Okinawa Itinerary: 1 Week, PURE Paradise (First-Timers’ Guide!)

Water buffalo pulling a cart in the streets of Okinawa
You'll see a lot of these beautiful boys during your Okinawa itinerary!

As an island group famous for centenarians, brutal Second World War battles and the bragging rights of being the healthiest place on earth, an Okinawa itinerary should certainly be considered if you’re travelling in Japan and have some time to play with.  

Roughly 400 miles south of mainland Japan and 300 miles north of Taiwan, Okinawa’s isolation has given it the chance to develop a wholly unique culture, away from the norms of the west, and in some ways, even Japan itself. 

It’s not a big place by any stretch of the imagination, but this one-week Okinawa itinerary leaves no stone unturned and will give you some insight into how to soak up the distinctive Okinawa culture.

History of Okinawa

Before the intervention of Japan, China and its modern American settlers, Okinawa was inhabited by the indigenous Ryukyuan people. Though not recognised by the Japanese, the Ryukyuan people are the largest ethnolinguistic minority group in Japan, with 1.4 million living in the Okinawa Prefecture alone. 

Throughout the middle ages and early modern period, Okinawa was ruled by Ryukyuan kings, and their power and influence can be seen through the many Gusuku, or castles, scattered throughout the islands, many of which have UNESCO World Heritage status.

Soon after, Okinawa came under the sphere of influence of China and Japan, paying tribute to both states. With independent power dwindling, Japan made its move and in 1879, Japan annexed the entire Ryukyu archipelago, including Okinawa. 

The last ruling Ryukyu king, King Shō Tai, was forced out of Okinawa and was banished to Tokyo. Resentment towards the ruling Japanese only grew with the annexation brought about by Japanese efforts to destroy Ryukyuan culture, including the language, religion, and cultural practices.

During the Second World War, Okinawa was at the centre of the Pacific Theatre of War. As one of the closest islands to the mainland, it was fiercely defended by the Japanese. However, the Americans were keen to secure the island, to use it as a staging point for the invasion of mainland Japan.

What ensued between the 23rd March and 2nd of July 1945 was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire world war, with over 20,000 Americans killed, along with 77,000 Japanese. 

The local Okinawan population had been convinced by the Japanese military that they would be tortured if they fell into American hands. Believing this propaganda, many local Okinawans went on to kill themselves. 

By the end of the war, around 149,425 Okinawans were killed, died by suicide or went missing, roughly half of the estimated pre-war 300,000-large local population.    

During the postwar occupation of Japan, Okinawa was a huge naval and army base for the American military, a hangover of which remains to this day, with over 30 US bases still found on the island. 

Where is Okinawa?

Okinawa is just one island in what is referred to as the Okinawan Islands prefecture, which in itself is part of the larger Ryukyu Island chain. 

Okinawa, otherwise known as Uchinaa in the Okinawan language, is a name whose origins are unclear. Many believe that it stemmed from a divine woman named “Uchinaa” in the book Omoro Sōshi; a compilation of ancient poems and songs from Okinawa Island.

Found between the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea, Okinawa sits hundreds of miles away from the nearest land, yet all of the islands of Okinawa are spread over 547 square miles. 

Three hundred miles north of Taiwan, anthropologists believe that the original inhabitants of Okinawans were descendants of tribes of Taiwan. With westerly winds taking them over the sea in primitive raft boats, these Taiwanese descendants moved through the Pacific tens of thousands of years ago.

The Japanese mainland is roughly 400 miles north of Okinawa, with the southern Japanese island of Kyushu being the closest. Although now part of Japan, the island of Okinawa is considerably far away from the mainland compared to other overseas territories around the world.

The People of Okinawa (Ryukyuans)

The people of Okinawa, known as “Ryukyuan,” are ethnically different from the people of mainland Japan, although currently unrecognised as such by the Japanese government. 

Hundreds of miles from the mainland, the Ryukyuans developed their own culture, have their own flag (which looks a lot like Chile’s) and a unique, endemic religion irrespective of the country they belong to. 

Traditional Ryukyuan religion was closely tied with ancestor worship; the relationship between gods, death and spirits. Their practices are also concerned with animism; believing that all objects, places, and creatures possess a distinct spiritual essence. This has led the Ryukyuans to have a close affinity with nature and all of the natural forces around them.

Ryukyuans also hold reverence towards Origami, a belief that spiritual power is the domain of women. The claims that this has elevated women to higher positions of power have been scrutinised by academics in Nagoya and the nuance behind traditional Ryukyuan tattoos on women (which have now died out) is utterly fascinating.

One of the key features of Okinawa society is the forming of Moais or support groups. Gathering in these groups provides social and emotional support through emotional bonding, advice-giving, and social funding. 

This has been highlighted as one of the defining factors to the long life of Okinawans and is a key feature in the superior health of Blue Zone life.

Do Okinawans Speak Japanese?

The short answer to this is yes, but there are a few elements that make the subject of language on the Okinawan island an interesting one. 

Before the annexation of Okinawa by the Japanese in the 19th century, Okinawans and the surrounding Ryukyuan islands spoke a number of different Ryukyuan languages. 

One of the Ryukyuan languages spoken in Okinawa was known as Uchināguchi, spoken primarily in the southern half and centre of the island. The north of the island was predominantly Kunigami speaking, another dialect of the Ryukyuan language.

With the introduction of Japanese and Japan’s cultural war on all things Ryukyuan, many speakers of the traditional Ryukyuan languages slowly began to die out. As a result, it’s generally only the older generation that can still speak any of the Ryukyuan dialects.

Standard mainland Japanese is widely understood by the Okinawans and is used by the education system, the media and businesses. Today, most Okinawans speak Okinawan Japanese, which is described as Japanese with a strong Okinawan accent, and some small variations in words.

The younger generations are being pulled ever closer to speaking standard Japanese, a pattern that may, in time, lead to the complete loss of traditional Ryukyuan speakers.

Key Phrases

While you’re almost certainly not going to be able to learn Japanese overnight, having a simple grasp of certain phrases will help your Okinawa itinerary run a lot smoother. 

You may find that a few major hotels, popular tourist areas and communities close to the US bases are happy to use a little English, though, for the most part, you’ll need a little Japanese to get by.

Here are a few key phrases:

  • Konnichiwa (ka-nich-ee-waa) – Hello
  • Arigatou (Arry-gat-oh) – Thanks
  • Sumimasen (summy-maa-sen) Excuse me
  • Kudasai (kud-a-sigh) – Please
  • Hai-sai (hay-say) – How’s it going (general Okinowan greeting)

Cultural Differences Between The Japanese and Okinawans?

It’s no surprise that after nearly 150 years under the same state, there are a number of similarities between the Japanese and the Okinawans, but there still remains some significant differences too. 

The biggest cultural similarities can be seen in the religious practices of both communities. Similar to the Kami and Shinto religions of Japan that intertwines with the sacred deer of Nara, the traditional Okinawan beliefs revolve around worship at shrines and the reliance on the spiritual world. 

Both nations have also come under the sway of major world religions such as Buddhism and Christianity.

Another similarity is their martial art traditions. Karate, now known across the globe and practised by numerous countries competitively, is actually an export of Okinawa, which was then developed in mainland Japan

Much like judo and Aikido in mainland Japan, these martial arts form a strong part of both their cultural identities.

Although much connects the people of mainland Japan and Okinawa, there are also some cultural differences between the two, and after all, they were, for most of history, logistically, linguistically and culturally two separate entities.

