While driving on the steep curves of highway 32 in Tokushima Prefecture, you might spot some spectacular rock formations, rising dramatically from both banks of the Yoshino River below. Just around the corner from the Iya Valley, you have arrived at the famous Oboke Gorge, a one-of-a-kind natural landscape in Japan, bearing witness to the region’s ancient and sometimes violent seismic activity.
Lest you be distracted by this amazing sight and take your eyes off the narrow road, make a stop here to explore the gorge from the river on a boat cruise, or for the more adventurous, a river rafting expedition.
A 40 Million Year Old Landscape
Though large enough to see clearly from the heights of the valley, you can only truly appreciate the features of the Oboke Gorge by getting up close. I personally have never seen any rock formations like these, slicing out of the water looking as if they were carved by a rock sculptor instead of being formed by nature.
And yet, these rocks are a wonder of nature, born from the shifting of tectonic plates more than 100 million years ago and finally appearing above the surface of water 40 million years ago, with the rising of Shikoku’s mountain range combined with the erosion caused by the waters of the Yoshino River. It is an incredible sight that will leave you wondering about the raw power of the earth moving beneath us.
If photos are not enough to convince you, consider that the Oboke Gorge was designated as a Natural Monument of Japan in 2014 as well as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty the following year! It is the only place in Tokushima Prefecture that has received both designations, and a rarity in the entire country of Japan as well.
Cruising the Yoshino River
To fully enjoy the beauty of this unique landscape while learning about its history, hop on a boat for a cruise on the Yoshino River.
While touring the Oboke Gorge seems simple enough today, it wasn’t always such a casual activity. Imagine that back in the day, anyone wishing to go to the Oboke Gorge would have to hike some treacherous mountain paths located 70 to 80 meters above today’s road, where one bad step could be fatal.
The pleasure boat cruise that we will be enjoying actually started more than 100 years ago! While going fishing daily on the Yoshino River, a certain Isokichi Ohira was so enchanted by the beauty of the place that he decided he should share it with more people. This is how he started offering boat tours in the Oboke Gorge area as early as 1891.
This leisurely cruise will allow you to take a closer look at the famous crystalline schist rocks, protruding from the clear waters to impressive heights.
Depending on the weather and seasons, the colors of the river vary from hues of green to turquoise, providing a colorful contrast to the white rocks. Though the depth of the river is about 4 meters, you can often see clear to the riverbed below. In still areas, reflections of the rocks can be seen on the surface of the river, making for some incredible opportunities for photographs.
Kites (the birds, not the toys on string) fly alongside the boats, lured by the promise of food from the boat captains. Schools of fish also follow along, curious of this large object floating in the water above.
The area around the gorge is also well-known by canoe and water rafting enthusiasts, the Yoshino River being one of Japan’s few rivers to have enough water to enjoy these types of watersports year-round. There are plenty of good reasons to enjoy the Oboke Gorge at any time of the year, however; from the Spring cherry blossoms to the Autumn leaves.
A gourmet meal with a view
Once you have removed your life jacket and set foot on solid ground again, make sure to stop by the Obokekyo Mannaka restaurant, overlooking the boat cruise launch. Perched on a massive rock, saying that this building is impressive to see from below is an understatement!
Here you will find a menu of refined and delicious cuisine prepared from locally sourced ingredients: fresh fish from the river, eel, a small individual nabe (hot pot), soba noodles, rice, and pickled vegetables.
To make the most of your lunch, ask to be seated next to the large windows which offer a perfect view of the Oboke Gorge below.
If you come to enjoy a high quality meal here, you will also appreciate the exceptional service given by the restaurant staff as well. From the greeting you receive the moment you enter to the bows as you leave the restaurant, you will feel like a pampered guest here. Even if the restaurant is not open for lunch, you can still come in to browse the nice selection of souvenirs available here.
Reaching the Oboke Gorge
Here is an estimate of the travel times to reach the Oboke Gorge from a few of Japan’s major cities:
From Tokyo: About 5 hours by train or 1 hour 20 minutes by plane from Haneda to Takamatsu airport, followed by 2 hours of transportation to reach the Oboke station
From Osaka: 2 hour 45 minutes by train from Shin-Osaka station
From Kyoto: around 3 hours by train
|Category||Restaurant & Boat cruise|
|Address||レストラン大歩危峡まんなか, 西宇1520, 三好市山城町, 徳島県 779-5451|
|Access||[map]レストラン大歩危峡まんなか, 西宇1520, 三好市山城町, 徳島県 779-5451[/map]|
|Opening Hours||Everyday 9:00-17:00|
|Price Range||Boat tickets : 1080 yen adult, 540 yen child|