Thrilling river crossing: vine bridges, Shikoku, Japan

Article updated on May 25, 2020
Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

When the Heike clan lost the Shido-no-Ura battle against the Geinji Clan in the 13th century, they were forced to flee and live in the remote mountains of the Iya Valley on Shikoku Island.


The legend says they built vine bridges over the river so that they could cut them off and escape their pursuers. The bridges became the lifeline of the inhabitants of these mountains, also serving for trade and pilgrimages up Mount Tsurugi. They were often doubled with a yaen (a wooden box tied up to a rope on which you would pull to transport goods or people across the river).

If you are up for a thrill, you can still cross these swaying and slippery bridges over the roaring waters of the Iya River in two locations: Iya-no-Kazura Bashi and Oku-Iya Niju Kazura Bashi.

Like in the ancient times, the bridges are maintained by locals. They are rebuilt every three years and made of the Actinidia Arguta vine, a tough vine that grows aggressively in the mountains of Shikoku. Two vines are grown on each side of the river, and then woven together before the bridge is planked.

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Old vine bridge over a roaring river and green forest around in Japan.

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For more articles about Shikoku, click on the images below:

Japan food series soba noodles displayed with their dippings. Several images depicting Japanese pilgrims with white clotes, stone buddhas, a vine bridge and a mountain road with traditional houses in Japan. Rocky summit of the sacred Ishizuchi san in Shikoku in the clouds. A hiker climbs the chains.Ukai cormorant fishing in Japan. Japanese man in a wooden boat with cormorants on both sides.

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Rocky peak of Mount Asahi-dake with blue skies, a person with backpack hiking a ridgeline, snow and colourful tents in the mountain. Mountains with clouds and smoke from volcanic activity in Hokkaido, Japan. Blue pond in Hokkaido with dead trees. Woman riding a bicye on an empty road. Green fields.Wild salmon jumping up against a waterfall during its migration, Japan. Brown bear cub in the grass with white text, Japan. Emptpy street of the old Japense town Tsumago with traditional Japanese houses in the mountains. Japanese floats and people dressed up for their summer festivals. People playing the drums. Three wooden bridges covered in moss in an oasis of greenery at the temple of Kokedera, Kyoto, Japan. Buddha statue engraved in a rock with scent sticks in front of it and a red text on a white box saying: The Usuki Stone Buddhas, Japan's National Treasure


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