We started our adventure on the Japan Islands of Yaeyama on Ishigaki Island. Expect some stunning views, interesting cultural experiences and tons of tasty food! Let’s get right into it:
Arriving on Ishigaki airport already prepares you for the tropical goodness you’re about to experience!
Highlights of Idyllic Ishigaki Island in Okinawa, Japan
1. Kabira Bay
If you’re not sure what to do in Ishigaki, then head straight for Kabira Bay and you won’t be disappointed. Kabira beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and while you cannot swim, snorkel or dive here because of the strong current, you can still admire the view or go on a glass bottom boat tour of the area.
Fun Fact: Along with Iriomote Island, Kabira Bay is the only of two cultivation sites of black pearls in all of Japan.
The glass bottom boats are lined up here!
Not quite sure who these folks in the photo above are, but they seem to.. uhm… like each other :)
2. Okinawa Sake (Awamori) Tasting
From Kabira Bay, it’s just a short stroll to the local Awamori (Okinawan Sake) distillery. Unlike regular sake, this alcoholic drink is made from distilling rice, not brewing it. Also, it is made with black rice from Thailand, which they still import to this day. A great guide going deeper into the process of both Awamori as the other famous Japanese drink Shochu, can be found here and here.
Fun Fact: Back in the days Awamori was served only at special occasions and a popular phrase said that while wealthy people entrust their money to others, they will always keep the keys to their Awamori cellar close to them.
The lady of the distillery (holding the photo) spoke little English, but she had some brochures explaining the process very clearly in English
Never too early for sake!
Our favourite on the right: Peach Awamori!
3. Yaima Village
If you’re interested learning more about the typical culture of the Yaeyama Islands, then Yaima Village is a must-visit. This open-air museum showcases a number of old houses that were removed from Ishigaki city and reconstructed here in the park. The park also has some great cultural activities, like a music/dance show and kimono-fitting sessions.
Fun Fact: In a forest in the park, nearly 40 monkey roam free for you to feed and pet. Too cute!
Dressed up like Royals!
I made a new friend ❤
4. Make traditional Okinawan Textile: “Minsa”
If you like to get hands-on, then this creative travel experience is definitely something for you: make your own woven piece of textile (‘Minsah‘) at Minsah Kogei Kan. After the effort, they will take the piece of woven fabric off the loom for you and you will get it nicely wrapped up and together with a certificate back. Great memory!
Fun Fact: According to tradition, women would give a woven, indigo-dyed Obi (wide cloth belt) to a man as a sign of their engagement. The dye pattern in the belt would have 5 and 4 squares in alteration, representing (by way of word play) an invitation that he visits her anytime, often and forever (itsu-no yo-mademo-suenagaku, ‘itsu’=5 and ‘yo’=4)
“Ōri Tōri”… meaning welcome!
Nick is rocking the loom
My piece of minsah
Plenty of unique gifts in the shop
The minsah pattern can be found everywhere on Ishigaki Island!
5. Okinawan Donut: Satah Andagi
Looking for a sweet bite? Then you don’t want to miss ‘Sayoko no Mise’, a tiny shop run by a grandmother, mother and daughter baking and selling traditional Okinawan donuts called Satah Andagi. They run out around noon, so get there early!
Fun Fact: They serve anything from plain to banana, carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato to cinnamon donuts. And they’re really ALL good.
6. Toujin Grave & US War Memorial: Dark Japanese History
At first we didn’t really understand why we were taken to a grave on our trip, but after a bit of research we understood the importance of this memorial. Well, in fact, there are two memorials on this place, each with a bit of a different story to it, one of which is often rather not told.
In 1852, an American/British ship carried Chinese labourers when it crashed into rocks off the coast of Ishigaki island. The workers who believed that they were treated like slaves soon enough made a break for the island (380 of them), 128 of which lost their lives in the gunfire battle that followed. The survivors received protection from islanders and the royal government and the Toujin grave was erected in memory of those Chinese workers who died.
The monument behind it is often skipped by Japanese tour group and to be honest, we didn’t even take a photo of it. We only realized later there was much more to it than we realized when standing there: The hospitality shown to the fleeing Chinese slaves wasn’t what three American aviators who crash-landed just off the coast of Ishigaki on April the 15th, 1945 received. After being interrogated and tortured they were executed during the night, one of them not before being paraded through the center of Ishigaki and chastised and stabbed by an angry mob, seeking someone to blame for the many bombs on their islands. The torture of prisoners of war was a violation of the Geneva Convention and the incident led to the conviction of 41 Japanese soldiers and sailors on war crimes charges after the war, 7 of whom would go on to be executed.
For tips on how to get to Ishigaki Island Japan, Ishigaki hotels and general information on the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa, Japan, please check our article here: 3 Japan islands you didn’t know existed
Where to Eat on Ishigaki Island Okinawa?
The island of Ishigaki has many great places to go for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here is where we went (we’ll write about some of these places individually soon to show you more of the amazing local dishes we tasted)
We had a lovely lunch at Mr. Yasuyoshi’s restaurant ‘Oisi-sa-gu’ in Kabira Bayside. This place is famous for their Soba noodles and specialty gelato ice cream (try the Purple Yam one!).
Our final day, we had a lunch at the relaxed ‘Puff Puff’ restaurant (pronounced by locals als Puka-Puka). It had such a good beachy vibe, loved it! Take a seat on the veranda and overlook the ocean while enjoying your meal.
Another amazing place for lunch is ‘Nakamuraya’, a cozy family run restaurant serving island vegetable curry. You can order a place with a combination of 2 curry’s (for example the chicken and beef) if you find it hard to choose.
For dinner, a must visit is ‘Hitoshi Ishiganto’ in Ishigaki City. This is the number one Izakaya of the island and people line up to get inside, so make sure to reserve a place. Bring practical shoes, as you have to take them off. Make sure to try the beef sashimi (see below)… incredible!
Funakura no Sato
Another amazing restaurant in a very beautiful setting is ‘Funakura no Sato’, with live music and traditional Okinawan dishes, you cannot go wrong here. Make sure to share and go for the stinky tofu if you dare!
See all sights and restaurants on Ishigaki Japan on the map:
Disclaimer: We were kindly invited by the Okinawa Tourism Board to experience the hospitality, culture, food and nature of Ishigaki Island. All photos and opinions are 100% our own, as always.