Experience the Nature and History of the Nishiawa Area at the Thrilling Kazura Bridges
This is a bridge that is sure to scare you. A squeaking sound follows each of your footsteps, making you feel weak at the knees and sweat with fear. This thrilling experience awaits you at kazura bridges in Nishiawa, Tokushima Prefecture. Woven with kazura, or vine species, the bridge arouses your curiosity not only with its dramatic appearance, but also because of its close ties with local history.
A rarely-visited area with a legend of fleeing Heike warriors
Shikoku is one of the four major islands of the Japanese archipelago. The Nishiawa area, located deep in the mountains of the island, is one of the three most renowned rarely-visited areas in Japan, characterized by its wild valley scenery. It is here where episodes have been passed down by word of mouth about the Jisho-Juei War (or Genpei War; 1180–1185), one of the well-known events in Japanese history. The war was fought between the Genji and Heike clans for control over the whole territory of Japan. Legend has it that the losing Heike warriors fled to this place to live in seclusion. This was probably the origin of the unique culture found here despite the harsh environment. Now known as a tourist destination, kazura bridges were built by weaving kazura vines probably so that they could be easily cut down to stop any invasion by the Genji clan, although some dispute this theory.
Kazura, a plant also used in traditional crafts
The term “kazura” collectively refers to vines. This strong plant grows naturally in the mountains and survives the intense cold of winter, thanks to its robust and sturdy fiber. Indeed, it looks like natural rope. In the Nishiawa area, the plant has been an integral part of daily life since long ago, woven into baskets and artifacts for home decoration.
Also in the Nishiawa area, you can find places where you can try kazura weaving, a traditional local craft technique. You can create your own work with natural materials, and take it home as a souvenir.
Kazura Bridge at Iya: 45m-long nationally designated Important Tangible Folk Cultural Property
Now it’s time to visit the kazura bridges. Despite having served as a means of transport for local residents since olden times, today only two kazura bridges remain: Iya Kazura Bridge in Nishiiyayama Village, and Okuiya Double Kazura Bridge in Okuiya Village. The first, Iya Kazura Bridge, 45m-long, 2m-wide, and 14m-above water, is made with some 5 tons of shirakuchi kazura (Actinidia argute). It is a popular tourist spot and is designated by the government as an Important Tangible Folk Cultural Property. The bridge is rebuilt every three years.
With the development of the surrounding area, now accessible to coaches and private cars, the bridge is lit up at night. You can enjoy the spellbinding image of the bridge emerging against the backdrop of the trees.
Deeper into the mountains: Okuiya Double Kazura Bridge, one of the least visited tourist sites
About an hour’s drive from Iya Kazura Bridge you will find Okuiya Double Kazura Bridge over a valley even deeper in the mountains. This is an extraordinary place full of natural energy, marked by the highly transparent water flowing under the bridge and the crisp, clear air. The spectacular view will make your spine tingle as you think about the Heike warriors living here after fleeing from war. From the traditional crafts to the bridges once used as a means of transport, the kazura vines literally rooted in the local community tell us about the life and history of our ancestors in the distant past.