Watch Your Step on These Scary Vine Bridges

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Dec. 6 2013 11:16 AM

The Vine Bridges of Iya Valley, Japan

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Roads, shops, and hotels are gradually encroaching on the misty gorges and winding rivers of Japan's remote Iya Valley. But slung across the canyon are three remnants of the 12th century Genpei War: bridges made from mountain vines.

It is thought that the bridges of Iya Valley were first created by members of the Heike clan who took refuge in the valley after being defeated in the 1180-1185 war. The bridges provided a passage across the 148-foot gap above the Iya river and also protected the Heike from enemy attacks: if they were pursued, they could simply cut the vines and sever the link.

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The original bridge paths were made of thin wooden planks with 8- to 12-inch gaps between them. The cables stringing everything together were made from woven Wisteria vines. There were no guard rails, and the bridges would bounce wildly every time a brave soul attempted to cross it.

Though they retain much of the original aesthetic, today's bridges are more sturdy than their predecessors: steel cables are hidden beneath the vines, the gaps between planks measure seven inches, and each bridge is rebuilt every three years. Still, with a 45-foot drop to the river and a swaying sensation accompanying every footstep, it's a harrowing walk to the other side.

More bridges where you'll fear to tread:


View 祖谷渓 in a larger map

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