One of the main cultural differences you’ll notice throughout your Okinawa itinerary is the difference between Okinawan and Japanese food. Don’t expect Japanese sushi, sashimi, tempura, yakitori, gyoza, or mochi. 

Instead, Okinawan food is low in calories and fat while high in carbs, taking advantage of fibre-rich vegetables such as sweet potato, along with whole grains, legumes and soy products. This nutrient-rich diet has been noted as one of the main reasons for the long life expectancy on the islands. 

Another notable difference between Okianowan and Japanese culture, especially during these modern times, is their approach and outlook on life. Japanese work ethic has been globally noted to be one of intensity and high motivation to the point where it is almost fanatical. This can be seen in the ‘inemuri’ culture, where workers fall asleep at their desks or in the street. 

On the other hand, the people of Okinawa have a far more relaxed and grounded outlook on life. Maybe it’s a direct result of laid-back island life, yet with stress being one of the biggest killers, the island’s many centenarians must be onto something.

Is Okinawa REALLY That Healthy?

Home to some of the longest living people on earth, you really could argue that there’s something in the water in Okinawa. But being crowned one of the healthiest places on earth comes down to more than just that. 

In fact, the island is considered to be one of the most impressive Blue Zones on the planet – these are regions of the world that are home to the oldest people in the world. To put that into perspective, the life expectancy of men hovers around 84, while it sits at 90 for women in Okinawa, and, for every 100,000 of the population, around 68 live until they’re over 100. 

There are a number of reasons why this is the case, most of which revolve around the Okinawans’ diet and lifestyle. Eating traditional meals that consist of plenty of the good types of carbs, is thought to be a driving factor in why the island has such low rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Apart from the types of food that they eat, the Okinawans naturally consume less than the rest of the world. Before fast food chains arrived on the islands, the average Okinawan ate around 11% fewer calories than the recommended consumption for a healthy adult. 

This calorie-restricted diet has gone a long way to aiding the healthiness and general long life of the average Okinawan.

Best Time To Visit Okinawa 

Okinawa enjoys a subtropical climate, which means it stays warm throughout the year, with temperatures averaging 23℃. Winter lasts from December to February, while the hot, humid summer starts in April and continues through into September, with temperatures rising to 34℃. From the start of May to early June, Okinawa receives heavy bouts of rain, as well as a number of typhoons right through to July and August.

When you take all of this into account, the best time to visit Okinawa generally falls during the shoulder season, which is either May or October. During this time, the weather has settled to a comfortable temperature, rainfall is low, and crowds are fewer, giving you more space to enjoy your Okinawa itinerary. 

3 Awesome Festivals in Okinawa

If you can coincide your Okinawa itinerary with one of the island’s festivals, it’s well worth the effort. Connected with the Ryukyuan religion, many of the festivals incorporate Okinawan traditions and spiritual worship. Here are three worth looking out for. 

1. Eisa Festival

One of the most celebrated festivals on the islands, an added bonus to your Okinawa itinerary would be experiencing the Eisa Festival. Celebrated every year, on the first weekend after the Japanese holiday of Obon, thousands gather across Okinawa to join in with the festivities. 

Born out of the ancestor worship culture of Okinawa, the Eisa Festival is similar to the Ghost Festival in Thailand, where honour and celebration for those who have gone before you are held in high regard.

One of the defining features of this festival is the Eisa dance. This folk dance has been an Okinawan tradition for centuries and incorporates large barrel drums and folk songs played on the Sanshin, an instrument that is similar to the banjo but with only three strings. 

Groups of dancers and performers gather across the islands, many of which will compete in youth teams known as ‘creative Eisa’ or ‘club team Eisa’. 

2. Naha Hari Dragon Boat Races

Every year, a festival known as the Naha Hari Dragon Boat Races occurs in Okinawa. Another close link to the traditions of China, the festival takes place in a bid to gain blessings from the spirits and gods of the sea. In doing so, the Okinawans can guarantee themselves a plentiful catch of fish and safety on the water for the rest of the year. 

The Naha Hari Dragon Boat Races take place over a three day weekend in May and both locals and visitors race in boats known as hari or hare. While you can find many of these races across the island, the main Dragon Boat Race takes place at Naha’s Shinko Wharf.

3. Naha Tug-of-War

Probably one the coolest and funniest of the Okinawan festivals is the Naha Tug-of-War. You may not have seen one since school, yet the Naah Tug-of-War takes this sport to a whole new level. 

So large is the rope and number of competitors that the Okinawan tug of war has entered the Guinness Book of World Records. “Sun’s out; guns out” at. this festival, definitely going on my Japan bucket list!

Believed to have started around the 17th century, the Naha Tug-of-War involves two giant rope braids, held together at the centre with an enormous wooden peg and topped with platforms made for participants dressed up as Ryukyu royalty. The braids have separate smaller ropes that competitors pull on either side, fighting to be the victor.

The winning team is the one that manages to pull the other over five metres within the allotted 30 minute time frame. This festival harks back to the days of conflict on the island and is a celebration of Okinawan culture and history, yet on the day, it is the feeling of community, fun and revelry that overrides all else.

Currency in Okinawa

The currency used in Okinawa is the same that is commonplace throughout Japan, the Japanese Yen. Yen is divided into 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 Yen coins, while banknotes are issued in  ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥5,000, and ¥10,000 increments.

Credit card payments are becoming more popular in Okinawa in larger hotels and restaurants. When it comes to everyday transactions, however, it‘s best to stick to cash as many smaller stalls, markets and vendors won’t accept card payments.

In some small isolated places, close to the US army and navy bases, you may find that some Okinawan shops and restaurants accept the US dollar. This being said, I wouldn’t recommend paying in US dollars, you’re likely to get a pretty terrible exchange rate.

How Many Days “Should” You Spend in Okinawa?

Travelling to Okinawa isn’t without its strain on logistics; getting to an island chain hundreds of miles away from the mainland is a real effort. With this being the case, you’ll want to give yourself enough time to really soak up all that Okinawa has to offer, making the journey worth it.

If you’re really pinched for time, you can fit a pretty healthy Okinawa itinerary into three days. While this will be jam-packed and will definitely feel a little rushed, it gives you enough time to see the major sites and get a feel for the islands. But, it won’t give you time to branch out to some lesser-visited spots. 

As this Okinawa itinerary suggests, I’d recommend spending at least one week in Okinawa; this gives you time to see all of the major sites as well as the hidden gems that Okinawa has to offer. 

A week means you can take your time, enjoy the island life, its natural landscapes as well as having a few jam-packed days of sightseeing and cultural exploration. Also, you have to account for ferry cancellations if you’re going in hard on your trip, so if you have the time on your hands; a one week Okinawa itinerary is the sweet spot. 

Getting To Okinawa 

The Ryukyuans may have a lot in common with the indigenous people of the San Blas Islands of Panama, but one thing that they sadly don’t have in common is ease of access from the mainland.

There are only two ways of getting to Okinawa; taking a flight or catching a ferry. 

Getting a Flight to Okinawa 

Naha Airport (OKA), sometimes called Okinawa Airport, is located in the capital city of Naha. It’s the island chain’s only airport and the main gateway into Okinawa. The airport is also the main hub for travel to other islands in the Okinawa Prefecture, including Miyako Island, Ishigaki Island, Iriomote Island and Kume Island.

