Cold Water Adventures & Hot Springs on Japan’s Shikoku Island

Oboke Ravine Pleasure Boats

Oboke Ravine Pleasure Boats

By David Latt

The southern island of Shikoku is a short plane ride from busy, modern Tokyo. The fourth largest island in the Japanese archipelago has preserved its historic qualities and offers back-to-nature experiences.

The waterways, parks, forests, temples, rustic inns and small towns of the island have a wonderful laid-back quality. Shikoku is the perfect destination for travelers to Japan eager for a leisurely engagement with nature.

The Oboke Ravine Pleasure Boat

The concrete staircase underneath the Oboke Ravine Pleasure Boat gift shop leads down a steep hillside. When you emerge into the sunlight and look up, you realize how deep the ravine is. High overhead, the gift shop hovers ten stories above the Oshino River.

The open-air sightseeing boats are suitable for adults and families with children. As you climb into the boat, you are directed to take off your shoes, put on a life jacket and sit along the sides of the small boat.

When the river level is low, the current is gentle, but during the rainy season, the river runs fast creating a white water rapids ride. When I visited, the river was not very high but even then the boat surged forward where the river channel narrowed.

The guide directed us to look up at the cliff face to see evidence of a violent geologic history. Millions of years ago, earthquakes pushed up slabs of rock three stories high. On a pleasant afternoon with sunny skies, that upheaval was ancient history. As we sailed, people on the rocks above the river bank were having picnics and waved down to us.

When you are in the boat, don’t plan on uploading selfies or doing live streaming because there is no cell service in the ravine. For thirty minutes, you have left the outside world behind.  As you float down the Oshino, you can enjoy the scenery without interruption.

Iya-no Kazurabashi Bridge

Iya-no Kazurabashi Bridge

Iya-no Kazurabashi Bridge

Half an hour away from the Oboke Ravine by car, the Iya River beckons. To cross the river, instead of boats, centuries ago fibrous mountain vines were woven together to create suspension bridges. That amazing feat is replicated on the Kazurabashi Bridge. Indigenous vines were used to create thick strands which in turn are supported by steel cables to ensure safety. Walking across the wobbly one hundred and fifty-foot bridge was fun, but the women in our group were encouraged to wear sensible footwear since the gaps between the slats were inhospitable to high heeled shoes.

Hotel Iya Onsen

tatami floor in room at Hotel Iya Onsen, Shikoku Island, Japan

Hotel Iya Onsen

Complete your experience in the Iya Valley and stay at Hotel Iya Onsen, a Japanese style country inn called a ryokan with tatami floors and futon beds. The hotel is famous for its outdoor stone baths fed by a mineral hot spring.

As is traditional in a ryokan, when I arrived, I was offered a kimono to wear.  Self-conscious, at first I hesitated. After some encouragement, I agreed. With directions from the staff, I put on the elegant dark blue textured haori, worn like a double-breasted jacket, tied the obi sash around my waist and took a quick approving look in the mirror.

My first kimono-attired stop was the men’s side of the natural hot springs bath. After a day of traveling and exploring, a shower and a hot soak sounded very good.

To reach the baths from the hotel there was a five-minute ride in a funicular, a small cable car that traveled up and down the steep hill without a driver. The baths themselves were open to the air with a view of the gorge and river below. Not too hot, the water was just warm enough to ease tired muscles. I completely lost track of time.

Luckily I roused myself in time to have dinner, which at Iya Onsen was a delicious, visual feast of delicacies including grilled whole fish from the local waters, braised daikon, pork sukiyaki, vegetable tempura, dried persimmon, pickles and desserts. I wore my kimono again and loved how comfortable it felt.

Naruto Whirlpools, Shikoku Island, Japan

Naruto Whirlpools, Shikoku Island, Japan

The Naruto Whirlpools

Travel around the island is easy to do by car and train. As efficient as their Swiss counterparts, punctual, comfortable JR trains crisscross the island. To reach Tokushima on the northern tip of the island, I took the fun Anpanman train, vividly painted inside and outside with images of popular children’s cartoon characters.

There, I visited the Naruto Whirlpools. A natural consequence of the collision of waters from the Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the whirlpools in the Naruto Straits are forceful enough to grab onto large tour boats and carry them around in circles. Standing on the Onaruto Bridge in the glass floored observation deck called “Uzu no Michi,” you can look down on clearly defined whirlpools that look like a Hollywood special effect.

Or, you can go into the belly of the beast and take a sightseeing boat on a thirty-minute journey to the edge of the whirlpool. On the afternoon as we first approached, the wind blasted across the deck and the boat tilted as it was captured by the force of the watery vortex. I found a spot in the middle of the boat holding on to one of the metal poles conveniently placed every few feet. As we sailed toward the second whirlpool, I moved closer to the action and stood at the railing as we were caught on the outer rim of the whirlpool.

As the boat hitched a ride on the outer rim, the noise was loud as water rushed down into the whirlpool, the wind blew across the deck, the engine revved and screams of joy came from everyone enjoying a real thrill ride.

To experience the whirlpools at their most dramatic point, check the tides by visiting the official website, which is partly in English:

Oboke Ravine

Oboke Ravine




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