Locations, Photojournalism

The Shikoku Files – Kominka Koya and Making Soba in Iya Valley

Despite having been a photographer in Japan for almost 10 years, until this year I never had a chance to visit Shikoku, which is one of the 4 main islands that make up the country. Last month, thanks to Japan Rail Shikoku and Rod Walters of Shikoku Tours, I finally had the opportunity to go, and I couldn’t be happier.

Shikoku is the smallest of 4 main islands but is packed with rich history and tradition. We started out on a trip to explore some of the traditional crafts of Shikoku as well as to discover less often visited gems in the countryside.

The first port of call was Iya valley, an area in the mountainous interior of Tokushima with some beautiful rivers and hiking trails. We stopped in at a small restaurant where a wonderful lady called Tsuzuki-san will teach you how to weave baskets from local vine, as well as teach you how to make buckwheat soba.

 

The next place we visited was our accommodation for the night; a place called Kominka Kouya nestled high up in the mountains. It honestly ranks up there as one of the best places I have ever spent a night in my life. It’s a converted tobacco farmer’s house with a breathtaking view over the Iya mountains. The building itself has been unaltered from its original state, albeit with the addition of modern bathroom facilities and other amenities to make your stay pleasant. The wooden structure is absolutely gorgeous, having stood for over 100 years. For a person like me who occasionally (more like often) gets sick of the unstoppable inertia of living in Tokyo, coming to a place like Kominka Kouya is a salve for the soul. As you gaze across the mountain range from the ancient wooden veranda with nothing but the sound of the breeze in your ears, you can experience true, true serenity at this place.

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And that’s all before I even mention the FOOD at this place! Oh my gosh, I don’t think I’ve ever been spoilt so much with the gargantuan spread the folks a Kouya put on. Starting with a massive skillet of tofu, fish, potatoes and other delicacies basted in miso and simmered over the sunken hearth stoked with long-burning charcoal, they continued to prepare in front of us flame-roasted wild boar and with bowls of fluffy rice and fresh pickles. Add to that 3 or 4 chilled bottles of locally brewed sake and I think you’ll be as close to heaven as it is possible to be on this mortal coil. The best part about it is that the lovely family that runs Kouya really give you a warm welcome and make you feel at home as they prepare your meal in front of you – it’s five star personalized service that never gets imposing.

If you’re ever in Tokushima, a stay at Kouya should be right at the top of the list!

Stay tuned for further installments of The Shikoku Files as I chart our journey across this beautiful island!

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