I’ve taken quite a few boat rides during my time in Japan, but none of them had been in Shikoku. So during our family vacation to the smallest of Japan’s four major islands the other month, we made sure to grab a seat on one of the boats that cruised up and down the Oboke Gorge in the western part of the Iya Valley.
The Iya Valley is one of those “hidden” regions in Japan, marked by forested peaks, craggy river valleys, copious amounts of snow in the wintertime and roads so small you wonder just how you and the tour bus headed your way are going to squeeze through without someone taking a plunge off the cliff.
While the views from the narrow lanes of the valley are lovely, you get a better perspective of the region’s geology from the boat cruises (called kawa kudari) that leave from near the Lapis Oboke building. This isn’t an adrenaline rush kind of boat trip, however. (That can be found not too far away on another branch of the Yoshino River.) Rather, this cruise is a leisurely 30 minute jaunt up the river to see some of the more unique rock formations along the riverbanks. While the guide only spoke Japanese, we were provided with a very detailed English leaflet that explained both the rock formations and the entire geological history of the area.
Boats leave at least once an hour from the dock on the riverbank, which is reached via a 7-8 minute walk down the hill (ramps are provided the entire way) from the main ticket building. You have to remove your shoes when you enter the boat and life vests must be worn by all passengers.
Compared to some of the other experiences I’ve had on river cruises here in Japan, I didn’t necessarily feel this was a good investment of our money (it’s ¥1080 per adult, kids are half price). But with a 4-year-old along, we couldn’t exactly live it up on a whitewater adventure and the scenery was undeniably appealing. I’d try to time your visit for autumn, when the colors in the gorge are livened up by the changing maple trees.