Tsurugi to Saijo, Shikoku, Japan

Wednesday 29th May 2024
Well today was a day we will always remember. We got off to a great start, we were on the way by 8am which we need be as we had a lot planned. We were hiking to the top of Mt Tsurugi and doing a roadtrip through the Iya Valley. Or so we thought.

The road to Mt Tsurugi on route 438 was only a 43km drive but was estimated at about 66 mins. It was narrow, winding, hairpin turns, U-turns driving through the beautiful tree lined mountains. Often the road wasn’t even wide enough for one car let alone two. There were a few instances where we had to reverse back to a lay by to allow someone to pass from the other direction. The Japanese are so polite. It was very intense drivng and the blind corner mirrors were very helpful except when you couldn’t use them because of the suns reflection, it was very slow going. With about 15mins to go we came to a road sign blocking the left side of the road. Whilst we were translating it, a man in a work truck came from the direction we were heading and spoke in Japanese with the arms forming a cross action indicating the road was closed. A few people just turned around, some went through and we just waited. We finally translated the sign and it indicated the road was closed between 2 sections before our final destination. After a bit of deliberation we decided to give it a go. The streets were strewn with debris from the mountains, leaves, sticks and also a lots of rockfall. We went passed another road closed sign and kept going. I was feeling quite anxious and when we finally came to our 3rd closed sign fully blocking the path and a barricade almost fully blocking the road I couldn’t cope anymore. We turned around. The other cars still hadn’t come back but I was feeling very uncomfortable about continuing. In hindsight the sign said closed between Point 1 and Point 2 so it may have been ok. We still don’t think we would have got through as we think Point 1 was before our destination of the Mt Tsurugi chairlift. Anyway I told David to talk me around next time, if he could help me reason with my anxiousness.

So we headed back around and found another route on 260 and google indicated that it would take about 2 hours along a goat track with a camp ground, much more debris and rocks, roads with water flowing down them like rivers and it was very tricky going. We again got to about 10km from our destination when we came to a physical roadblock, this time there had been a rockslide and it was impassable, w e would have managed in the 4WD but the little Honda is low to the ground and 2WD. So we had to turn around again.

We drove on a different goat track and found route 439 which we continued along for ages and about 5mins from the track we came to another road block and sign. This time there were 2 cars and one motorbike of Japanese having their lunch on the side of the road. That’s right it was lunch time by now. We started to translate the sign when a truck came from the other direction, two men hopped out and started to dismantle the road block and sign. Yeah, we might make it. With a whoop for joy, we continued the 5mins down the road to the start of the trail to Mt Tsurugi. David had his lunch as I had already eaten mine along the way and we were off to climb a mountain. Yeah.

It was a little later than the 9am we thought we would start our hike, it was now 12.55pm. The first part of the trail we could either hike up an hour or take the chairlift. As we were now so time poor, we decided on the chairlift, which was a lovely scenic 15min ride and 1900Y each for the return trip. Usually we would hike up and catch the chairlift down, or hike both ways. Oh well, lucky we are flexible. After a nice ride up to 1700m we started our walk. This was straight uphill to the top of Mt Tsurugi (1955m), 200m elevation over 1km, so straight up. The views were plentiful, actually they were continuous the whole way. It was spectacular, we could see the winding roads we had travelled and the mountains and valleys for miles. It was definitely worth the long drive to get there.

Once at the top there was a shrine and a boardwalk to all the view points. I talked to a couple of people with my newly learned sentence, “Doko no shusshin desu ka?” which means “Where are you from?”. I met some people from Osaka and Tokyo. They taught me how to say it’s beautiful in Japanese, which I think is  “utsukushī” or “Sore wa utsukushīdesu” if I go for the sentence. After enjoying the view from the lookout point with about 15 other people including a couple from the Netherlands, we decided to head along the less trodden trail less travelled across to Mt Jirogyu (1930m) which was 1.5km away, down and up 200m elevation to the top. We couldn’t see any people on the trail except a couple of Japanese men just ahead of us or so we thought. We actually spoke to some more people from Tokyo, others from Kobe and a volcano place I couldn’t understand. It is so funny when you talk to people in Japanese, they obviously reply thinking you will understand them but I only get the place name. Hehehe! It was a lovely trail with exceptional views continuously the whole way. At the lookout of the next mountain peak, which we enjoyed with only 3 others, the views were amazing. We then found a loop trail that meant we didn’t have to go back up the whole 200m elevation, maybe only half of it, that took us back to the chairlift.

Well it was now 4pm and we had done half our days itinerary. The second part is a drive through the Iya Valley, another winding, twisting narrow road. We have many stops but will only manage some of them on our 3 hour drive back through the countryside to our hotel in Saijo. The Iya Valley is the area we were looking at from the top of Mt Tsurugi.

