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The vine bridges of Japan’s Iya Valley

Published Dec 23, 2013

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Tokyo - 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.

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The bridges provided a passage across the 45m 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.

The original bridge paths were made of thin wooden planks with 20cm to 30cm 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 them.

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 the planks measure 18cm, and each bridge is rebuilt every three years. Still, with a 15m drop to the river and a swaying sensation accompanying every footstep, it’s a harrowing walk to the other side. - Slate

l Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

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