Naha Airport sees domestic flights from over twenty cities in Japan including Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Narita Airport in Chiba/Tokyo, Kansai Airport in Osaka and Itami Airport, also in Osaka. If you’re arriving from North America, you’ll more than likely need to grab a connecting flight from one of these mainland hubs. 

Aside from connecting domestic flights from the Japanese mainland, Naha Airport also boasts arrivals from various international airports in the vicinity, including Seoul, Taipei, and Shanghai. 

If you’re travelling from Europe, Asia or Australia, you’ll more than likely need to catch a connecting flight in one of these international travel hubs. 

Catching a Ferry to Okinawa

For those who aren’t in a rush or are looking for a little bit more adventure in their Okinawa itinerary, it is possible to catch a ferry to the islands. 

You can catch a ferry to Okinawa from numerous ports on mainland Japan including Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Fukuoka, and Kagoshima. Ferries leave on a weekly basis between Okinawa and Tokyo taking a minimum of 44 hours to make the crossing. Tickets start from 22,000 yen each way. 

You can also catch a ferry from the slightly closer country of Taiwan. Arimura Sangyo runs a ferry service between Taiwan and Okinawa, with stops at either Ishigaki Island, Miyako Island or both. One-way tickets start from 16,000 yen and the crossing lasts between 16 and 19 hours. 

Why Did I Choose a One Week Itinerary For Okinawa?

I had already travelled around yhr country in my action-packed (amazing) 4 weeks Japan itinerary. I did all the things quintessentially Japanese-y including climbing Mount Fuji and finding my personal favourite in the great Tokyo vs Kyoto city battle. 

As you might expect with an island nation, travelling around the many sites and attractions largely depends on ferries and the cooperation of the sea gods. If the weather doesn’t play fair and your ferry is delayed or cancelled, this can really send your best-laid plans into tatters.

Excuse this well-beaten horse, I just wanted to really hammer home why I am referring to one week, feel free to choose anything that jumps out at you as a priority if you have less time.

 Let’s jump straight into the Okinawa itinerary and see what amazing things you can do in this paradise, all within a manageable seven days.

Day 1: Land in Naha and Get Your Bearings 

As the gateway to, and capital of, Okinawa, your first glimpse of Naha may have you a little confused. In fact, your first experience of Naha may have you thinking that you’ve landed in Hawaii, or perhaps even American Samoa.

The westernisation of Naha and southern Okinawa has grown from the American military presence that has existed here since the end of the Second World War in 1945. One day and a night should be enough to soak up the 51st state of Naha and its surrounding area, and there are a handful of sights here that are worth seeing.

Just try and ignore the plethora of American bars and westernised restaurants in Naha, the rest of the Okinawa itinerary will give you the taste of real, authentic Okinawa. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying home comforts, I’d just suggest leaving those places until the end of your trip if possible.

Getting Around Naha 

The Okinawan capital of Naha offers up a number of different ways to get around town, which will all depend on your preference, budget and distance that you wish to travel. 

Yui Rail

One of the easiest and most efficient ways to get around the city is to use the Yui Rail, also known as the Okinawa City Monorail. The Yui Rail runs from Naha Airport in the west of the city all the way to Shuri Castle in the east.  

Though only eight miles long and with a mere 15 stops, the monorail is the ideal way to get around the centre and beating heart of Naha.

Taxis

If you feel a little more impatient and inclined to go down the speed tourist route, Naha is also home to a fleet of taxis. Besides general taxis, there are also shuttle taxis that provide transportation from the airport to your hotel. 

For an extra-touristic take on the city, you can also hire sightseeing taxis that run between each of the tourist sites in a carefully curated itinerary. You’ll usually pay around 560 Yen for standard taxis, with an extra 70 Yen for every extra 300 metres you travel. 

Bicycles and Motorbikes

If you were hoping for a slightly more independent way of getting around Okinawa’s capital, there’s an opportunity to rent bicycles and motorbikes. You’ll find rental shops on most streets around town, but your accommodation will let you know where your nearest one is.

With modern and wide-open island roads, hiring bicycles and motorbikes will add an undeniable sense of adventure to your visit and Okinawa itinerary.

Shikinaen Garden

Your first interaction with Naha and Okinawa will be with its colourful and cultured past. The Shikinaen Garden was built in the late 18th century and was the home of the Ryukyu Kings. A palace constructed from wooden Okinawa style buildings with red tile roofs and a Japanese inspired garden, Shikinaen is a true representation of Okinawa’s past. 

Shikinaen was completely destroyed during the battle of Okinawaka in 1945 but was carefully reconstructed in the post-war years when in the early 2000s, it was granted UNESCO World Heritage status. 

The garden in Shikinaen can be viewed via its 300-metre circular path, which winds through bridges and small ponds, creating an area of peacefulness as well as beauty.

Know before you go:

  • Location – 421-7 Maaji, on the east side of the city
  • Cost – Entry to the gardens costs 400 Yen
  • Opening hours – 9:00 to 18:00 (until 17:30 from October to March).
  • Time needed – About an hour to wander around the garden.
  • Getting there – Jump on bus number 14 at Naha Bus Center or Asahibashi Station and get off at Shikinaen-mae station.

Grab lunch at Ayagu Shokudo

To sample your first dish of authentic Okinawan cuisine, head just under two miles down the road from Shikinaen to dine at Ayagu Shokudo. This restaurant serves up a mix of Okinawan and Japanese culinary delights, introducing you to some of the most delicious food in the country.

Interesting and popular dishes to have at Ayagu Shokudo include the stir-fried tofu set, Okinawan sukiyaki, and Sōki Soba, a type of noodle bathed in a rich broth and topped with fish cakes, pork or tofu.

Know before you go:

  • Location – 2 Chome-128, Shurikubagawa-cho, eastern Naha
  • Cost – Set meals start from 650 yen. 
  • Opening hours – 9 am – 3 pm.
  • Time needed – An hour should be enough, as service is fast.
  • Getting there – Take the monorail to Shuri Station, which is within walking distance from the restaurant.

Eat a Sticky Red Bean Local Delicacy at Gibo Manju

No sweet-toothed visit to Okinawa would be complete without a trip to Gibo Maju, famous for selling the red bean-filled bun known as manjus. Encased in a soft wheat dough, filled with sweet red bean paste, and steamed to perfection, Manju is a classic Japanese confectionery, and Gibo Manju is the place to try it. 

These sweet treats are so popular that Gibo Manju opens at 9 o’clock in the morning and closes once they sell their quota of 1,000 manjus each day. Sometimes this can be before lunch, so I’d head there as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

Know before you go:

  • Location – 2 Chome-109-1-B Shurikubagawacho, just north of Shuri neighbourhood.
  • Cost – 120 Yen per manju
  • Opening hours – 9 am – sold out.
  • Time needed – Mere minutes of sticky gluttony. 
  • Getting there – Take the monorail to Gibo Station, which is within walking distance of the shop.

Cycle Around the Shuri Neighbourhood

With the iconic Shuri Castle at its centre, the Shuri neighbourhood is one of the most-visited and perhaps most famous in Okinawa. With much to see and do in the central neighbourhood, exploring on a bicycle adds an extra dimension to the experience. A favourite transport of the Japanese and Okinawans, cycling around the centre of the city is a great way to see Naha as the locals do.

