Home to a preserved Ryukyu village, Taketomi Island is a small island just ten minutes by ferry from Ishigaki. It is known for its characteristic buildings with red tile rooftops as well as its star sand beach. Curiously, the red rooftops are not as traditional as they might have you think – they became the norm only in the early 20th century, replacing the previously-traditional thatched-straw-roof houses. A few of the thatched-roof buildings can still be seen on the island, and appear to be the only exception to the modern “traditional” standard. We explored Taketomi Island on a day trip from Ishigaki by water buffalo cart, then by bicycle and on foot.
Village tour by water buffalo
Upon our arrival, we were guided to the visitor centre, and decided to start with a tour of the island by water buffalo cart. Our water buffalo faithfully pulled us on a leisurely tour, while our guide entertained us with random facts, stories, and even a couple of songs. The water buffaloes know their route by heart, so the guides don’t need to do much asides from stop them once in awhile to point something out to us or give the water buffalo a quick drink and hose-down.
Exploring the village views
After saying goodbye to our water buffalo, we grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant inside one of the red tile roof buildings, then set off to explore the rest of the island by rental bicycles and on foot. We made our way to a couple of viewpoints, from which you can see water on all sides since the island is so small. We then set out for the beach to find ourselves some star sand and chill in the afternoon sun before making our way back to the port.
Taketomi Island Travel Tips
- Taketomi Island is definitely doable in a day trip from Ishigaki Island, but if you want to experience the island without all the tourists and watch the sun set across the rooftops or over the translucent water, consider booking a night in a minshuku (family-run inn) on the island.
- Be economical about what you want to do on the island. There are a lot of options – water buffalo carts, rental bicycles, glass-bottom boat tour, snorkeling, swimming – and so it’s easy to get starry eyed and want to try everything. If I went back I would pass on the water buffalo cart ride and save it for Iriomote Island, which also has a water buffalo ride (through shallow water to a small island!), and spend more time on the beach (that being said if I went back in time and visited the island again for the first time, I probably wouldn’t have done anything different. Who can resist the water buffalo?).
- If you want to swim, bring a towel and/or wear your swimsuit under your clothes. And especially, ahem, bring a swimsuit (two of the four of us didn’t bring swimsuits, including the person who was most vocal about wanting some beach time, haha. For the record, I brought mine).
- If you are planning to go to more than one island (from Ishigaki), buy an “Island hopping pass.” The 3-day pass we got paid itself off on our third ferry ride (so, our second island).
Island Hopping Blog Post Series
Be sure to check out the other posts in this series, the JWs’ last grand adventure in Japan.