millions of dollars
into local economies that otherwise would never see them stop, because the
impulse when you're in a car is to keep driving.
Anyway, for no particular reason other than that Jetstar had a cheap flight
from Narita to Takamatsu, we decided to ride from Takamatsu airport, and to
add some miles to the week of riding, we'd take a left turn at Miyoshi and
go down into a valley called Iya, in Tokushima. As it turns out, this was
an amazing ride to an amazing part of the country, and among other things
we discovered an onsen hotel (Hotel Kazurabashi) where you take a funicular
from the hotel up to the baths (fantastic view from the ofuro); a Japanese
version of Brussels' Mannekin Pis - a "Pissing Boy" statue - that pees out
over a vertigo-inducing chasm; and best of all, meeting and having tea with
Aya-no-tsukimi (her adopted name), who has since become famous for sewing
life-size scare crows to repopulate her dwindling village of Nagoro.
http://bit.ly/2JiNOZ2 [Kazurabashi Hotel]
http://bit.ly/2JnmdGp (Pissing boy]
http://bit.ly/2JP7t14 [Nagoro, home town of Aya-no-tsukimi]
Although this was only four years ago, there whole region was quite bereft
of tourists and an old man local to the area told me that Iya was one of
the three most famous, least visited places in Japan.
My, how things change.
Now that the Nakasendo has become so crowded with foreign tourists trying
to connect with their inner samurai, repeat travelers to Japan are looking
for the next uncharted destination, and in so doing they are creating new
human traffic jams in even more remote spots around the country. One of
those spots is the Iya valley, where there are now bus loads of wide-eyed
visitors walking the vine bridges and marveling at the traditional homes
perched up on the steep hillsides. So how did Iya get discovered so
suddenly? My personal opinion is that the search for remaining genuine
historical locations around the country has been pushed by major foreign
(mostly UK) tour operators over the last 5 years, and this coupled with the
recent coverage in major international media such as the UK's Telegraph,
the Washington Post, and Bloomberg, about Alex Kerr's wonderfully renovated
"Chiiori" farm house in the Iya valley, has spurred a fascination with this
remote part of the country.
http://bit.ly/2FZ5qHA [Kerr's Chiiori NPO site]
----------- One-time Unique Noh Performance ---------------
Admit it now. How many years have you been in Japan and never been to a Noh
performance...? Well, now is your chance!
The National Noh Theater in Sendagaya is ramping up for the Tokyo Olympics
by preparing a Noh "potpourri" for foreign audiences in Japan. As part of
their preparation, they are doing a full dress performance (far more than a
rehearsal) next month and are offering group discounts to any foreign
residents and friends interested in attending. Work groups and families are
particularly welcome. The National Noh Theater is just a couple of minutes
walk from the main Olympic stadium now being built.
Title: Noh and Kyogen Performance - "Essence Noh"
Time/Date: 04 Aug 2019 (Sun), 16:30-18:20; Theater opens at 15:45
Program: Kyogen FUKURO (Owl)/Noh TSUCHIGUMO (Spider), * With multilingual
subtitles (Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean)
Venue: The National Noh Theater (3-5 minutes walk from JR Sendagaya
Station, Chuo-Sobu Line)
Admission: All seats reserved but still available on request: 3,500yen.
- Groups of 10-19 people - JPY3,000/person (JPY500 discount/ticket)
- Groups of 20-29 people - JPY2,500/person (JPY1,000 discount/ticket)
- Groups of 30+ people - JPY1,500/person (JPY2,000 discount/ticket)
- https://ticketstoday.jp/lineup/en/G1446W [Tickets Today]
- https://www.confetti-web.com/en/detail.php?tid=52031& [Confetti]
Or, for groups over 10 people, contact Japan Travel directly at
info at japantravel.com
For further inquiries, contact the The Nohgaku Performers' Association at
e-mail: toiawase at nohgaku.or.jp
After that bike trip, Andrew and I have gone on to cover other parts of the
country, and I thought I might not get back to Iya again. But as fate would
have it, in April this year I became Kochi Prefecture's official inbound
travel advisor and have started visiting the prefecture every month. My job
is to try to understand Kochi's natural resources and see how these can be
matched to foreign tourists. Until now the Kochi marketing effort has been
the same "we have nature and delicious seafood" patter as many other more
conveniently located (to major airports) prefectures and this has relegated
them to a humbling 46th place out of 47 prefectures, in terms of visiting
foreign tourists. One of the things I have discovered about Kochi is that
while the Iya valley is more famous and sits in Tokushima, the rift that
becomes the Oboke Gorge and which merges with Iya valley, actually starts
at the headwaters of the Yoshino River in the highlands of Kochi, at a
place called Otoyo. And if there is one place in Shikoku that is "more Iya
than Iya" it's Otoyo.