The broad pathways surrounding the famous Shuri Castle also make cycling through Naha’s most popular sight an easy thing to do, whether it be past the Stone Steps of Shurikinjo-Cho or the Mausoleum of Ryukyuan Kings. Naha has a number of bicycle rental services, allowing you to hire the bike for a few hours or the entire day.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The Shuri Neighbourhood is located in the eastern section of the city.
  • Cost – Between 500-1000 Yen to rent a bike for the day 
  • Opening hours – Bike shops are usually open from early morning until 7 pm.
  • Time needed –  Take around three hours to soak up the neighbourhood.
  • Getting there –  Shuri is only a two-mile bicycle ride from the centre of the city.

Day 2 – 4: Fly to Ishigaki Island

Ishigaki is 255 miles southwest of Okinawa’s main island and is part of the Yaeyama Islands, which also belong to the wider Okinawa prefecture. It’s actually one of the island chains that is at the southernmost point of Japan, earning its place in this Okinawa itinerary.

How To Get To Ishigaki from Naha

The quickest, most efficient, and now the only way of getting from Naha to Ishigaki is to fly directly. Flights leave Naha airport several times a day and take around one hour to arrive. Depending on the time of year and how early you book your tickets, the flight will set you back between 11,000 and 20,000 Yen. 

You were once able to take a ferry across from Naha to Ishigaki, but the ferry operation between Naha and Ishigaki was discontinued in June 2008.

Getting Around Ishigaki

There are plenty of ways to get around the island of Ishigaki once you’re there:

Car

One of the easiest ways to get around Ishigaki is to hire a car. It’s worth applying for an international driving license in your home country do you can rent a car and drive around the island to enjoy the ultimate freedom. 

Ishigaki has numerous rental car shops on the island, and some of the more established ones have websites in English. It’s best to pre-book your hire car in advance, especially if you are conducting your Okinawa itinerary during the high season which falls during July and August. You can either pick up your car from the airport or have it drop you at your accommodation.

Buses

The island of Ishigaki has a limited amount of bus routes, but some do come in handy for particular journeys. The most trafficked route is between the airport and Ishigaki city, with buses leaving every 15 minutes from 7:00 to 21:00. Other routes are far less frequent, with just a couple of buses a day, so it’s best to check timetables before you begin your exploration of the island. 

You can save a lot on bus fares by purchasing a free bus pass. It’s known as the free pass because you can travel as much as you want on all the buses, except the sightseeing buses, while the pass is valid. A one day pass costs 1,000 Yen, a five-day pass costs 2,000 Yen, and they can both be purchased on the bus itself.

Taxi

There are plenty of taxis operating on Ishigaki, and if you’re travelling as part of a group, the fare will generally work out cheaper compared to buying single bus tickets. As with most of Japan, taxi drivers are unlikely to speak English so it’s a good idea to have your destination written down beforehand, or you can try your translation app. All of the taxis on the island run on metres, and it’s worth keeping in mind that the price inflates by 20% after 10 pm.

Bicycle

Much like your bike tours across the main island, cycling around Ishigaki can open up a whole new way of experiencing your Okinawa itinerary. Many of the hotels and other accommodations on the island will rent out bikes for the day, usually for around 500 Yen, and some even offer them for free to their guests.

Manta Scramble at Kabira Bay

Sitting just off the northwest coast of Ishigaki is a dive spot around Kabira Bat known as ‘manta scramble’. Here, the stretch of coral reef known affectionately as the cleaning station attracts huge populations of manta rays. The manta rays gather here to enjoy the rich and large amounts of plankton on offer, while also having a quick exfoliate by the smaller grooming fish in the area. 

For those who are lovers of the natural world, especially marine life, experiencing the manta scramble is one of those moments that is guaranteed to stay with you forever. 

Although considered to be the number one diving spot in all of Japan, you don’t need to be highly experienced to see these magical creatures. It’s a reasonably easy dive to see the mantas as they rarely go below 10m deep in the water, but you may need a few test dives beforehand. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – Kabira Bay is located on the northwest of the island, 11 miles north of Ishigaki port.
  • Cost – Tours start from 18,700 Yen per person
  • Opening hours – Most tours operate from early morning to midday.
  • Time needed – You’ll need to set aside around half a day for the dive and its preparation.
  • Getting there – Take bus number 2, 7 or 9 from the bus terminal, and get off at Kabira Bay.

Paddleboard at Kariba Bay 

For those who are more inclined to have fun on the water as opposed to under it, Kariba Bay is also a fantastic place for paddleboarding. 

There’s not much that beats the stunning views of the bay as you paddle out into the crystal clear waters, surrounded by the East China Sea. A hive of sporting activities, you’ll find numerous tour operators offering you the chance to enjoy a stand-up paddleboard day out in the bay.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Kabira Bay is located on the northwest of the island, 11 miles north of Ishigaki port.
  • Cost – 8,000 Yen for a few hours paddleboarding and an optional wetsuit rental for 1,000 Yen.
  • Opening hours – N/A
  • Time needed –  2-3 hours 
  • Getting there –  Take bus number 2, 7 or 9 from the bus terminal to Kabira Bay.

See The Mysterious “Phantom Island”

A small island between Ishigaki and Kohama, Phantom Island gets its name from the way it alters in shape and size with the changing of the tide. With shallow depths surrounding the island, it also gives the water an emerald green sheen, only adding to the Phantom Island’s natural beauty. 

Taking a snorkelling tour is a great way to soak up the serenity of the island and experience the mesmerizing coral reefs that surround it. The nearby waters are home to a range of marine life that prove that the island is not all ghostly.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Phantom island is located off the west coast of Ishigaki.
  • Cost – A snorkelling day trip to the island will cost around 8,000 – 9,000 Yen.
  • Opening hours – Tours begin at around 9 am and finish at midday.
  • Time needed – A few hours to travel and enjoy the island.
  • Getting there – Tour boats leave from Ishigaki Port. 

Get Snap-Happy at Hirakubozaki Lighthouse

Perched on the most northerly western edge of Ishigaki Island, the Hirakubozaki peninsula is one of the most scenic spots on the entire island. With green rolling hills and rugged cliffs looking out to sea, the lonely lighthouse stands against a backdrop of pure bliss, so be ready to get your camera out for the perfect picture. 

Climbing the gentle slope up to the lighthouse will take a mere five minutes, just be sure to keep your footing, as the ocean winds at this exposed spot can be surprisingly strong.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Hirakubozaki Lighthouse is located at the most northerly point on the island. 
  • Cost – 1,000 yen for the bus.
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – You’ll only need 30 minutes once you’re there. 
  • Getting there – Bus number 6 goes towards Hirakubozaki lighthouse, and that bus only runs three routes a day, which isn’t ideal for a quick visit. It’s much easier to rent a car or hire a taxi and ask them to wait while you head to the lighthouse.  

Tamatorizaki Observatory

Located on the northeast of the island, the Tamatorizaki observatory is a fantastic spot for viewing the Hirakubo peninsula, which stretches out north right in front of it. 

The waters that ebb and flow below the Tamatorizaki observatory are a meeting point for the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. After looking north to Hirakubo peninsula, you can look south, which gives just as epic views. Here you can see as far as Noburo Point and the shining coral reefs that make it so famous. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – Tamatorizaki observatory is located on the northeastern side of the island.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours 
  • Time needed – Take around two hours to travel there and enjoy the views.
  • Getting there –  Another tricky one to visit via bus, routes number 3 and 6 head towards the Tamatorizaki Observatory, but only a few times a day. It’s best to rent a car or hire a taxi to head this way. 

Ishigaki Yaima Village

To get a glimpse of life before the Japanisation of the island, take a trip to Ishigaki Yaima Village. Here, you will see numerous relocated and replicated homes and villages of the island’s former Ryukyu Kingdom and people. 

