Walking on Drift Ice
With a new airport connecting you to Okinawa's remote islands, connecting with south-seas culture has never been easier Okinawa
The Yaeyama Islands, the southern-most inhabited lands in all of Japan, are 248 miles southwest of the main island of Okinawa. Tourism on this archipelago is centered around Ishigaki Island, a truth south-seas paradise surrounded by tropical weather, beautiful beaches and untouched nature. In March 2013, Ishigaki's airport was renovated and renamed Painushima Ishigaki Airport. With this new expanded infrastructure and extra flight capacity, Ishigaki is closer than ever to Japan's big cities, garnering attention as one of Japan's best island resorts.
Ishigaki gives you access to a wide range of attractions, from deep blue waters and coral reefs to canoe trips down mangrove-lined rivers. The cuisine, making the most of Ishigaki beef and a variety of other local produce, also offers a unique flair you won't find anywhere else. Day-return island-hopping excursions to Taketomi Island and other nearby spots are also popular among visitors. Join two of our island-native cabin attendants as they take you on a tour of Ishigaki's many charms.
Yonehara Beach, one of our favorite spots on the island, is a popular destination thanks to its fields of untouched white sand. The shallow, coral-lined shoals aren't suitable for diving, but sit by the shoreline and you'll be rewarded with a wealth of beautiful tropical fish, swimming just a few feet beyond. The beach entrance can be a bit hard to spot from the road, so keep your eyes peeled!
This Western-style cafe is a popular spot for the locals to have lunch. I'd recommend the Ishigaki-beef Salisbury steak with homemade demi-glace sauce, or the tart and spicy original Mexican rice. For dessert, check out the Kokuto sundae, made from Blue Seal molasses-sugar ice cream! The ocean view from the terrace seating is amazing, too. It's definitely a place you'll want to stop by when you're out on a drive.
Kabira 1216-113, Ishigaki-shi, Okinawa
For this trip, we tried taking a canoe down the Miyara river, the largest one on the island. It gave us a great chance to get in touch with nature, paddling past the mangrove forests (a designated Natural Monument of Japan) and caves that lined the riverbanks. The Miyara River flows at a pretty leisurely pace, too, so it's fun even if you've never been canoeing before. While paddling, try on a kuba-gasa, a traditional hat made of leaves from local palm trees. They're light, breathable and perfect for keeping Okinawa's powerful sunlight off your eyes!
Miyara 1051-2, Ishigaki-shi, Okinawa
Islanders are familiar with this gelato place, which offers great sunset views to enjoy along with your cone. You can try gelato flavored with island bananas, pineapples, dragonfruit and more, as well as rarer varieties like guava and chlorella. Everything is handmade at this farm-owned store, with fresh milk giving the gelato a uniquely dense, rich flavor. The most popular variety is the intensely flavorful milk gelato. Pineapple, flavored with ripe Ishigaki-grown fruit, is apparently a close second.
Arakawa 1583-74, Ishigaki-shi, Okinawa
Harusaa, a yakiniku restaurant inside Hotel Nikko Yaeyama, lets you enjoy the two main breeds of wagyu beef on the island Ishigaki and Misaki ooked over a hot charcoal fire. The interior, modeled after a traditional Japanese farm, offers a full selection of in-season vegetables, letting you "harvest" and sample whatever you like. Some of this produce is found only in Okinawa, so be sure to try out a bunch while you're here. My personal favorite here: the marinated Misaki-beef ribs!
Sumibi Yakiniku Harusaa (inside Hotel Nikko Yaeyama)
Ohkawa 559, Ishigaki-shi, Okinawa
As the most southwestern point of Japan's territory, the Yaeyama Islands' position allows you to view 84 out of the 88 recognized constellations in the sky ・a true treasure trove for stargazers. The Ishigaki Astronomical Observatory gives you a dazzling view of the stars through its Murikabushi telescope. "Murikabushi" means "group of stars" in the Okinawan dialect,and the telescope itself is done up in a traditional yellow Minsa textile pattern. These colors are usually reserved for receiving important guests in Okinawa ・very appropriate, considering how close the telescope brings you to the stars. Climb up to the observatory roof, and you can also get a breathtaking view of the Yaeyama archipelago.
