The Yaeyama Japan Islands are the most remote of the Okinawa archipelago. When we got an invitation to visit this destination as part of a blogger trip, we couldn’t even find it on Google maps right away. It was much further from the main island then we expected: it’s actually closer to Taiwan then to the rest of Japan!
In the end we were able to find the islands after all and landed after a long, long day with 2 transfers on Ishigaki Airport, where we were welcomed by the sun and our cheerful host Yurika, who seemed proud to show us her home: Ishigaki island.
Definitely NOT jeans weather
The Crazy Bunch! Clockwise: Nick, I, Nick, Serena, Stefan, Sebastien, Yurika, Karen and Paul
History of the Yaeyama Islands Japan
You won’t notice much of it today, unless you visit one of 34 military bases that you can still find active on the islands in this area -or wonder why you can find cans of spam in the supermarkets everywhere…, but until 1972, Okinawa was American territory.
Because of its strategic position between Japan and the continent, over 185.000 American troops used the islands as a stepping stone to the rest of the archipelago during the Pacific War in World War II. It was a bloody war, with over 75,000 Us casualties on the ground and 94% of the Japanese soldiers dying along with many civilians…
While the capital city of Naha is probably the starting point of most people’s Okinawa holiday and the island of Okinawa was center point of the Battle of Okinawa (more info here), we skipped this place and headed straight for the lesser known Yaeyama islands: Ishigaki, Taketomi and Iriomote.
Why you should visit Okinawa Japan
I always find that islands, of any country, have a special feel about them. It’s the isolation that keeps influences from the outside to a minimum, which usually lets traditions flourish. Same goes for Okinawa.
For example, the people of the Yaeyama islands have their own language “Yaimamuni” (Japanese is spoken as a second language), there are some typical Okinawan dishes like “Rafute“, “Okinawa Soba” and “Taco Rice” and they even make their own type of textiles (“Minsa“), that you cannot find anywhere else. And we were going to explore it all.
Of course, having a tropical climate, we cannot forget to mention the Okinawa beaches and the wide variety of water sports you can choose to do here. The beach of Kabira Bay ranks as one of the best in the world and Starsand beach on Taketomi island is famous for its star-shapes grains of sand. In our next blogs, we will take you to each island individually and show you the adventures we had, so stay tuned!
Kabira Bay, Ishigaki Island
How to Travel to Okinawa?
The biggest transport hub is Naha City and airlines operate between this city and most major Japanese cities, as well as some international airports. You can also get a ferry between Naha and the mainland.
We flew from London (With ANA via Frankfurt (this leg operated by Lufthansa) and Osaka, which we don’t recommend to be honest, get a direct flight and save hours!) to Ishigaki Airport. You can also fly into Ishigaki from Naha or other Japanese cities (we left the island with a direct flight with ANA to Tokyo).
A small note on flying with ANA though, because while we liked the space we had on the flights and the entertainment and service of staff was good, we felt we didn’t get enough food during the long-haul flight: we only got 2 meals (which were just not very appetizing either, and by the time they reached us in the back of the plane, our preferred choice was gone), the first meal came already within 1 hour after departure, then nothing until arrival 10 hours later. We were starving on top of being total jet-lagged. On the leg Osaka-Ishigaki, we didn’t get any food at all (lots of Jasmine tea, though), even though that was an almost a 3 hour-long flight!
Between Ishigaki and Taketomi/Iriomote, you can get one of the regular ferries. There is English speaking staff at some of the ferry terminal desks.
English Speaking Desk at the Ferry Terminal in Ishigaki
Where to Stay in Okinawa?
Whether you’re looking for an Okinawa hotel or Okinawa Resort, there are plenty of options. We stayed over night in Ishigaki and Iriomote and both Okinawa hotels were great!
Hotel in Ishigaki
The private bungalow hut (in a separate little village next to the main hotel building) we got at the Ishigaki Seaside Resort was simply amazing. So romantic! It was very spacious, we got lots of beauty products (4 different types of shampoo and conditioner, in case of a really bad hair day I suppose…), a fully stocked fridge and just so much choice at the breakfast (in the main hotel building).