This traditional townscape is perfectly situated on the western side of Ishigaki, giving it the perfectly chilled and undisturbed atmosphere from days gone by. There are numerous traditional folk elements to the village, with performances of music and the chance to try out some of that death-defying, traditional Ryukyu cuisine. 

Aside from the cultural and historical elements, Ishigaki Yaima Village is also home to a large population of Squirrel Monkeys, who are both cute and surprisingly happy interacting with visitors. 

This docile interaction may be down to the fact that they know they can be fed –  local vendors sell capsules of food for 200 Yen, and as soon as you open it, you’ll instantly buy a whole new group of furry primate friends.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Ishigaki Yaima Village is located on the western side of the island, overlooking Nagura Bay.
  • Cost – Adults: ¥1,000 and Children ¥500
  • Opening hours – 9 am – 5:30 pm
  • Time needed – Give yourself half a day to enjoy the sights.
  • Getting there – You can get a local bus from the main bus terminal in town heading towards Yaima Mura and get a taxi from here to the village. But, providing the scarcity of buses around the island, it’d be easier to rent a car or jump ina taxi.

Sunset at Sunset Beach 

Nestled onto the West Coast of the Hirakubo Peninsula, Sunset Beach is one of the most idyllic beaches on the island. White sands, crystal clear waters and the sense of being miles away from the built-up area of Ishigaki; any beach lover is bound to be in heaven. 

Contrary to its name, Sunset Beach is a private beach, and you have to pay to get on. This being said, the sun stays up long after business hours are over. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – Sunset Beach is located on the northwest coast of the island.
  • Cost – 400 Yen entrance fee per person. 
  • Opening hours – Open from 9 am to 6 pm
  • Time needed –  Take a good couple of hours to enjoy the sea and sand. 
  • Getting there – Take bus number 6 from the main terminal to the Kura bus stop, a two-minute walk to the beach.

Ishigaki Limestone Cave

Just under two miles north of Ishigaki Port, secluded under the hillside, is the almost magical world of limestone caves. 

Formed over the span of 200,000 years, the caves are a breath-taking example of not just the age of the earth but how the beauty of the island is not only above ground but below it. 

On entering the caves, you will instantly be taken away by the sheer beauty of the view before you. With glistening pillars of limestone, stalactites and stalagmites, the Ishigaki limestone caves are a subterranean world like nothing else.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Two miles north of Ishigaki’s main town
  • Cost – 1,000 Yen entry fee.
  • Opening hours – 9:00 a.m. – 6:30 p.m
  • Time needed – An hour to wander through the caves.
  • Getting there –  Take bus 1,2 or 3 north from the main terminal, getting off at the Yaeyama Nature Village Entrance bus stop.

Day 4 – 6: Take a Ferry to Hateruma (Most Southern Point of Japan)

Located around 20-miles south of Ishigaki is the island of Hateruma, the most southerly inhabited island in all of Japan. To get to the island of Hateruma, you have to catch the ferry from Ishigaki Port to Hateruma Port. This express ferry takes between 70 to 100 minutes, depending on the weather. 

You’ll need to make sure that you purchase a return ferry ticket back to Ishigaki from Hateruma, as Ishigaki Airport will be your point of call back to the Japanese mainland. Ferry tickets to Hateruma will set you back around 4,200 Yen each way. 

Getting Around Hateruma 

As one of the more isolated and less touristy islands in the Okinawa Prefecture, Hateruma is without the normal range of public transport and taxi services. 

Once you’ve docked at Hateruma Port, you’ll have the opportunity to rent a bicycle or a moped to get around the island. At just under five square miles, it’s more than easy to get around the island like this and only adds to the adventurous nature of exploring Hateruma.

Monument of The Most Southern Part of Japan

The island of Hateruma is the most southerly point in the entire state of Japan, and the Japanese are more than proud to point this out. 

Heading to the south coast of the island, much like Ushuiua’s ‘end of the world’ touristy gimmick, you will find the actual southernmost point in Japan, marked out by the ‘Southernmost Point in Japan’ stone monument. 

With breathtaking views of the ocean, there’s nothing but open water from here to the Philippines; a fact marked out on many local maps which say; “Beyond here, the Philippines”.

Know before you go:

  • Location – The monument is found on the southeast of the island, two and a half miles from the port.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – just a few moments for picture taking and admiring the views.
  • Getting there – Cycle through the central road, through the village and continue southeasterly.

Look out for Taiwan

If you’re lucky with the weather, cycling around Hateruma on a clear day will give you a view of Taiwan in the far distance. For your best chances of spotting this island nation, head to  Narisa beach, a small cove on the very east of the island. 

Unfortunately, your chances of spotting Taiwan are pretty low; all the same to try and spot Okinawa’s closest neighbours. If you’re desperate to catch a glimpse, you can make your way to the neighbouring island of Yonaguni which guarantees views of Taiwan, something that has led to Japanese military radar stations being placed on the island.

Know before you go:

  • Location – On the extreme west of the island, close to Narisa beach. 
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – A brief moment to gaze out across the sea.
  • Getting there – Cycle the westerly road heading down from the port.

Go to Nishihama Beach

With so much idyllic island life to enjoy on your Okinawa itinerary, finding the perfect beach to relax on is a must. When it comes to Hateruma, there are few small isolated beaches scattered around the small island, yet it’s Nishihama Beach that’s considered to be one of the most terrific. 

Not only is it the most beautiful on the island, but Nishihama Beach is noted by many as being one of the most idyllic beaches in all of Japan. 

At Nishihama Beach, you’ll find beautifully clear blue seas and a white sandy beach that stretches for more than half a mile. Just out to sea there’s a huge expanse of coral reef, made even more beautiful by the crystal clear turquoise water that envelopes it. 

Sitting so close to the port of Hateruma, there’s nothing stopping you from heading straight to the beach as soon as you arrive on the island.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Nishihama Beach is located just 800 meters to the west of Hateruma Port.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – Give yourself a couple of hours to take the beach in; it’s not every day you find yourself on one of the most stunning beaches in Japan.
  • Getting there – Either walk directly here from the port or cycle along the northwesterly road leading from the village.

Take Photos of Cute White Goats

Hateruma is affectionately known as the “Land of the Goats”, and for one good reason; the island is home to a huge population of white goats. So many so, it is thought that they outnumber human residents by almost three times.  

Some of these goats are semi-domesticated and you’ll see them tied together by rope, ensuring that the herd stays together. 

However, the majority, especially around the southern parts of the island, are running free and roaming far and wide. So used to human contact on such a small island, you can get up close and personal with these fluffy white animals and grab yourself a little goat selfie (aka a “goatfie,” a long-awaited goal that I achieved in one of my weird things to do in Muscatt Oman bucket list).

As the southern open spaces are the best places to see these animals, cycling around the island will give you the ideal opportunity to capture a glimpse and photo opportunity with them. Trust me, they’re impossible to miss. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – The white goats are best spotted around the open spaces on the southern end of Hateruma Island.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – As the goats are more active around cooler daylight hours, morning and late afternoon will give you the best opportunities.
  • Getting there – Rent a bicycle from the port area or your local accommodation and cycle down the main road to the south.

Eat at Yumin Touki

After a day’s cycling around the island, you will have no doubt build up an appetite. 

