The Last Adventure: Island Hopping in Okinawa

If you had to choose one place in Japan to go for one last adventure, what would it be?

That is the question we asked ourselves, as we realized this year’s Spring Break may be our last chance for a grand Japan adventure before we move back across the ocean this summer. While Jordan might have liked to go to the happiest place in Japan/on Earth one last time, we decided to escape the miserable lingering cold of mainland Japan for an island-hopping adventure in the tropical south: Okinawa.

Okinawa header - Taketomi Iriomote Ishigaki Okinawa

Our island destinations, left to right: Taketomi Island, Iriomote Island, Ishigaki Island and Okinawa Island

Okinawa is the southernmost prefecture in Japan, and consists of a collection of islands and island chains. Though today it is unquestionably a part of Japan, its native inhabitants – descendents of the “Ryukyu Kingdom” – have a unique history and culture independent of the mainland Japanese that we were very interested in seeing for ourselves. Additionally, each individual island offers its own set of unique attributes, ecology, food and adventures waiting to be experienced.

We decided in advance which islands we would be visiting and where we would be staying, but figured the rest of it out as we went along. We were joined by two of our friends from Canada for this week-long adventure: Ryan and Mel Suzuki. The name betrays their (well, his) Japanese heritage, but as this was both of their first time to visit Japan, the adventure was also one of self-discovery for them, which made every aspect of it that much more interesting for all of us.

Because this may be the last major Japan adventure posted on this blog, I’m going all out, with an individual post for each island, including a wealth of photos, adventure tales and travel tips. Links to each post in the series will be made available below as they are completed, following a brief description of the outline of our trip.

The path of our adventures

First, we flew from Osaka to Naha (first arrow) on the main island, Okinawa (it is the name of that island as well as the prefecture, confusing, I know). Zelmukii met us in Naha, and the next day we flew together to the Yaeyama islands (second arrow), the primary arena for our island-hopping adventures.

Japan to Okinawa route map

When we flew into the Yaeyama islands, we landed on Ishigaki, the main island in the Yaeyama chain. We used that as our base of operations, from which we travelled by ferry to the other islands.

Okinawa to Yaeyama route

We arrived at Ishigaki Island on the first day in the afternoon, and explored the city in the evening. We spent the next day – our first full day in Okinawa that didn’t involve an airplane – on Taketomi Island (1). The following day we went to Iriomote Island (2), where we spent one night before returning to explore Ishigaki Island (3) on our final full day in the Yaeyamas. We then flew back to Naha on Okinawa Main Island (4) for a day and a half of adventures at the end of our trip.

Yaeyama islands route


Okinawa main island map

Our Island Hopping Destinations

1. Our first main destination was Taketomi Island, a little island that you can cover by bicycle in less than an hour (asides from a “nature reserve” portion that is off limits). The entire island is a preserved traditional village from the Ryukyu Kingdom. See the full post here.

Taketomi island traditional building rooftops

The red stone rooftops of Taketomi Island’s traditional buildings.

2. Our second, and possibly most-anticipated destination, was Iriomote Island, or the jungle island. This island has a unique and preserved ecosystem, featuring mangrove trees, beautiful rivers surrounded by dense jungle foliage, and its own species of endangered wildcat. See the full post here.

Iriomote Island river caves - view from the boat

View from the boat on our way up Iriomote Island’s Urauchi River.

3. On the third leg of our trip, we set out to discover our base island, Ishigaki Island. Far more populated than the first two islands, this island features limestone caves, beautiful beaches, and lots of interesting people. See the full post here.

Ishigaki Island - fun Shisa lion dog statues

A random roadside discovery on Ishigaki Island: Larger-than-life statues, creative interpretations of Okinawa’s signature “Shisa” lion dog characters.

4. Our trip wound down on Okinawa Main Island, where we explored Naha City and then made the trek to one of Okinawa’s most well-known spots, an aquarium unlike any other: featuring whale sharks! See the full post here.

Whale shark in Okinawa's Churaumi aquarium

Gigantic whale sharks and manta rays swimming in Okinawa Island’s Churaumi Aquarium.

The last adventure?

As I mentioned above, our Okinawa trip was planned as our last grand adventure in Japan, and will likely be one of the last major posts on this blog as well. This August, after four years living, teaching and adventuring in Japan, the JWs will be moving on. I’m sure I will find a few more things to post about here before the big move, but rest assured this won’t be the last you hear from us. Life is one big series of grand adventures, after all, and the end of the Japan chapter means the beginning of the next. Stay tuned!

-Janelle (aka genkiduck)




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