Posted in Culture, Food, Photography, Travel

The Islands of Japan – Ishigaki

Closer to Taiwan than Tokyo,  Ishigaki-jima (石垣島) is the main island of the Yaeyama Archipelago in Okinawa Prefecture. Flights to Ishigaki Airport are available from Tokyo, Osaka and Naha. Day-trips to the surrounding islands, such as Taketomi-jima, Iriomote-jima, Kuro-shima and Kohama-jima are recommended.

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Image: The New York Times

Surrounded by coral reefs and clear waters, Ishigaki is perfect for all sorts of water activities – scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, kite-surfing and more! Popular with divers is a zone known as Manta Scramble in Kabira Marine Park Zone, aptly named as one may be able to see a mantle ray. Otherwise, view beautiful blue coral colonies from boats with see-through bottom at Shiraho Marine Park Zone.

World’s largest blue reef colony, Shiraho Reef | http://amamika.com/japan_travel/islands/ishigaki-tips/

Nature lovers will not want to miss out on a visit to  the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, which includes Mount Omoto and Kabira Bay. Home to evergreen broad-leaved forests and a rich diversity wildlife, Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park has both cultural and scientific value. Opt for a kayaking tour along Fukidou River to marvel at the magnificent mangrove ecosystems. Kabira Bay is popular with tourists but swimming is prohibited (to protect the black pearls). However, just taking amazing photographs of the sea is tempting enough.

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Coral viewing from glass-bottomed boat at Kabira Bay | https://flic.kr/p/a11Xjw

With so many limestone cave systems throughout the island, exploring these caves is another highlight of the trip. Sabichi Cave is unusual as it leads out to the beach.

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Sabichi cave beach exit | https://flic.kr/p/ookd44

For those who want a fantastic view, there are several vantage points to choose from. Make your way down to Cape Hirakubo and be rewarded with spectacular photographs with the lighthouse, while the view at the foot of Cape Uganzaki is one of rugged beauty.

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Gorgeous view of the Hirakubo lighthouse | https://flic.kr/p/nHLUjw

 Meanwhile, Tamatorizaki Observatory offers two views – the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, while Kannonzaki Viewpoint is ideal for a picnic and to catch the sunset. Right across from it is the Toujin Grave, which serves as a memorial for the Chinese labourers who perished when their boat crashed off the island coast.

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Colourful decorations featuring Chinese mythical creatures at Toujin Grave | https://flic.kr/p/oiL6uJ

Others prefer the less popular observation point at Banna Park.

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Panoramic view of Ishigaki from Banna Park | https://flic.kr/p/9mqARy

Built in 1819, Miyara Dunchi Residence in Ishigaki city is one of the few remaining traditional Ryukyuan samurai houses. Designated as an Important Cultural Property, the house has a splendid dry landscape Japanese-style garden, and the original roof was replaced with classic Okinawan red tiled roof.

One unique aspect of Ishigaki is its cuisine, which features a lot of meat due to American influence. For example, spam can be found in many dishes. Ishigaki beef is the top favourite and can be found in many restaurants around the island such as Hitoshi Ishiganto. Also try Yaeyama soba (Eifuku Shokudo), coconut crabs and fresh seafood (Akebono)! For those who need their daily coffee fix, High Tide Cafe is a lovely, hip place to chill!

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Mouth-watering Ishigaki beef sushi! | https://flic.kr/p/5USTVX
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Freshly prepared squid ink soba | https://flic.kr/p/jHe5jG

Tired of the usual hotel stay? Check out nico-stay for something cuter and cooler! It really makes you experience the summer vibe that is almost always associated with Okinawa!

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Rooms almost too cute to sleep in | http://www.nico-stay.com/

Here’s a visual tour of the hostel and see Ishigaki in live-action!

Instead of cycling around the island, the best way is probably to drive, as the terrain can be rough but car rental is relatively affordable.

Extra, extra, extra:

  • How does it feel like to dive with mantle rays? (Fast-forward to somewhere near the end).
  • Don’t forget to catch these festivals when planning your trip to Ishigaki!
  • Check out what else does the Yaeyama Islands have to offer!

Are you excited for the next island feature?

2 thoughts on “The Islands of Japan – Ishigaki

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