Head to the main village on Hateruma, which is a small collection of buildings, to find yourself in one of the islands best culinary spots, Yumin Touki. Offering up the perfect beach house atmosphere, Yumin Touki serves some of the finest delicacies found on the entire island. 

Aside from the many delicious vegetable dishes, Yumin Touk is most famous for a dish called Yakiniku, which is the traditional Japanese grilled meat platters. These come accompanied by unlimited rice and specific dinner sets, perfect for large groups to eat very well for very little.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Yumin Touki is located in the centre of the main village.
  • Cost – 1,000 to 2,000 Yen per person. 
  • Opening hours – 11 am – 9 pm.
  • Time needed –  Give yourself at least an hour to sample the food here.
  • Getting there – You can easily cycle here from any of the island’s accommodation in just a few minutes.

Send Postcards from Japan’s most Southern Point

It’s not every day that you can explore a place like Hateruma, and it’s more than likely that you’ll never be here again. Having the glory of exploring the most southerly point in all of Japan, far out in the East China Sea, can only be bolstered by sending a good old-fashioned postcard home. 

While it may be relatively far out and quite an isolated spot on the island, Hateruma still plays host to an island post office. Hateruma Post Office is at the centre of the island’s main village and is the perfect place to send a ‘wish you were here’ postcard home. 

Not only is the novelty of sending a postcard from such a far-flung island fun, but you will also send it with a postage stamp that can only be acquired here – something that adds to the exoticness of the message.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Hateruma Post Office is located at 106-2 in the centre of the village.
  • Cost – The cost will depend on how far you will be sending your postcard home, though prices rarely go above 100 Yen.
  • Opening hours – 8:30 am – 4:30 pm on weekdays, closed on weekends.
  • Time needed – However long it may take to write your message for home. 
  • Getting there – As you are likely to be staying within the village, it’s possible to walk to the post office from many different locations on the island. Alternatively, jump on your trusty bike and cycle over. 

Visit Cape Takanazaki

Aside from being the most southerly point on the island and in all of Japan, Cape Takanazaki is also one of the most stunning spots along the country’s coastline. 

With rolling hills and rock formations, gazing over the coast and out toward the Philippine Sea is a serene experience and makes for fantastic photo opportunities. Riding your bike along the southern coast and Cape Takanazaki is the perfect way to spend an afternoon, especially on a clear day. 

Passing the crashing waves, local goats and the occasional local, you’ll feel the peaceful isolation that makes Hateruma such a fantastic place to visit.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Cape Takanazaki is located in the very south of the island.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – Give yourself a couple of hours to explore the whole southern coast and cape.
  • Getting there – With bicycle hire under your belt, you can ride to the cape in under 30 minutes from the central village.

Sokonatameike Viewing Platform 

Towards the western side of the southern coast, opposite the easterly Cape Takanazaki, is the isolated Sokonatameike Viewing Platform. On an island that has relatively few elevated points, such as hillsides or mountains, the Sokonatameike Viewing Platform is a terrific find. This man-made viewing platform is constructed out of rocky boulders, built up to represent what can only be described as the foot of a castle tower.

Though not as tall as a castle tower, the viewing platform provides unhindered views across the island, but especially out to sea. Sitting just a little off the main roads, this spot will have you feeling like a master of the island, looking out across the vastness of sea and land.

On clear days, it’s possible to see panoramic vistas of the picturesque island sea, providing breathtaking views and photo opportunities like nowhere else on the island.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Sokonatameike Viewing Platform is located on the far southwestern coast of the island, a little way off the road. 
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – Around 30 minutes should be enough to take in the views from the Sokonatameike Viewing Platform. 
  • Getting there – Cycle to the island’s southwestern road, here you will see a small sign close to the reservoir, directing you to the viewing platform.

Pemuchi Beach

On the total opposite side to the famous Nishihama Beach, there is the somewhat unknown beach of Pemuchi. Located on the extreme south of the island, its isolation only adds to its allure, and at the same time, its fantastic views of the ocean. 

Pemuchi is an inlet of land, with Cape Takanazaki to its east and the Sokonatameike Viewing Platform west. This sheltered position means that the beach is untouched by the fierce coastal winds that blow in from the sea, giving the beach a cove-like feel.

Unfortunately, for the last few years, swimming at Pemuchi Beach has been restricted, and the tides have brought about a saddening amount of ocean litter and debris. Optimism for cleaner oceans and overall Earth welfare may bring back the golden years of Pemuchi Beach. Although it may seem all bad news, the natural location of Pemuchi Beach is untouched by the hand of man, and its undeniable beauty can still be appreciated.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Pemuchi Beach is located on the very south of the island, close to Sokonatameike Viewing Platform and Cape Takanazaki. 
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – A good half hour will allow you to take in the sandy beaches and marina views.
  • Getting there – Cycle any direct southern road out of the village, and you will come to Pemuchi Beach.

Jog Around 12.7 km2 of Isolated Paradise

Visiting Hateruma Island on your Okinawa itinerary is a journey that throws up many firsts, whether that be visiting the southernmost point in Japan, sending postcards from one of the most isolated post offices in the world, or simply jogging around a whole island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

At a mere 12.7 km2 or 7.8 square miles, this island that offers so much is surprisingly small. After days of trying out healthy and delicious Okinawan cuisine, a much-needed expel of energy and exercise may be in order to keep up with the spirit of the thriving locals.

I’m a keen runner myself, but even if you’ve never entertained the idea of going for a run, being amongst some of the healthiest humans on earth and surrounded by one of the most charming island scenes on the planet is more than enough motivation to head out into the fresh air.

With perfectly circular roads and routes crisscrossing the island, your jog is one that has the ideal route already mapped out for you. As many competitive people know, having a lovely circular route laid before you only invites it to be run in the fastest time possible, though with a few shots of Awamori perspiring out front the night before, it may not be your personal best. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – The road runs a circular route around the entire island, making the run more like a huge track and field track.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – This is a leisurely pursuit and will all depend on how long you want to spend and your own ability.
  • Getting there – A circular road route runs around the entirety of the island, making the run easy to do.

Hateruma Brewery

We in the west may be aware of Japanese spirits such as sake, yet when it comes to the Okinawan variety, we have a little drinking education to do. Unlike the common Japanese sake that uses short-grain rice, Awanami sake that is made and drunk throughout the Okinawa prefecture is brewed with long grain Indica rice. 

This gives the sake a far more mellow flavour and is a defining product of Okinawa as a whole.

To see the production of Okinawan sake, head to the Hateruma Brewery in the centre of the island. Here, you can see how they make this famous drink in all its glory; from the grain right down to the bottle. 

For us monolingual westerners, understanding the predominantly Japanese signage and tour guides can make the whole experience a little cloudy. This being said, it may be worth educating yourself about the product and its process before you enter.

As the guides only speak Japanese and a little local dialect, reading up about the process will mean that once you join a tour, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to understand what you see beforehand.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Hateruma Brewery is located in the west of the main village.
  • Cost – 17,000 Yen
  • Opening hours – 10am-4pm
  • Time needed –  Take a few hours to see the whole brewing process and complete the tour.
  • Getting there – Sitting in the centre of the village, it’s more than possible to reach the brewery on foot from most accommodations on the island. 

See the Southern Cross from the Observatory

The Crux, or Southern Cross, is a constellation that fills the night sky. Though many in the northern hemisphere are used to constellations such as the Plough and Orion’s Belt, the Southern Cross may be a star formation that has passed many of us by, and understandably. 