As you drive up into the Kochi highlands the same dramatic terrain that Iya
(and Kerr's Chiiori) is so famous for, starts to open up. Plunging,
forest-clad mountains, joining at a white-capped Yoshino river far below.
An area previously impenetrable to ordinary travelers but which is now
semi-tamed by public roads on both sides of the river. I say "semi-tamed"
because landslides are a common occurrence in the area. At the top of the
spectacular mountains are old-world farm houses just visible through the
mist. The local communities are private but welcoming of outsiders
contributing to their economy.
It is here in this mountainous refuge that it is rumored the Taira Clan
retainers fled with one of the surviving family members after their defeat
by the Minamoto in the Genpei War of 1180-1185. Apparently Otoyo was chosen
because of a cunning plot to fool Minamoto spies at Kochi port. It is said
that they first boarded ships and set sail for the east, ostensibly bound
for Wakayama or Ise where they could meet up with local sympathizers. But
in fact, the ships re-landed and the clan members and retainers trekked
inland to Otoyo and disappeared forever. A local drove me recently around
the back roads of Otoyo, and pointed out one of the houses that is said to
have been the home of one of the original clan members. It's amazing to see
how those ancients managed to seek out and establish villages on the
safest, most stable areas of a region that otherwise sees regular land
slides and erosion.
Otoyo has for the last fifty years been depopulating as young people have
left for the cities, and locals reckon the average age of farmers there is
80+. This of course is nothing unusual in rural Japan, where as many as 300
municipalities around the country are so de-populated they can't even field
enough candidates to run their town assemblies. Okawa Town just 10km to the
West is one of these.
Instead, what is saving Otoyo from a similar fate is foreigners and
The Yoshino river is particularly well suited for rafting and similar water
sports, and about 20 years ago a pair of Australian and Japanese mates
decided to start Happy Raft, today one of the leading operators on the
river. The Australian is happily settled with a "almost local" girl (nearby
city) and their off-spring have melted the hearts of the local community
and have created a base for other foreigners to do the same. In fact, Otoyo
has become a fascinating example of tradition-meets-intermarriage, and
today there is a Canadian carpenter helping locals with their home
maintenance projects while learning Japanese traditional building
techniques; an Indian fellow who has started the first authentic Indian
restaurant (perched up in the hills) for at least 50km in any direction;
and a number of foreign rafting hands who have decided to buy places in the
http://bit.ly/2S0fFjv [Happy Raft website - great rafting experience]
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So here, among the mists and the history, a second outsider "invasion" is
taking place which will change the area forever. Half kids are now a common
sight and the locals are embracing them as the future of Otoyo.
Getting to Otoyo is not so convenient by public transport, although there
are buses and trains. The easiest way, and certainly the best if you want
to explore, is to get a rental car at either Tokushima or Kochi airport.
Or, if you have the energy, go by bike - but be warned that there are some
serious hills in the area, as I can testify! Once there, you can get
Airbnb-type accommodation with local landlords, some of whom are the
foreign arrivals that I mentioned earlier.
Apart from rafting, canyoning, and driving on tiny roads with sheer cliffs
and amazing river valley views, the Otoya area is also famous for its
flowers and teas. The carpenter in particular, is also taking up
tea-growing as a new income stream, and this remote mountainous area is
renowned among tea aficionados for its double-fermented Goishi-cha tea -
the one that is produced in mats that look like seaweed laver and which is
then cut into squares and sold for probably 5-10 times the cost of regular
BTW, many thanks to those readers who emailed me wondering if everything
was OK. After 22 years of religiously putting out the Terrie's Take
newsletter, they were concerned that I'd suddenly gone quiet. Was I sick?
Actually, no. Pressure of work, thanks to a thriving travel business, has
been part of my slow-down. But the other part has been the arrival of my
second grandchild and having mother (my daughter) and her daughter (my
granddaughter) living with us at home. They are both headed off to Africa
shortly as my daughter has taken up a two-year JICA posting, and I realized
that I wanted to be part of their lives during the short time they are with
us. All quite unexpected but an extremely welcome interlude. So, the "Take"
will be back, but probably a bit less frequently as we head for the big
"one thousandth" issue.
...The information janitors/
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+++ ABOUT US
Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)
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