Read Day 2 here - Iya Valley, Oboke Gorge
Read Day 3 here - Kochi Castle, Ritsurin Garden
For day two of our trip, we headed to another part of Tokushima Prefecture (徳島県). Yesterday when we arrived at JR Tokushima Station, we went to the travel agency located there and asked about tours for Iya Valley and Oboke Gorge. She recommended the Bonnet Bus tour. I found the Bonnet Bus tour online prior to the trip but since it required telephone reservation and I didn't have enough Japanese to communicate, I didn't make the call. The travel agent called and made reservations for us and we paid her on the spot. It was 7500 yen for an almost 6 hour tour including lunch.
The All Shikoku Rail Pass can also be purchased there for 6300 yen for 2 days of unlimited JR rides in Shikoku. It even allows rides up to Okayama for when you leave Shikoku.
In the morning of day two, we took the 9am train from Tokushima Station to Awa-ikeda Station (阿波池田). We arrived at around 10:15am and waited until 10:40am for the tour to begin. There were about 20 people in the tour and half were foreign tourists while the other half were Japanese. The tour itself was mostly in Japanese but they gave us a poster in English at the beginning so at least we knew the names of the places we were going to. The language barrier wasn't a huge problem as long as you knew how to tell time in Japanese so you can understand when the guide wants you back on the bus.
The bus was a small and old vehicle but it zipped through the narrow, often single-lane, mountains roads. In mid-October, the weather forecast said low 20C in the afternoon but it was much colder in the mountains so dress warmly!
A 40 minute drive took us to the first stop, which was the statue of a peeing boy overlooking Iya Valley (祖谷渓谷). Some parts of the tour had English recordings playing over the loudspeaker to explain the sights. I didn't quite catch the story behind this statue but in any case, it was quite amusing to see the placement of this statue. The valley was very deep from our height up in the mountain and that itself was great.
The next stop was already lunch. I was expecting a simple meal because it was included in the tour fee but it was actually a nice meal in a restaurant overlooking the valley. We were served soba noodles, a grilled fish, rice, miso soup and an assortment of other side dishes. I was very full at the end of the meal.
After a short drive, we arrived at Kazurabashi (かずら橋). The bridge was 45 metres long over the Iya River. I have been to a few other suspension bridges before but this one was pretty special. It didn't sway especially dangerously but the floor boards were wide apart such that my small feet could easily slip through. As well, it looked like the bridge was only held up by vine and some pieces of wood (I sure hope there was more reinforcement underneath!)
The Heike Folk Museum was next and it was a traditional Japanese house with different old items inside from baskets to money. Then we went to a rest area in Oboke (大歩危) and a monster greeted us as we alighted the bus. The rest area had a monster mansion and since it was the month of Halloween, they had staff in costume roaming the area and also costumes for kids to wear and take photos in.
The last stop of the tour was a boat cruise down Yoshino River in Oboke. This was the first time where I had to take off my shoes to ride a boat. The floor of the boat was matted and we took off our shoes at the bow before sitting down. The ride was leisurely and we rode in a calm part of the river where the guide pointed out at rocks that resembled animals on the way. He did so in Japanese and none of the rocks looked particularly like animals to me so I didn't know what animals they were supposed to represent.
We were driven back to JR Awa-ikeda Station by 4pm. Overall I think this tour was pretty worthwhile because it would have been difficult navigating the large area via public bus. As well, all the places we went to, except for the rest area, required admission fee and the tour fee included all of those plus a good lunch.
We took the 4:30pm train from Awa-ikeda Station to Kochi Station (高知). The ride was about 75 minutes and cost 2820 yen.