Ishigaki Astronomical Observatory
Arakawa 1024-1, Ishigaki-shi, Okinawa
Yaeyama is dotted with islands large and small, most of which are easily accessible from each other. For this trip, we decided to check out Taketomi Island, a mere 15-minute ferry ride from Ishigaki. On our rented bicycles, we took a leisurely tour of the tiny island (only around 5.5 miles in circumference).
Nishisanbashi Dock, a popular sunset spot that lets you see all the way to the nearby Kohama and Iriomote Islands, is a must-visit here. For a panoramic view of the island itself, climb up the Nagomi no To tower near the center of Taketomi to enjoy a sweeping look at the island and its traditional red glazed-tile roofs.
Chura-Navi Yaeyama Station, located inside Shimachaya on the second floor of the Ishigaki Public Market, is the place to go for travel info on Ishigaki and the rest of the Yaeyama Islands. Show the staff the JAL-Pia Chura-Navi guidebook distributed on JAL/JTA-family flights, and you'll be rewarded with some fresh seasonal Yaeyama fruit! It's a fun spot to visit while you're checking out the market.
Chura-Navi Yaeyama Station (inside Shimachaya Ishigaki Produce Center, Public Market 2F)
Ohkawa 208, Ishigaki-shi, Okinawa
This store sells authentic Ishigaki ginger ale, a popular item all around the island. Made using island-grown organic ginger, peppers, and juice from pineapples and Okinawan shikuwasa citrus fruit, it offers a really unique taste. No preservatives or other additives are used, and it's recommended that you drink it within 180 days. There's also Ishigaki pineapple juice on offer, made out of fully-ripened fruit from local farms ・a great souvenir!
Hatake no Marche
Tonoshiro 25-1, Ishigaki-shi, Okinawa
Coralway, which recently opened in the Painushima Ishigaki Airport domestic terminal, is run by Doug's Burger, a famous hamburger place on Miyako Island, Okinawa. This restaurant offers take-out burgers and other sandwiches made with 100% Okinawan beef, with a little bit of spice added for a unique taste. It's just the thing to take on the plane or eat before your flight. Pretty much every sandwich they make is great, so don't be afraid to try whatever looks good! They sell some mean coffee there, too, as well as cafe au lait blended with locally-made Mariya milk.
Coralway Ishigaki Airport (inside Ishigaki Airport domestic terminal)
Shiraho 1960-104-1, Ishigaki-shi, Okinawa
While you're here, also check out the Kanappa Kuben, an airport-exclusive version of the local Kanappa bento boxes. This particular variety won the gold prize at the recent Yaeyama Bento Grand Prix. Coralway Ishigaki Airport (inside Ishigaki Airport domestic terminal)
Japan Transocean Air, Cabin Assistant Dept.
On March 7, 2013, the new Ishigaki Airport opened, making access to Ishigaki Island more convenient than ever. Located amidst beautiful waters, Ishigaki gives you a chance to be truly moved by your surroundings. Take in the mesmerizing sunsets — followed by a night sky bursting with countless stars — and you’ll see why I find this entire island so relaxing, for both the heart and soul. The Yaeyama Islands are among the most untouched of south-sea archipelagos, a true paradise on earth that you can enjoy any time of the year. I hope I’ll get to see you soon in this boundlessly charming place.
Japan Transocean Air, Cabin Assistant Dept.
Ishigaki Island is a place where you can really feel the power of nature. Here, you’ll find a vast sky that stretches forever, clear blue waters and plant life that comes in a dazzling array of colors. Going around the island, I almost found myself overwhelmed with the sheer force of all this beauty. I think it’s the perfect backdrop for all the activities you can enjoy here, both for the young and the young at heart. Thanks to the glass-lined bridges in the new Ishigaki Airport, you can take in this amazing island charm from the moment you get off your plane. I hope you’ll come to visit Ishigaki to taste of this wonderful, moving experience for yourself.