If we had to point out something we didn’t like so much, it was perhaps that there were two single beds, not a double bed, although we believe this might be customary in Japan. Oh, and we had two MASSIVE spiders in our room, but it seemed those were put there especially for us, as the other couples said they didn’t have any. But…the jacuzzi on the porch and the short stroll to the hotel’s private “Sukuji” beach made well up for them. Lush!
Yes. Bigger then our London apartment
… and romance is gone again…
The Japanese don’t have a fixed shower like us, just a plastic ‘wet room’ (on the left here) with a handheld shower, guess a good excuse to bring someone along :)
Jacuzzi on the porch. NICE.
Pool or Beach? Well, turned out we didn’t have time for either of them… ahhh!
Hotel in Iriomote
On Iriomote Island, we stayed in the recently refurbished Nirakanai resort, located on Tsukigahama Beach. Our room looked out over the ocean and the room was beautiful!
While again the beds were seperate, the mini-bar empty (just a bottle of water) and the bathroom was a bit too small for us, we did get to enjoy the swimming pool, the great food in the restaurant and had a really good rest at night with the sound of singing frogs in the background :)
You can walk straight from the lobby to the beach!
While no double bed, we did have a cool lounge-pad in the room!
Make sure to not skip the fresh fruit, especially the island’s famous pineapple… soooo good
Hotel in Taketomi
We didn’t stay on Taketomi, as it made a perfect day trip from Iriomote and it’s just so small that one day is more then enough, but you could stay for example in the luxury resort Hoshinoya Okinawa, or any of the small, family-run minshuku (guesthouses) on the island.
What to See in Okinawa?
When you have decided where to go in Okinawa (of course we recommend the Yaeyama islands), it’s time to plan your itinerary. Again, you will have plenty of options on each island. In our next posts, we will cover all the islands we visited separately, so check back soon for the live link!
Highlights of Idyllic Ishigaki Island Okinawa Japan: Definitely Worth the Stop-Over!
Cycle Trip around Taketomi Island, Okinawa Japan: Don’t Miss Famous Starsand Beach!
Top Okinawa Diving and Snorkelling Experience on Iriomote Island Japan
Get Active on Iriomote Island Japan with this Unforgettable Kayak and Jungle Trekking
Barras Island, Iriomote
Map of Okinawa
For your convenience, we have created a map with suggestions on what to do in Okinawa, that you could use on your phone… or print, we won’t judge!
Open this Okinawa map in Google
Bus selfie with Haruna from the Okinawa Tourism Board
While we still have plenty of articles coming up on Okinawa travel and Things to see and do in the rest of Japan, here are some articles written by other travel blogger that have visited some of the Okinawa islands:
- Experiencing the exotic in Okinawa, Japan (a series of 7 posts on Okinawa) – Grown Up Travel Guide
- Okinawa: A Journey of Discovery (series of posts) – Seattle’s Travels
- Top 10 Foods to Try in Okinawa – Traveldudes
- Top 10 Things To Do on Okinawa Main Island – Traveldudes
- The Star Sand Beach of Hoshizuna-no-hama – Amusing Planet
- A Journey out of Time: Road Trip in Okinawa – Miles of Happiness
- Japan Travel: 5 Reasons to Visit Taketomi Island – Jessie on a Journey
- Aka Island – velkommen til paradis! – Norske Reiseblogger (in Norwegian, Google Translate it! :))
Planning a Trip to Japan? Here are some great resources:
- Skyscanner – Find the best flights to Japan
- Booking.com – Find the best hotels in Japan
- World Nomads – Find the best travel insurance
- Get Your Guide – The most popular tours & activities around Japan
- ViaHero – Get help planning a trip to Japan from a local
- Magical Trip – Discover Tokyo, Osaka & Kyoto at night with a local tour guide
- G Adventures – Group travel to Japan
- Intrepid Travel – Group travel to Japan
Disclaimer: We were kindly invited by the Okinawa Tourism Board to experience the hospitality, culture, food and nature of the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa, Japan. All photos, videos and opinions are 100% our own, as always.