The Largest and Most Popular of Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa
Ishigaki-jima is the main island of Yaeyama archipelago in Okinawa prefecture, at the south-westernmost end of Japan. Japanese people’s favorite destination in spring, its popularity increasingly grew among foreign tourists over the past years. Visitors enjoy wide beaches of fine, white sand, a precious fauna underwater and lush vegetation on land.
Ishigaki-jima is famous among young Japanese who chose this island off Okinawa’s shores each year to spend their national holiday week, the Golden Week. In the beginning of May, the weather is at its best and give a foretaste of summer with a sea warm enough to swim.
On the rest of the year, the periods of April to May and October to November are the best moments to visit Ishigaki. During summer, the humidity rate raises along with the potential risk of typhoon 🌀. August is the hottest and most humid month. But the average maximum temperatures nearing the 30°C are still bearable compared to large cities’ stifling heat. People of Tokyo and Osaka therefore come in summer to refresh and enjoy the island’s green and rural landscapes, where cattle are more frequently encountered on the side of the road than inhabitants.
Misakicho’s convenient district
Ishigaki downtown extends around its port in Misakicho, at the south-west of the island. Ferries towards other destinations in Yaeyama archipelago depart from here. The district does not possess a peculiar atmosphere, but it gathers all the conveniences: to move around, eat, the local tourism bureau, car 🚙 and bicycle rental shops, the shotengai covered arcade Euglena Mall (Yugurena Mall), several konbini, local cuisine restaurants and a couple of izakaya pubs open in the evening, such as:
- Hitoshi (ひとし), a Japanese bistro serving sushi made with, fish, umi budo algae or Ishigaki tender beef, a very appreciated specialty for which it is necessary to book several days in advance,
- Mori no kenja (森の賢者), a rather classy izakaya with a refined gastronomical menu and a friendly welcome, for a handful of customers. It is a good place to taste awamori, Okinawa’s typical alcohol.
The road that circles around the island starts from its urban part and constitutes an easy access to most of the places to see. We recommend renting a small car for one or two days to discover the indented coastline.
Fine sand beaches all around the island
Beaches in Ishigaki are what attract most of visitors. Most of them are public, with free access, but paid leisure activities and facilities. There are many things to do: from simply relaxing on a deckchair, to sport activities such as beach 🏖 volley, paddle, jet ski, snorkeling or diving to admire the coral reef. Let us have a look on these sandy areas and their specificities:
- Fusaki Beach is certainly the most beautiful beach near the center of the town, along with Maesato beach on the other side of the port. Well-tended and supervised, it actually belongs to a four-star hotel, ideal for a family stay with young children. Those who are not hotel customers can come for the day. On the way, stop before the beautiful Tojinbaka grave, of Chinese inspiration and the modest Kannon-do temple hidden behind a lantern alley.
- The magic kicks at Sukuji Beach, whose vegetation offers some shade, not far from Oganzaki lighthouse and its beautiful view at the western end of the island, and Kabira Bay, one of the most famous landscapes of Ishigaki. The view from the heights on the bay’s turquoise waters is wonderful, but the walk on the sand is somehow spoilt by the too many tourist boats, that encumber the natural panorama on the daytime.
- Yonehara Beach, with no particular charm, is a bit disappointing. This feeling is partly due to the promise of walking through a palm tree forest to reach it, which is actually a fifty-meter walk on a too well-trodden path.
- Sunset Beach is another favorite on the island, as well as the whole northern end up to Hirakubozaki lighthouse. The view on the rocky cliffs and the junction between the Pacific Ocean and East China Sea is astounding.
- In the south-east, Shiraho Beach seems the less interesting of all as it is barely tended. It is only cleaned up twice a year for seasonal events, and the sand is mixed with plastic garbage from China and dead coral that is washed ashore here. Shiraho is however renowned as a beautiful underwater site to discover the seabed with fins, mask, and tuba.
There is however a risk when swimming in this pristine water: to be stung by an animal resembling a jellyfish, the man-of-war or floating terror (Physalia). It is thus recommended to follow the precaution instructions displayed on the beaches and to stay in the bathing areas that are supervised in the daytime (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
Other touristic activities do not involve the seaside:
- Yaeyama Historical Museum,
- Ishigaki Limestone Cave,
- Banna Park and its central viewpoint from the center of the island,
- Yaimamura Village, which is a kind of interactive open-air museum dedicated to the local architectural, gastronomic, and folk heritage.
Visit Yaeyema archipelago
We recommend allowing one to three days for the full discovery of Ishigaki and one-day trips to discover the other Yaeyama islands, easily reachable by boat or plane ✈️, such as:
- Taketomi: a timeless Okinawan style village, about fifteen minutes by boat from Misakicho port,
- Iriomote: the wonderful protected natural reserve in the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, to hike in the subtropical forest,
- Yonaguni: the westernmost part of Japan, the small island is a famous diving spot.
Ishigaki-jima is also conveniently served with direct and low-cost flights from the largest cities of Japan: Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. Therefore, it is quite easy to get away from the urban tourism for a couple of days in a paradise-like preserved nature. There is plenty of choices regarding accommodation, from luxurious resort complex with view on the sea, the renting of typical Japanese apartments in the city or booking rooms in inns for an easier contact with the population.