Crystal clear turquoise water, beautiful coral reef, dense jungle, water buffalo drawn carts, hot sauce served with all my meals… Am I still in Japan?
I just recently came back from visiting Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Japan during my school’s spring break. In my near 3 years living in Japan, this was my first time leaving the main island of Japan (Honshu), where I live. It’s about freaking time.
When people visit Okinawa they either go to the main island with the capital Naha or to Ishigaki Island in the southern Yaeyama Islands.
The main island of Okinawa is where most of the museums about WW2 are located here and many important cultural heritage sites of Okinawan people like Naminoue Shrine and Shuri Castle.
This is also where the famous Churaumi Aquarium is located. All the huge tourists attractions make it the most popular destination for foreigners and Japanese people when they plan a trip to Okinawa.
The other area of Okinawa that gets a lot of tourists is the Yaeyama islands. It has become more popular in the last year since Peach airlines, Japan’s budget airline, has introduced a direct flight from Kansai Airport to Ishigaki Airport.
These islands are much more rural and are famous for great diving, post card worthy beaches, and beautiful nature.
My friends and I decided that we would only visit Ishigaki and the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa because of our budget constraints and wanting to have an extremely relaxing vacation full of beach lounging.
The culture and history of Naha? Pffhh… who cares? I want to nap on the beach!
This trip was my first-time flying peach airlines and it was interesting… Firstly the planes, stewardesses, check-in area, and everything else are COMPLETELY pink and purple.
They have a checked luggage weight limit of 10 kg, which is pretty light. They also scan your checked luggage before you check in and not after. You can’t check a lighter on the plane, but for some reason, it’s ok to have in your carry on.
The weirdest thing about flying peach is they NEVER once checked any identification. It wasn’t just me either. My friends ID’s never got looked at and the Japanese people flying with us never had their ID’s checked. Craaazzzzzyyyy.
When we landed in Ishigaki, we were picked up by our guesthouse owner and driven 30 minutes to where we were staying in Kabira Bay. Just driving through Ishigaki we couldn’t help but all fawn over how different Ishigaki looked from mainland Japan. It was so tropical looking! The flowers, landscape, and even the crops in the fields were totally different.
Even though, it was the afternoon and we had been up before 5am. we decided to forgo naps and explore Kabira.
While looking for the beach that was within walking distance of our guesthouse, we put our phones on airplane mode to try and disconnect. We wanted to try and only use paper maps to get around the island. This is the first time we got lost while in Okinawa. It would become a reoccurring theme.
Eventually, we found our way to a secluded beach, which may or may not have been forbidden. Oops. We enjoyed it anyway. This is where we took our first nap of the trip. This is another reoccurring theme of our trip.
We really enjoyed staying in Kabira Bay. It’s far removed from the more convenient and populated Ishigaki City, but the beauty and quietness of the area were exactly what we were looking for. We could walk to town in the middle of the road without fear of cars coming and there were just enough tourists and locals to support a handful of really fantastic restaurants and business.
When you are planning a trip to Okinawa with a budget in mind, you must first decide which part of Okinawa you want to visit based on what you want out of the trip. If you are a history buff and you want to get your fill of WW2 memorabilia and sightseeing, visit Naha. If you are an avid diver looking for great coral reef or a nature and adventure enthusiast, go to Ishigaki instead.
If you decide to go to Ishigaki, where you stay on the island could also have a big impact on your overall experience. If you like to be social and go out and meet people every night, stay in Ishigaki City. If you are looking for a quiet atmosphere where you can hear the owls at night and there are few to no cars in sight, stay in Kabira or another smaller town on Ishigaki.
Next I’ll write about some of our Okinawan adventures including hiking and kayaking the jungle of Iriomote, Scuba diving with manta rays, and cycling through Taketomi.