As the car crosses the 1,620-meter long bridge, the sun is timidly peeking through the clouds over Naruto Strait, adding to the outstanding scenic beauty of the Seto Inland Sea.
On this trip, I cross Onaruto Bridge, one Japan’s most advanced bridges connecting Awaji Island to Tokushima, which offers my last glimpse at Japan’s technology before I venture into the region’s many fascinations, including suspension bridges over majestic canyons, secluded valleys, historic towns, and stunning works of art.
For the next two days, I will travel through Tokushima, one of the four prefectures of Shikoku Island, renowned for its harmonious co-existence of its unique culture and wild nature.
Tokushima prefecture, which benefits from an extensive coastline along the Pacific Ocean, has a lot of room for striking natural wonders. But what makes it stand out is the cultural experiences and venues that complement its beautiful nature designed to give visitors a chance to learn about and actively experience the prefecture’s fascinating culture.
Uzunomichi Walkway: Close Encounter with Powerful Whirlpools in the Naruto Straits
Within minutes of crossing the Onaruto Bridge by car, I am again back on the same bridge, but this time as a pedestrian. Uzunomichi Walkway is a 450-meter-long glass-lined pedestrian path built right under Onaruto Bridge with splendid views of Naruto Strait (鳴門海峡), which connects the Seto Inland Sea with Kii Channel. Like most visitors, including me, we are here to see one of the most fascinating yet equally intimidating natural phenomena in the world — whirlpools.
Naruto whirlpools can reach 20 meters in diameter, resulting from the powerful clash of the two opposing tidal currents, which, at times, reach speeds over 20km/hour, making it one of the strongest currents in the world.
As a native of Istanbul (which is divided by the Bosphorus Strait over the European and Asian continents), I am a fan of bridges for the sense of connectivity that they bring.
Thus, the opportunity to walk the path under Onaruto Bridge that connects Shikoku to Awajishima Island is already exciting enough for me. However, the real reward awaits me at the end of the walkway. Here, I enter an observatory room where the whirlpools, in all their roaring glory, can be observed through the safety of the glass floors. Water has a hypnotizing impact on me, and I could happily watch the two fierce tides colliding for hours.
Naruto whirlpools are best observed twice a day within one to two hours before and after each tide, updated daily on the observatory’s tide calendar.
The whirlpool boat tours are also an excellent option for those who want to get even closer to the whirlpools. If you prefer to observe the whirlpools from dry land, there are observatory points, including Senjojiki Observatory and Eska Hill.
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Otsuka Museum of Art: Honoring the Greatest Artworks of the World
My next stop of the day is Otsuka Museum of Art, located within minutes away from Uzunomichi Walkway by car, to look at some of the most cherished human-made wonders of our world.
Otsuka Museum of Art, built in celebration of Japanese Otsuka group’s 75th anniversary in 1998.
It houses over 1,000 ceramic boards that feature full-scale reproductions of some of the most well-known Western artworks.
The museum’s permanent collection, one of the largest in Japan, consists of about 1,000 Western paintings. The collection includes not only famous paintings such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper but also wall paintings of religious buildings revered around the world, such as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo and the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova, Italy.
As I enter the Scrovegni Chapel and hear chanting, I am not sure what moves me more — to be able to re-experience this exquisite chapel in Japan that I once visited in Padova, Italy, or tremendous efforts into reproducing these artistic wonders so close to the original.
Some of the masterpieces on display include The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, the seven sunflower paintings* by Van Gogh; Girl with a Pearl Earring by Jan Vermeer, and the Last Supper (both before and after restoration) by Leonardo da Vinci.
*Notably, it also includes a phantom piece that was destroyed by fire during World War II.
One can easily spend a day in the museum, including a restaurant, a café, and a gift shop.
*Restaurant is closed due to the Corona.
Udatsu Old Street: Edo Era Vibes in a Stylish Setting
My next stop takes me into the inner parts of Tokushima Prefecture. After about an hour’s drive from the Otsuka Museum of Art, I soon come to the traditional yet stylish aura of Udatsu Old Street in Wakimachi town.
Tokushima’s fertile land is ideal for indigo cultivation, and during the Edo period (1603-1868), it became a major producer of indigo, bringing enormous wealth to the region.
Udatsu, the name of the udatsu-lined streets, refers to a firewall raised at both ends of the roof to prevent fires from neighboring houses. Initially, they were built for fire prevention purposes, but because of the huge cost of installing them, they gradually became mostly decorative and a symbol of wealth.
On this autumn day, the fall leaves perfectly complement the white walls and the elegant architecture along Udatsu street, which is deservedly listed as one of the 100 scenic roads of Japan.
Enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch at one of the stylish restaurants lining the streets, and even participate in indigo dyeing workshops.
Indigo Dyeing: Try Your Hand at Tokushima’s Centuries-Old Craft at Waza no Yakata
The natural dyeing industry, which was once a leading economic driver in Tokushima and dating to nearly 800 years ago, is today replaced by synesthetic dyeing processes. However, the natural dyeing process still lives on in the prefecture as a traditional craft.
Kamiita town, located 30 minutes away from Wakimachi, where the Udatsu old streets were located, is one of the leading centers of natural indigo dyeing, assumes a key role in transmitting this traditional craft to the new generations. Visitors can join indigo dyeing workshops at Waza no Yakata (技の館), home to a modestly sized museum space that takes visitors through the region’s indigo dyeing heritage.
