Ishigaki: Island Road Tripping

Unlike Taketomi (“The Little Village Island”) and Iriomote (“The Jungle Island”), Ishigaki Island cannot easily be boiled down to one defining feature. As the most inhabited of the Yaeyama Island chain, and their economic and political centre, Ishigaki has a wide variety of interesting things to offer. So for our last full day before flying back to Okinawa Main Island, we rented a car and set off to explore the place that had become our home base in the Yaeyamas.

Ishigaki Island rental Honda Fit

Our wheels for Ishigaki Island: a zippy little orange Honda Fit.

Under the Island

It seemed that the bad jungle weather we had endured on Iriomote Island decided to follow us back to Ishigaki. So for our first stop, we decided to escape the weather above and explore the world beneath. Ishigaki Island is home to a rather impressive system of limestone caves created over time from coral, and remnants of the sea can still be seen in the cave today.

Ishigaki limestone caves

A glimpse into Ishigaki’s limestone caves.

Janelle and Jordan in the caves

Posing for a picture in the illuminated caves.

Green lighting on cave pools

Green lighting reflecting on the cave pools gave the place an eerie feeling – although admittedly it felt a bit contrived.

Ishigaki cave stalagmite reaching up to stalactite

A stalagmite reaches up to its stalactite partner. Over time they may merge into a single column.

Ishigaki stalagmite "mushroom"

Some of the stalagmites looked kinda like… mushrooms. Yes. Mushrooms.

Ishigaki cave seashell in wall

Here is a seashell, embedded in the cave wall, reminding the cave from whence it came.

Totoro-shaped stalagmite in Ishigaki's caves

The star of this particular cave was probably this Totoro-shaped stalagmite. Who knew cave formations could be so cute!

Under the sea

After the caves the weather wasn’t looking any prettier, so we decided to try our luck on the far coast. The caves were just outside of Ishigaki City on the south end of the island, so we made our way up the west coast, heading north to Kabira Bay. After finding lunch, we decided to see what was going on under the sea by taking a tour by glass bottom boat. After that, as the rain let up a little bit, we thought ‘heck, if we’re going to be soaked, we might as well be in the ocean’ so we headed to a nearby beach to go for a swim.

Scandalous mermaid statue

This is the first thing we saw when we got out of the car at Kabira Bay. Oh, Japan, I just can’t even…

View over Kabira Bay

Despite the cloudy skies, the bay was beautiful.

Glass bottom boat

Preparing to board our glass bottom boat. We’ll call it… well loved.

Blue coral at Ishigaki

Blue coral, a rare sight and one of the top reasons to visit Ishigaki for coral reef enthusiasts. We also saw green and purple.

Giant clams

Giant, I mean, GIANT clams. We could see them slowly opening and closing and just generally being gigantic.

Brain coral

Another type of coral that we all agreed looked like brains.

Funny glass bottom boat guy with Zukii

This local (right), who was helping direct people towards the boats, was completely and utterly smitten with our friend Zukii. As in, he would’ve taken him home in a heartbeat smitten.

Weird pose in the water at Ishigaki

After the boat tour we drove a little ways to this beach, which was just around the bend from a Club Med. The sky was kind to us and gave us almost an hour’s break in the rain, and even a bit of sun! Jordan stayed on shore and took this picture of us doing… I actually have no idea what we were doing or why. Yoga?

Under the palm trees

After our boating and beaching, we decided to take a different route back to Ishigaki City, which would take us down the centre of the island and allow us to visit “Yaeyama Palm Grove” on our way. Yaeyama palms are a unique variety found only in the Yaeyama Islands. En route we discovered some very interesting creatures… and were discovered by some very evil ones.

Ishigaki Island - fun Shisa lion dog statues

On our way to the palm grove we drove past these larger-than-life statues, and had to turn the car around to check them out up close.

Welcome statue

The statues comprised a garden of sorts in front of an artisan’s shop that sold smaller statues of the same variety.