The Southern Cross is a constellation that is only visible from the southern hemisphere and only from tropical latitudes too. The island of Hateruma is perfectly positioned to view this constellation, and the stargazers among you would be foolish to let such a chance pass you by. 

With the island found so far south, it’s possible to see this constellation above the horizon when the sky is clear. This is only heightened by the fact that there are no streetlights on the island and the light pollution levels are very low. 

To get the best opportunity to see the Southern Cross constellation, head to the island’s Observatory on the southeast of the island. Heading here once the sun goes down gives you a chance to observe the stars and heavens like never before and tick the sighting of the Southern Cross off your Okinawa itinerary. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – The observatory is located on the extreme southeast of the island.
  • Cost –  400 Yen entry fees to the observatory
  • Opening hours – 10 am – 9 pm, though it’s best to visit when the sun goes down
  • Time needed – Give yourself a couple of hours to get a good view of the stars above.
  • Getting there – Cycle down to the observatory using the easterly road, or organise a shuttle service from your accommodation.  

Oyake Akahachi Monument

Although much of the island of Hateruma has lost most of its history, which can be put down to the Japanisation of the Ryukyuan culture, there is an unassuming but poignant spot that still remains on the island. 

The Oyake Akahachi monument is a small stele, or stone slab, located in the centre of the village, at the heart of the island. While only small, this honour is tightly linked with the history and people of Hateruma Island.

As the legend goes, Oyake Akahachi, a Ryukyuan lord born on the island of Hateruma, led a rebellion against the Ryukyuan Kingdom in the very early 16th century. Although this rebellion was eventually suppressed, Oyake Akahachi’s legacy was retained, and he has become a folk hero and an emblem for Hateruma ever since.

In true Asian subtle style, the monument to Oyake Akahachi is only tiny and can easily be missed. A small stone plinth, decorated with Japanese and Ryukyuan characters, can be seen by the side of the road, the last vestige to a community and people that have nearly all but disappeared.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Oyake Akahachi monument is located in the centre of the village, on the main road leading east. It may be difficult to find as it’s usually overgrown with the roadside foliage.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours.
  • Time needed – Mere moments, enabling you to see the monument by the roadside.
  • Getting there – Take the main road out of the village heading east; the monument is on the right-hand side.

Day 6 – 7: Ferry Back to Ishigaki, fly to Tokyo…

Once you’ve had your fill of the idyllic island of Hateruma, it’s time to jump back on the ferry and head over to the familiar Ishigaki. Though you might be in a rush to catch your flight back to the Japanese capital of Tokyo, if you have time, there are a few more things to see that you can add to your Okinawa itinerary. 

Take a Pottery Class at Ishigaki-yaki Pottery Studio

One of the most famous places on the globe for unique pottery, Ishigaki potters have had much of their work exhibited in the British Museum. Their unique approach to pottery making uses a fusion of clay and glass, plus a huge amount of time dedicated to the making of each piece.

Located on the far west of the island, the Ishigaki-yaki Pottery Studio is both a place to observe the unique pottery creations and somewhere where you can learn the skill yourself. Hands-on workshops in the pottery studio give you a once in a lifetime experience of working with potters who have been continuing an age-old tradition for centuries.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Ishigaki-yaki Pottery Studio is located on the far west of the island, in the Nagura area of Ishigaki. 
  • Cost – Free to enter, but hour-long classes will set you back around 4,500 Yen.
  • Opening hours – 9 am – 5 pm
  • Time needed – Give yourself at least an hour to take a tour of the studio, or two if you’re hoping to join a pottery class.
  • Getting there –  Take a bus from the main terminal heading towards the River Square bus stop. From here it’s only a short walk to the studio.

Shop at Ishigaki Public Market

When you’ve travelled extensively throughout Asia, it’s pretty easy to get bored of the many markets, each offering a similar take on fruit, veg and local trinkets. 

However, visiting Ishigaki’s Public Market will throw a whole new light onto local markets. Specializing in local Ishigaki products and cuisine, the Ishigaki Public Market is a market full of stores selling local produce in all its different varieties, colours and shapes.

One of the best things to pick up from the market is the local piper chi spice, something that almost personifies the culinary cooking of the local Okinawans and ancient Ryukyuan culture. Aside from this, a general walk around the Ishigaki Public Market is an ideal way to observe the beating heart of the island’s people.

Know before you go:

  • Location – South of Ishigaki City, in the Ōkawa area.
  • Cost – Items can cost a variety of prices, but it’s always worth haggling to get the best price possible.  
  • Opening hours – 9 am – 9 pm.
  • Time needed – Around an hour to view the market stalls.
  • Getting there – Several buses head to the market from the island’s main bus terminal, but you might need to ask around to find the right one. 

Bonus Option: Ferry to Taketomi Islands for a few days

If you happen to fall foul of a cancelled ferry or simply have a little more time on your hands, a trip to the nearby island of Taketomi can add yet another island hopping experience to your Okinawa Itinerary. 

One the smallest in the Okinawa prefecture, you can see plenty on the island of Taketomi in a really short amount of time. Allow two days if you have the time, but you’ll be able to see a lot in just one if you’ve got to head home, just be conscious of ferry cancellations during connecting islands, you’re not visiting Caye Caulker – you’re far out in a string of isolated nations. 

How to get to Taketomi from Ishigaki

Getting to the island of Taketomi is pretty simple; you’ll need to catch a ten-minute ferry from the port of Ishigaki to the port of Taketomi. Boats tend to leave every 30-minutes, so you won’t necessarily have to book ahead, but you can get your ticket online if you want to guarantee a seat. A return fare will set you back 1150 Yen per person.

Taketomi is a raised coral atoll, circular in shape and surrounded by coral reefs. The island’s beauty is only enhanced by the traditional Okinawan red-tiled houses and sandy streets. Much of the island is protected from being overly modernised, allowing it to keep its traditional and esthetically pleasing traditional look.

Getting Around Taketomi Island 

Located at the port is the Taketomi visitors centre, which welcomes you to the island and will give you an insight into what you can do here. Much like on the island of Hateruma, there is also a bicycle hire service as you arrive on the island, allowing you to explore under your own steam. 

Average prices for bicycle rental hovers around 500 Yen for an hour or 2000 Yen for the whole day. At just 5km2  you can, of course, get around by foot too, which will cost you absolutely diddly squat.

Some visitors choose to explore the village via a water buffalo drawn cart, a very traditional method of transportation used by the locals on the island. These tours last around 30-minutes cost 1,200 Yen and will give you a quick tour around the villages main streets and top sights.

Admire the Views from Nagomi Tower

On an island where all of the buildings are protected, and there is only one two-story building, getting a little height can be really rewarding. One of the most amazing spots for awesome panoramic views of the island is from Nagomi Tower. The tower is located in the heart of the town and its top is reached by a series of stone steps.

Once you’ve made it to the top of the tower, you can enjoy 360 panoramic views of the island, perfect for any photo opportunities. The tower also offers up stunning views of Taketomi’s famous red-tiled roofed houses. The views from up here will have you feeling like you have stepped back in time to an age of heightened Ryukyuan culture, untouched by the hand of Japan.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Nagomi Tower is located in the centre of the town, slightly northwest of the main road. 
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – just a few moments to take in the fantastic surrounding views.
  • Getting there – As it is located within the town, cycling or walking from your accommodation is easily done.

