Taketomi: The Little Village Island

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.

Janelle and water buffalo

Saying hi to our water buffalo before the ride.

Taketomi home seen from water buffalo cart

We passed by many interesting houses, yards and other buildings on our ride.

Taketomi water buffalo cart in action

We also passed other water buffalo carts, like this one with the tour guide in mid-song.

Taketomi pink flowers

Beautiful pink flowers were in bloom.

Taketomi man painting calligraphy on sign

Along the way we saw this guy re-painting the calligraphy on one of the signs. Much of the town’s income is from tourism so everyone does their part to keep things looking sharp.

Shisa in a front garden

Many of the homes were guarded by Okinawa’s signature “Shisa” (lion dogs). They are said to bring happiness to a home (when placed inside) and keep unhappiness away (when placed outside).

Water buffalo guide playing the Sanshin

No tour by water buffalo in Okinawa would be complete without traditional music, so our guide sang for us while playing the sanshin (Okinawan stringed instrument, similar to a banjo).

Water buffalo cart group photo

After our tour we posed with our guides, the singing storyteller and the water buffalo.

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 museum entrance

There were lots of interesting buildings to see that weren’t on our water buffalo’s route, such as this little museum.

Taketomi rock figures outside the museum

Some neat rock statues that greeted us outside the museum.

Jordan in the lookout tower

This lookout post was located roughly in the middle of town. We had to climb up one-by-one and fight off small children who don’t understand the concept of queues to get our turns in the tower.

Taketomi rooftops view portrait

The view from the tower over the rooftops. Taketomi has a bylaw that limits most of the buildings to one story, and restricts them to the traditional building styles, so no ugly modern buildings can pollute this view. Rooftops, greenery and bright blue ocean is the view for 360 degrees around.

Cycling down a road on Taketomi

We ventured away from the town and cycled leisurely in the direction of the beach. There weren’t many roads so it was hard to get lost.

Group photo at lookout on Taketomi

Group photo at another lookout tower a little ways outside of the town.

Walking along the beach on Taketomi

Finally, the beach! We ended up at Kaiji beach first and spent some time searching for star sand before walking up and around the bend to the second, softer swimming beach, Kondoi Beach.

Taketomi sea water

The clarity of the water was unreal.

Jordan and Janelle on Kondoi Beach

Kondoi Beach! Jordan and I getting ready to pose for a picture ended up being a pretty fun picture.

Graves on Taketomi

On our way back from the beach, we passed these graves. We found them very interesting because they are not at all like regular Japanese graves, and much closer to the types of graves we saw in Taiwan. Geographically the island is much closer to Taiwan than mainland Japan so it makes sense that they would share some cultural attributes.

Treehouse on Taketomi

I can’t very well end this post on a photo of graves, so here is a treehouse! And not to be left out, it is also guarded by a shisa!

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

Okinawa header - Taketomi Iriomote Ishigaki Okinawa

Be sure to check out the other posts in this series, the JWs’ last grand adventure in Japan.

The Last Adventure: Island Hopping in Okinawa (Introduction)

Iriomote: The Jungle Island

Ishigaki: Island Road Tripping

Okinawa: The Big Island



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