Our first stop was the Double Vine Bridge and Wild Monkey Cart, these were spectacular bridges that were made of thick vines, the planks entwined in the vines for stepping on were almost my foot size apart, so the bridge required diligent footwork. The bridges spanned across a wide gorge which was flowing very fast. We walked across both the male and female bridges, as always the males was bigger than the females, but both were equally impressive. The Wild Monkey Cart was currently out of service for safety reasons but you could pull yourself across the ravine in it.

Another winding drive and our next stop was the Nagoro Scarecrow Village, which was a village populated by scarecrows that line the streets, buildings and gardens, as well as workers, fisherman and a little school. It was really cool and a shame the village is all but deserted.

The late afternoon was now here and we still had a few sights to see, we were going to give the Single Vine Bridge a miss as we had seen the double, but we saw a building which we were not sure what it was, so went to investigate. It turns out it was a double storey carpark for the Single Vine Bridge tourists. In the books it says this is really busy and if you can drive to the Double Vine Bridge instead it was better, as there are less people. All the paid carparks were closed at the single vine bridge, so David dropped me off to have a quick look. I got to the closed exit and took a quick photo, then ran to the entrance for another quick look as it also had a sign saying it was closed, all the while DB was being chased and followed by a lady in a car. We think she was trying to let us know it was all closed and we couldn’t go in. Anyway this bridge was a lot bigger in structure, wider uprights, etc. but quite similar to the double vine bridges.

Anyway, off to the next sight, unfortunately the Boy Peeing statue was too far off the main road, so we gave this one a miss. We also missed going down into the Oboke Gorge and Koboke Gorge. Although we missed a couple of places the drive through the Iya Valley was beautiful. It was now time to drive to the hotel. I had my first drive along some not so winding but narrowish roads for about 25mins to the beginning of the expressway, where David took over to drive the last hour, as I am not ready for that yet.

We ended up getting to the hotel about 8.30pm, checked in and then had to find dinner, we thought we would give the sushi train next door a try. It was a little average, the sushi was okay but we needed something more filling, so ordered ramen, mine was served cold and Davids was average..

“Mt Tsurugi – At 1,955m in height, Mt. Tsurugi is the second highest mountain in western Japan. However a climb to the top is not so difficult when going by the “climber’s lift” to a trail high in the mountains followed by a one hour walk to the very top. On a clear day the view from the summit reaches out to the Pacific Ocean, the Seto Inland Sea, the Kii Peninsula and Okayama Prefecture on mainland Japan.”

“Oku Iya Double Vine Bridges – About 800 years ago, these vine bridges were built by the Heike clan as a means to access their riding grounds at Mt. Tsurugi, where they trained. The bridges also connect to the Oku Iya campgrounds. These two bridges have been named “male” and “female” respectively, hence are sometimes referred to as the “wedded bridges.”  The nature here is deep and immersive, and offers a different experience from the main Vine Bridge, so both spots are well worth the visit.”

“Nagoro Scarecrow Village – A mysterious village with more scarecrow residents than people. At first glance, most visitors to Nagoro Village will see a sweet rural community of elderly residents spending their time blissfully tending to their gardens and fishing. Take a closer look, however, and you might be in for a scare. The villagers are actually scarecrows! Get it? Nagoro Village, aka Kakashi no Sato (Scarecrow Village), is a unique riverside town in Tokushima Prefecture on Japan’s smallest island, Shikoku. Scarecrow residents outnumber humans ten-to-one in this remote Iya Valley hamlet.
Who made all the scarecrows? More than 200 scarecrows inhabit the town. They’ve become loved by their human neighbors and are often celebrated by the community for bringing back fruitful memories of the past. The scarecrows are all created single-handedly by longtime resident Ayano Tsukimi. Tired of seeing the number of villagers decline over the years, Ayano chose to create a new community of friendly faces. Stuffing old clothes with newspaper and cotton helped her repopulate the once lively neighborhood.
If you’re lucky, there’s a chance you might bump into Ayano herself. She’s just one of approximately thirty people still living in the village.
In recent years, Ayano has started creating dolls that follow international trends. Play a game of real-life “Where’s Waldo,” and see if you can find the US President Donald Trump scarecrow doppelganger or characters from the Harry Potter series. There are also famous Japanese celebrities and comedians.”

“Iya Valley
One of the highest accessible points in Iya Valley, the sheer cliffs of this gorge were carved by generations of the Iya River’s flow. This majestic valley is known as “Hi no Ji Valley” for its resemblance to the Japanese letter “hi”. The valley spans 20 kilometers, offering views of brilliant fresh green in spring and a spread of fiery foliage in autumn. Experience a dizzying beauty as you gaze down at the emerald current of the Iya River, winding along the mountain curves.”

“The Statue of a Peeing Boy
As a symbol of innocent courage, a statue of a peeing boy was constructed at the edge of the nearby precipice, the most perilous spot in Iya Valley. In the old days, it’s said the local children would stand on this cliff and urinate into the ravine to show their bravado.”