While the rest of the country is shivering under its kotatsus, the sun has returned to Japan’s subtropical oasis after a long and wet typhoon season! To celebrate, this week I took a short holiday from my job at a hotel on Okinawa’s main island to spend a day or two in the Yaeyama Islands.
Okinawa is comprised of 160 islands (111 of them uninhabited), which are generally divided into 3 distinct archipelagos: the Okinawa Islands, the Miyako Islands, and the Yaeyama Islands – with the Yaeyamas being the most south-westerly of all.
Here are a few of my recommendations in case you ever find yourself at a loss in the Yaeyamas:
1) Visit the limestone caves on Ishigaki-jima
Our trip began on Ishigaki Island, where we travelled straight from the airport to visit “Yaeyama Shonyu Do”: a spectacular limestone cave filled with stalagmites and stalactites formed from coral over hundreds of thousands of years. Just across the road is “Ishigaki Shonyu Do,” another cave reputedly containing a stalactite shaped like Totoro, but as the two caves are operated by competing companies it isn’t possible to purchase one ticket for both attractions.
2) Kick back at Iriwa guest house in Kabira
A guest-house situated in the north-western corner of the island, Iriwa was the highlight of our holiday. The owners, a Korean-Japanese couple, are incredibly friendly and have thought of everything their guests might need – from bicycles and airport transfers to earplugs, coffee, beer, games and hand-drawn maps of the area. They are also happy to provide recommendations and advice, and it is clear from the reams of postcards and photos sent by former guests that this place is a small paradise for wanderers. Be sure to book more than two nights as I can guarantee you’ll want to stay longer!
3) Take a buffalo-ride to Yubu
Our second day took us by ferry to Iriomote Island: a beautiful, forested and mountainous place that is well worth any traveller’s time. Renting a car, we drove up the island’s only road to the Yubu, where you can catch buffalo-drawn carts from Iriomote to the tiny island 400 metres away.
4) Count grains of sand on Hoshizuna Beach
Heading northwards with jungle on one side and the ocean on the other, we eventually reached “Hoshizuna Beach” – or “Star-sand beach”. This beautiful, turquoise-watered inlet boasts sand that is actually shaped like tiny little stars, and it is popular for tourists to collect the grains in little bottles as souvenirs.
Other attractions in Iriomote include mangrove cruises along winding creeks, sea-kayaking, and waterfall treks – but be sure not to miss the last ferry home!
5) Watch the sun rise over Kabira Bay
On our last day in Ishigaki we got up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise over Kabira Bay, and really felt as though we’d only had time to scratch the surface of the Yaeyama Islands.
If you’re planning to visit the Yaeyamas, remember that these islands are remote. Ferries may only come twice a day, buses even less regularly – and where you’re staying may not have an ATM. Make sure to plan ahead to avoid waiting around!
Fancy visitng the islands yourself?
Try the ‘Japanese Island Hopping’ trip.