Taketomi Folk Art Museum

To pull the curtain back on the traditions of Taketomi Island, head to the Taketomi Folk Art Museum in the north of the town. This museum showcases the ancient art of weaving and dying fabrics and demonstrates why this played such a strong role in developing the island’s economy and identity. Free to enter, the museum also houses fantastic displays of the ancient weaving techniques, giving you a first-hand experience of the art itself.

Alongside these practical demonstrations, the Taketomi Folk Art Museum also has a huge collection of fabrics, weaving looms, and many other artefacts passed down through the ages. Both an artistic and historical place of interest, the Taketomi Folk Art Museum really brings the island’s cultural identity to the forefront.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Taketomi Folk Art Museum is located in the very north of the town.
  • Cost – Free to enter, but donations are highly appreciated
  • Opening hours – 9 am – 4 pm
  • Time needed – Give yourself at least an hour to wander through the museum’s many artefacts.
  • Getting there – Located so close to the village and the main road, it’s possible to walk to the Taketomi Folk Art Museum from most places on the island.

Explore Aiyaru Beach

One of the continuous joys of travelling through your Okinawa itinerary is the seemingly endless beaches of immense beauty, and Taketomi is no different. Heading to the southeast of the island, you will come to the shoreline of Aiyaru Beach. 

With crystal clear waters and white sands, Aiyaru Beach is one of the island’s most beautiful spots and is not to be missed, especially if you’re a lover of the sand.

One of the best things about Aiyaru Beach is its relative isolation. Although widely popular, the beach is one that is rarely busy and allows you to really take in the sight of the open ocean and the horizon over the Pacific Ocean.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Aiyaru Beach is located on the far southeast of the island.
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – Hours can be spent relaxing on the sandy shores of Aiyaru Beach, so it’s up to you really.
  • Getting there – Cycle out of the eastern road, leading out of the town, eventually, you will reach the coast.

Discover Nisito Utaki

As the Japanese take over of the Okinawa islands succeeded, much of the culture of the mainland spread to the islands. As well as the Japanese language and culture, the Japanese-born religion of Shinto also flourished across the islands. The Shinto shrine of Nisito Utaki is a perfect example of this and is well worth squeezing into your Okinawa itinerary when you’re on Taketomi island.

Slightly different in design to mainland Shinto shrines, Nisito Utaki is a combination of Japanese and Ryukyuan influences. Enveloped by traditional Ryukyuan walls, the inner chamber of the shrine is similar to those on the mainland and has a number of Japanese characters embellished on its walls. 

Although many locals still use this as their place of worship, it also welcomes outsiders who wish to pay their respects and learn about Shinto practices.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Nisito Utaki is located in the centre of the town 
  • Cost – Free
  • Opening hours – 24 hours
  • Time needed – Mere minutes to glance around the small shrine.
  • Getting there – The shrine is easily reached on foot from wherever you’re staying in town.

Then Fly Back to Naha for Some Home Comforts 

Once you’ve soaked up as much culture, beauty and fresh air as you can from Taketomi Island, it’s nearing the end of your Okinawa itinerary. 

Heading back to Naha, the capital of Okinawa, will give you the perfect jumping-off point to head back to Tokyo for your flight home, and offer up the opportunity to explore the place where these Japanese islands merge with the west a little more and grab some of those culinary home comforts that you’ve missed while munching on the food of the Ryukyuan people.  

How To Get To Naha From Taketomi

After spending your week out on Ishigaki, Hatruma and Taketomi, the relatively small island of Okinawa and its capital Naha will seem like going back home and into the city. To get back to Naha, simply take the ferry from Taketomi back to Ishigaki and then book a flight from the Painushima Ishigaki Airport back to the Okinawan capital of Naha.

If you do have a spare afternoon, or even a few days before you fly back to Tokyo, here are a few extra activities to add to the end of your Okinawa itinerary. 

Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum

If you’re hankering for a little bit of culture at the end of your trip, half a day spent in the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum should suit you well. This unusually designed building looks a little out of place, with big blocks of limestone dropped in the middle of the city. 

However inside, the exhibits are well worth a wander. Housing everything from archaeological artefacts and modern artwork to a living coral reef and displays on natural history, it’s easy to get lost in the wealth of information that you’ll have at your disposal. 

Once you’re finished exploring the exhibitions inside the museum, take some time to explore the gardens in front of the museum. Here, you’ll find reconstructions of two traditional Okinawan buildings; one, a thatched-roof storehouse and the other a tiled-roof dwelling. 

You could easily while away a whole day in this 24,000 square meter museum, so it’s worth picking and choosing what you fancy seeing and planning your visit beforehand.

Know before you go:

  • Location – Found in the Omoro-Machi district of Naha
  • Cost – Entry to the Prefectural Museum costs 550 Yen, while the Art Museum will set you back another 400 Yen.
  • Opening hours – 9 am to 6 pm on most days, with extended opening hours on Fridays and Saturdays. 
  • Time needed – Anything from an hour to a whole day depending on what you want to get out of your visit. 
  • Getting there – Nestled into central Naha, the museum is a ten-minute walk from Omoromachi Station which can be reached via the Okinawa monorail. Otherwise, you can get the number 10 bus which leaves from the main bus terminal in the city.

Explore Naminoue Beach and Discover Naminoue Shrine

As one of the only beaches in Okinawa where you can swim, a visit to Naminoue is the perfect excuse to cool down when you’re visiting during the warmer months. 

Like any city beach, it’s one of the busier spots for sunbathing on the islands, but that doesn’t take away the beauty. From April to October, you can rent deck chairs, and settle into your own spot on the beach for a few hours.

If you’re not much of a beach bum, the hard-to-miss Naminoue Shrine is just a few minutes walk away on the edge of Asahigaoka Park. Sat on the clifftop, and shrouded in red lanterns, this is considered to be one of the most significant Shinto shrines on the islands. It also overlooks the Naha Tug-of-War festival that I mentioned at the start of this Okinawa itinerary. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – Naminoue Beach sits on the southwestern coastline of the island, while the shrine is perched on the clifftop that overlooks the beach.
  • Cost –  Free!
  • Opening hours – Beach is open around the clock, while the shrine opens from 9 am to 5 pm every day.
  • Time needed – A few hours or a whole afternoon, depending on the time of year you’re visiting. 
  • Getting there – Jump on the train to Asahibashi Station or take bus number 25, 26 or 99 from Kencho-Mae station, getting off at Nishinjo. From both directions, it’s a short walk to the beach.

Grab some Souvenirs from Kokusai Dori 

If you need to pick up some last-minute gifts for the old dear, or maybe some momentos for yourself, make your way to Kokusai Dori. 

Naha’s main high street, this two-kilometre stretch of road is home to a mixture of bars, restaurants and local shops. You’ll find everything here from t-shirts and bags to trinkets and jewellery, all sold and made by locals. 

Know before you go:

  • Location – Kokusai Dori is the main road that runs through the centre of Naha. 
  • Cost – Depends on what you’re buying! 
  • Opening hours – Most shops operate from 9 am until 5 or 6 pm in the evening. 
  • Time needed – You could spend endless time wandering along this street, but a few hours will probably be enough. 
  • Getting there – Located in the centre of  Naha, you’ll more than likely be able to walk here from most central accommodation spots. 

I appreciate that this Okinawa itinerary was pretty intense, but I’m an intense kind of guy! I hope that you give these mystical islands the chance that they deserve when you’re visiting Japan and make that worthwhile effort to venture south. 

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Anthony Middleton

Former loser who took a risk. Visited over 100 countries. Trying my best to not get skinny-fat during Covid.

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