Jordan getting squished by statue

Just in case it is unclear how impressively large these statues were… here’s Jordan getting squished by one…

Janelle getting eaten by statue

…and me getting eaten by one.

Ishigaki crazy statue dude

I want one of these in my front yard one day.

Cute blue Shisa

This adorable little blue Shisa-type statue was my favourite.

Sugar cane shack

After that pit stop, we reached the palm grove. At the entrance to the palm grove sat this little shack, a sugar cane shack to be exact. We were able to see the entire process, from sugar cane to delicious brown sugar. The staff were incredibly friendly, and cut off some fresh sugar cane for each of us to gnaw on.

Yaeyama Palm Tree Grove

Yaeyama Palm Trees. A well-built boardwalk allowed us to walk right into the middle of the grove, safe from nature… or so we thought…

Attack by leeches

Shortly after Jordan took this picture of me I was attacked by some of the foulest creatures that have ever slithered upon God’s green earth: leeches. The larger one latched onto that sacred space between my toes, and after Jordan and Zukii failed to get it off of me a valiant Japanese knight arrived to save the foreign maiden in distress. I don’t even know his name but I will remember him forever as “My Okinawan Hero.”

Ishigaki Island Travel Tips

  • Renting a car was definitely a good decision for us on this island, even though we weren’t initially going to, because it gave us a lot of freedom to go where we wanted, when we wanted. If possible, I’d recommend it. If not, there are buses – but the majority of the population is centred around Ishigaki City, so if you want to go anywhere asides from the main tourist areas you might have trouble.
  • Be aware that you’ll have to take a bus or taxi from the airport to downtown if you haven’t rented a car. The bus is cheap, but takes about 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Pay attention to the location of your lodgings when you book. Downtown Ishigaki City, which includes the port, is walkable, but if you end up booking somewhere outside of Ishigaki, you’ll have to rely on buses or taxis every time you want to get to/from the port. We had a place downtown for the first portion of our trip, but ended up staying in Shiraho – a town about 30 minutes out of Ishigaki City – on our last night entirely by accident. It worked out perfectly, though, as Shiraho was only a few minutes away from the airport.
  • Speaking of Shiraho, if you want to have an adventure, do consider spending a night or two there (“Shiraho Friends Guesthouse”). It is very much a hostel with all that that entails, but the guys who run the hostel were super friendly and offered all different kinds of tours to “locals-only” spots… for a moderate price. It was our last night so we couldn’t take them up on their offers, but it sounded like a good alternative way to see the island, especially if you can’t rent a car on your own. It is outside of the city, so no nightlife – but it offers different things, in regards to which all I can say is “you’ll see…” And by the way, if you go, listen to their advice about local restaurants: they know their stuff.
  • This is a great island to go to beaches – if you don’t get totally rained out like we did. The Shiraho guys told me the beaches on the peninsula to the far northeastern point of the island – which we unfortunately didn’t make it to – are the best (and most unadulterated by “tourists.”)
  • While the glass bottom boat tour was cool, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it – at least not in Kabira Bay. While we did see a lot of vibrant coral and interesting sea life, we also saw a lot of dead and dying coral, the signs of stress placed on the underwater environment, probably at least partly due to boats like the one we were on motoring around and spouting fumes all over the place. I felt kind of guilty about adding to the environmental destruction, and would not want to do it again.
  • Last but not least, and this may seem trivial to non-Japan dwellers, but there is a freaking A&W in Ishigaki City! (There are no A&Ws in the rest of Japan outside of Okinawa, so this was very exciting). Note to Canadians: no poutine, but seriously go there and enjoy a root beer for me! Cheers!
Sea grapes

One of the things we ate on Ishigaki: Sea grapes!

Ishigaki Beef Nigiri

Ishigaki Beef Nigiri (lightly braised raw beef). We thought Ishigaki, being an island, might be all about the fish, but actually beef was their specialty… and it was delicious!

Okinawa Island Hopping 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)

Taketomi: The Little Village Island

Iriomote: The Jungle Island

Okinawa: The Big Island