One of Japan's three "hidden" valleys, West Iya Valley is home to the kind of misty gorges, clear rivers, and thatch-roofed houses that one imagines from a Japan of 100 years ago. Remote and difficult to enter, the valley was a favored hideout of refugees, bandits, and disgraced warriors. To get across the Iya river that splits the rough valley terrain, these bandits, warriors, and locals created a very special, if unsteady, type of bridge — a vine bridge.
Two Wisteria vines — a particularly aggressive and tough vine that climbs around any host — were grown to extraordinary lengths from either side of the river. Once the vines had reached a sufficient length they were woven together and planking was woven into them at 8 to 12 inches apart. The bridge had no sides and a Japanese historical source relates that the original vine bridge was so unstable, that when those who were not used to it attempted to cross, the bridge would start to sway and bounce wildly causing the poor soul to freeze in place, unable to go any farther. No doubt this suited the reclusive residents of Iya Valley just fine.
Three such vine bridges remain. The more popular of the vine bridges is in West Iya, quite close to the main village, but the most beautiful vine bridges are a pair found in the east of the valley, known as the husband and wife bridges. Though stories range as to their origins, some believe they were built in the 1100s.
While some (though apparently not all) of the bridges have been reinforced with wire and side rails, they are still harrowing to cross. 147 feet long, with planks set seven inches apart and a drop of four and a half stories to the water, they are not for those with a fear of heights. As one bridge crosser put it: "You never think a vine bridge is scary until you walk on one and shit a brick."
About a two-hour drive from Tokushima City, the bridges can still be crossed for 500 yen. Be sure not to miss the nearby "Mannekin Pis" a statue of a boy peeing into the water from a tremendous height to prove his manliness.