I have always wanted to visit Okinawa and the other southern islands, but due to their very southern location and not the cheapest flights, I had yet to get down there. Since I was covering places in Japan that I had always wanted to go to but hadn’t, I decided now was the time to make the trek. Okinawa held the promise of being Japan’s Hawaii where beautiful beaches and warm weather which are two things I love. When I started researching Okinawa a few other islands piqued my interest, especially Ishigaki and Taketomi.
The trip down from Hiroshima started out not so great as I got to the airport and maybe five minutes before we were supposed to start boarding my flight got delayed. Then delayed again which lead to me not being able to catch my connecting flight and having to get rebooked on another flight. I will say, the Japanese do have flight delays and airport inconveniences down to help alleviate the headaches. I had to go back out through security (which is such an easy and smooth process that I wonder why we can’t be more like them in this regard), back to the airline counter, get my bags tagged for the correct flights, and get rebooked. They even gave me a $10 coupon to buy whatever I wanted in the airport! Once I got that sorted out I went back to (im)patiently wait for my flight. And then it got pushed back again. And again 👎🏻. When we could finally board I was about five hours behind schedule and hoping that the buses would still be running on this teeny island and that I could still checkin to my hostel as I wouldn’t get in until almost 10 or so. Thankfully it all worked out, but it definitely was a looooong travel day.
I decided to fly down to Ishigaki to begin my island exploration and I am quite happy I did as it literally did feel like the Kauai of Japan. Ishigaki is part of the Yaeyama islands and is closer to Taiwan than the main island (Honshu) of Japan. I was impressed by how well maintained the mini airport was and there was even a Starbucks! I was the only non Asian on the flight down from Hiroshima and I thought that was a good sign as it meant I was getting off the grid and away from the other mainstream tourist hubs. It was funny to see everyone wearing slippers (or flip flops as you mainlanders say 🙄) and Hawaiian shirts and I felt like I was at home.
The first day I decided to go explore a beautiful bay called Kabira which was a little over an hour away by bus through roads lined with cane and pineapple fields- reminding me again so much of Hawaii! You can’t swim in Kabira Bay as there is pearl cultivation going on, but you can take a ride on a glass bottom boat which I decided to try out. The coral wasn’t too impressive, but I did see eels, a squid, a turtle, and so many different kinds of colorful fish that I am happy I decided to jump on the boat. The views around the bay were spectacular and I couldn’t get enough of the turquoise water 😍. Spent some more time walking all around the Bay and the town surrounding it and quite liked it. Due to the bus time tables and frequency (one about every two hours and only a few a day) this was the only place I really got to explore as I learned renting a car is what is recommended, but I wasn’t about to try driving on the opposite side of the road. I did get back to my hostel before sunset and went to a beach one of the hostel employees recommended to go watch the view. The sunset happened to not be super impressive, but the beach was quite nice.
The next day I decided to take a ferry over to another island called Taketomi which turned out to be my favorite place in all of Japan because the beach was freaking gorgeous!!! The water was crystal clear and turquoise colored and I spent a good part of the day laying out in the sun, splashing around in the water, and exploring most of the coastline by foot. I came upon a beach where people were digging around in the sand and was wondering what was going on. Turns out this beach, Kaiji, is one of the few in the world with star shaped sand! How cool is that?! Instead of spending time scouring for sand I picked up a bottle that a local was selling. Another interesting thing I came across was that there are ox pulling carts to get around the island which I had yet to see and I could smell them before I could see them 😂.
The next day I took another ferry to an island called Kuroshima which is a heart shaped island whose claim to fame is that there are more cows than people on the island. I rented a bicycle and set off to a beach that looked promising. I had to bike through a jungle to get there and once I arrived I also had to walk through a jungle to get down to the beach. I was not so quietly chanting “no spiders or snakes or kidnappers” over and over in the hopes of warding them off as I walked through the thick brush. Once I made the trek I was a bit disappointed as the beach was all rocks, had a crap ton of garbage, and the water was rough. Definitely not a beach to take a dip in unless you wanted to drown, but there was awesome shell and sea glass to be collected which is what I did for about an hour or so. I decided to bike around the rest of the island and did see more cows than people and really found it to be quite cute. My favorite part of the exploration was having the best shaved ice of my life 😍! I ordered the passion fruit and my tastebuds were exploding as I savored each bite and was sad when my spoon scratched the bottom of the bowl. I decided it was so amazing that I had to try another flavor as well 😂🙈. It reminded me very much of a place in Maui called Tasaka’s that serves guri-guri which I love and always hit a few times whenever I am on Maui.
I will most definitely be returning to all three of these islands whenever I return to Japan and I highly recommend them to you as well. My next blog will be about Okinawa which will wrap up my Japan travels and after that will be my new favorite country, New Zealand.