Due to my well-proven lack of talent for crafts, I initially feel a little shy to try my hand in indigo dyeing. But with the encouragement of my two travel companions, I soon find myself wearing an apron, trying to fold the fabric and get it ready for the dying.
Our instructor gently guides us through the process, which takes roughly an hour. The most fun part of the whole ordeal comes when we gently immerse the fabric in the fermented indigo dye for five to ten minutes.
We all take a glance at each other’s “unique” techniques and applaud each other for our modest but colorful results. I’d highly recommend an indigo dyeing workshop for its relaxing experience, whether traveling solo or in a group.
Iya Kazurabashi Bridge: Legendary History and Thrilling Experience
As we drove along the winding Iya road, I could feel the excitement slowly building as we neared the Iya Kazura Bridge ahead. The Kazura Bridge, a symbol of Iya Gorge, is a 45-meter-long suspension bridge suspended 14 meters above the Iya River, hidden deep in the Iya Valley.
Iya Kazurabashi Bridge is the longest vine bridge out of the three remaining vine bridges in Iya Valley, once home to 13 vine bridges. There are two competing legends about the history of these picturesque bridges. One theory links the bridges to the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan, Kobo Daishi. Another captivating theory suggests that the bridges were built by Heike soldiers aiming to take a refugee deep in the valley after their defeat in Genpei War (1180-1185) fought between Taira and Minamoto clans during the late Heian period.
Either one of the theories inspires me to rush to the bridge’s entrance to experience this breathtaking scenery. Soon, I find myself slowly negotiating the bridge’s wooden planks for an adrenaline-rushing experience. Rest assured, the bridge is re-built once every three years and supported by wire hidden under the vines.
Biwa Waterfalls, meters away from the bridge’s exit, is another scenic spot in the area worth making time to visit. There are some small shops selling snacks and cold beer on the way to the bridge and waterfall.
Iya Onsen Hotel: The Ultimate Getaway Deep in Iya Valley
With its captivating beauty, magnificent nature, and the sense of secludedness of these “hidden lands”, Iya Valley is not one you want to leave willingly. Hidden in the remote corners of Iya Valley, away from all the other facilities, is Iya Onsen Hotel, offering a beautiful refuge for those wishing to expand their time in the valley.
As soon as I checked in, I took a dip in the hotel’s indoor bath overlooking the canyon. The colorful foliage seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows made me feel as if I were inside a painting. However, there is one open-air bath in this hotel that surpasses this superb experience.
The next morning at 7:00 a.m., we boarded a small cable car that departed from the hotel and headed for the outdoor baths at the bottom of the valley. After a five-minute cable car ride, we descended into the valley and enjoyed a pre-breakfast bath in the open-air bath along the river. It is one of those moments when I feel the joy of being alive and the beauty of these remote corners of the world in my bones.
The wonderful onsen experience at the hotel is complemented by the delicious cuisine featuring seasonal Tokushima dishes. The stylishly designed dining room overlooking the valley turns the dining experience into a very atmospheric one matching the uniqueness of the hotel’s location.
Tokushima has what I find to be the most fascinating things about Japan. Human culture respects nature, is inspired by nature, is shaped by nature, and nature gives back generously to human beings. Tokushima is one of the best regions in Japan to experience this rewarding exchange between nature and humans.
Photographs and text by Burcu Basar
Tokushima-ken, Naruto-shi, Naruto-cho (Naruto Koen)
Opening hours: March to September: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm, October to February: 9:00 am – 4:30 pm, Golden Week: 8:00 am – 6:30 pm
Closing Days: Closed on the 2nd Mondays of March, June, September, and December
Fee: Adults over high school age 510 JPY
HP (English): https://www.uzunomichi.jp/lang_en/
・Otsuka Museum of Art
65-1, Fukuike, Naruto-cho Tosadomariura, Naruto-shi, Tokushima
Opening hours: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm every day (Ticket sales will be until 4:00 p.m.)
Closing days: Mondays (or the following day if Monday is a national holiday); Closed on consecutive days in January and other special holidays; open all days in August
Fee: General: 3,300 JPY; College students: 2,200 JPY, Elementary, junior and high school students: 550 JPY
HP (English): https://o-museum.or.jp/en/
・Udatsu Old Street
92,Oaza Wakimachi, Wakimachi,Mima,Tokushima
・Kamiita-cho Waza no Yakata
32-4, Harahigashi, Izumidani, Kamiita-cho, Itano-gun, Tokushima
Opening hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Closing days: Mondays, year-end and New Year holidays (Dec. 28 – Jan. 4)
Indigo Dyeing Workshop Fee: Handkerchief 800 JPY. Please check our website for other menu items.
HP (Japanese): https://wazanoyakata.com/
・Iya Kazurabashi Bridge
162-2 Nishiiyayamamura Zentoku, Miyoshi-shi, Tokushima
Opening hours: April to June : 8:00 am to 6:00 pm; July – August: 7:30 am – 6:30 pm; September – March: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm;
Fee: Adults: 550 JPY; Children: 350 JPY
・Hotel Iya Onsen
367-28, Matsuo Matumoto, Ikeda-cho Miyoshi-shi, Tokushima
Room rates vary depending on the plan. Please check the website for details.
HP (Japanese): https://www.iyaonsen.co.jp
HP (English): https://www.iyaonsen.co.jp/en/