Within the embrace of lofty mountains, time stands still.
Nishi-Awa is a pure land of unchanging patterns and human warmth.
When you arrive here, you’re struck by a sense of unexplored seclusion. It’s a place where one valley leads into another, disappearing into the mist. Little hamlets with patches of farmland cling to the steep mountainsides. There’s nowhere else in Japan like it.
Pathways wind their way right beside the farmhouses of these close-knit communities, where total isolation and limited resources have fostered indissoluble bonds and a spirit of cooperation. From the Heian period, the people of Nishi-Awa have welcomed strangers warmly, accepting them as hospitably as one of their own.
The unique culture that arose on these high mountain slopes fascinated scholar of eastern culture Alex Kerr, who saw the valleys of Iya as a Japanese Shangri-La. Today, many visitors from around the world come to experience its peaceful charm.
Experience the slow life in rustic homes on the mountainside
From ancient times, the Nishi-Awa district was the crossroads of Shikoku Island with its four domains. Located in the mountainous heart of Shikoku, anyone travelling between the domains would pass through this area. In olden times, human pathways travelled high up, over the tops of the mountains.
A natural adventure playground for all ages
The Yoshino River which flows through Nishi-Awa is considered to be one of the three greatest rivers in Japan. As such, it’s nicknamed ‘Shikoku Saburo’ – Saburo being the traditional name for the third son of the family. This name is considered very evocative, and it’s a source of pride to people in Shikoku.
A region of living history
From the Edo Period, the parts of the Nishi-Awa region close to the navigable reaches of the Yoshino River thrived on trade. One of the main commodities was indigo-dyed products. Today, Japan’s national sports teams wear uniforms with a colour known as ‘Japan Blue’. This is basically indigo blue, which comes from a plant that thrives in Japan.
Hiking the mountains of legend
Mt. Tsurugi in Nishi-Awa is the second highest mountain in western Japan. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, its name means ‘sword’. The mountain is sacred to the practitioners of the secretive Shugendo religion which combines elements of Shinto, esoteric Buddhism and Taoism. Believers dress in white cloth and animal skins, and undertake challenging mountain treks to develop their spirituality.
The bounty of the forests, fields and rivers, served with sake
Nishi-Awa is a landlocked region, and although the areas near the Yoshino River have ready access to the sea, the valleys have none. The steep valley sides are ill-suited to growing rice in paddies, so these regions developed their own sources of nutrition as an alternative to the typical Japanese staples of rice and seafood.