Ryukyu Islands' lovely preserved village
Taketomi-jima is a small island belonging to the Yaeyama archipelago, off Ishigaki Island shores, in the south-west of Okinawa prefecture in Japan. It is renowned for its preserved Ryukyuan architecture village and fabulous blue water beaches. It is the perfect destination for a relaxing break following the pace of the local dolce vita.
Despite its small surface of less than 10km², the coral island of Taketomi is not a short visit. On the contrary, it is the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely stay and discover the southern part of Okinawa prefecture. Forget about mainland Japan to immerse in the former Ryukyu kingdom's typical landscapes and the islanders way of life.
Beaches to refresh and relax
If planning a day-trip, it is recommended to arrive early in the morning by boat from Ishigaki and start with a bicycle tour of Taketomi Island. For this purpose, choose a bicycle rental shop, then at the port take the shuttle to the village in the center of the island to retrieve your two-wheeler.
Then, ride on the easiest roads to discover the three main beaches on the west coast:
- Nishisanbashi, where the concrete pier invites to sitting feet dangling in water and to contemplate the landscape. Sunset from Nishisanbashi is a must-see;
- Kondoi is the ideal beach to swim with its large sandy shores. It is also the only one to offer facilities like toilets and a space to change clothes;
- Kaiji is a rocky beach and a protected area, swimming is forbidden due to strong currents. The interest here is to walk on the beach looking for tiny star-shaped shells.
A little haven of peace and tradition in Okinawa
Once you get your fill of these wonderful and still wild marine landscapes, you can go back to the center of the island to visit the famous preserved Taketomi village. It is best then to park your bicycle and continue on foot, as the village's sandy paths make cycling difficult, and evereything is within short, easy to walk distances anyway.
Gallivanting in the village, you will discover Ryukyu's typical architecture: one-story houses, with red tiles roofs on which are standing the half-dog, half lion shisa, symbolic guardians of the houses. The walls along the streets are made of coral stones collected from the beaches. The hot and humid tropical weather of the island helps the development of a lush and flowery vegetation. Note however that Taketomi is not an open-air museum: it is still a lively village inhabited all-year round by about 360 persons. Downtown Taketomi is therefore equipped with the usual facilities: a post office 📮, a school, a library, shops, local craftsmanship workshops, cafes and restaurants. Small hotels 🏨 or guesthouses offer the possibility to have a longer taste of the inhabitants’ way of life.
The visit of the village itself is quite fast, with few attractions specifically dedicated to tourism, except for the picturesque ride in a cart drawn by a water buffalo, the usual help in the peasants’ work in the area. It’s up to you to try on this transportation method.
The café HaaYa Nagomi offers a panorama on the houses’ roofs. It used to be provided by Nagomi-no-to observation tower which is now closed due to its dilapidated state. The island is flat and it is the only place in Taketomi to have an overview of the village.
Is mass tourism threatening Taketomi?
The limitation of tourism contributes greatly to the charm of Taketomi Island. After 6 p.m., once the last ferry ⛴️ is gone, Taketomi recovers a charming quietness that its inhabitants enjoy. The same goes for visitors as they relish on the peaceful atmosphere favored by the human size accommodations where they decided to stay.
This balance is however threatened by the project of a vast resort complex construction, near Kondoi beach 🏖 in the south of the village. Since the official announcement in 2014, the islanders, gathered in an association to try stopping this estate program potentially harmful to their cultural heritage as well as to the natural environment of Taketomi. The association launched an online petition in May 2019 that collected about 34,000 signatures. At the end of 2019, the association was engaged in a judicial fight against the resort’s builders.