Travel guide & tips | Things to do on Ishigaki Island by Ippei & Janine

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Ishigaki Island of the Yaeyama Islands

A picturesque grazing land for Ishigaki Gyu (Ishigaki Island Wagyu beef), and serving as a perfect hub for other neighbouring Yaeyama islands, Ishigaki Island (also known as Ishigaki-jima) offers pleasant beaches, colorful coral reefs, beautiful jungle and lush mangrove rivers, making it an easy getaway without giving up the conveniences of modernity.

Kabira Bay Lookout Point

The Kabira Bay lookout point is a very touristy spot but a must-see place, even though it is prohibited to swim in this part of the bay (due to many tourist boats, strong current and mainly to protect the black pearls). The view is better in the afternoon due to sun’s reflection in the morning. It is also an excellent area for kayaking (required to launch your kayak away from the area where the tourist boats are docked).

Tropical paradise of Japan, Kabira Bay on Ishigaki Island of Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa

Kabira Bay Inner Beach

Not necessarily a good beach for snorkeling, but it is certainly one of the most visually stunning beaches on Ishigaki, with calm tropical water and plenty of shady spots under the trees. Due to the calmness of the water, it is a great place for SUP. There are tasty wild coconuts growing on Kojima Island in the bay, which can quench your thirst if you are good at climbing trees.

One of many deserted tropical beaches of Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

Tropical paradise beach of southern Japan, Ishigaki Island of the Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa

Stand up paddle boarding, Ishigaki, Japan

Drinking wild Japanese coconut juice, Ishigaki Island, Tropical Japan

Fukidou River Kayaking

If you are not going to Iriomote Island but still want to experience the jungle by kayak, we’d recommend Fukidou River. If you can’t bring your own packraft or inflatable kayak, the best tour is the “Mangrove kayaking & waterfall stream-hiking” (Half day tour, 5,000 yen) operated by Fukidou Kanko. The tour includes everything you need.

Mangrove kayaking, Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan

Mangrove jungle kayaking in Japan, Ishigaki-jima of the Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa

Loop-root Mangroves of Japan, Ishigaki of the Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa

The waterfall is also accessible on foot (see “Fukidou River” on our map for walking path).

Note: Although malaria on the Yaeyama Islands was eliminated in the 1970’s, there are mosquitoes that carry Japanese Encephalitis (April-December), so best to use insect repellent just to be sure since most westerners don’t have the vaccination.

Nameless waterfall of Fukidou river, Ishigaki Island, Japan

Kabira Ishizaki Manta Scramble

Ishigaki boasts the world’s highest chance of encountering manta rays, about 90% chance while scuba diving at the point called Kabira Ishizaki Manta Scramble. There are also snorkeling tours to see manta rays but we must say that it’s often boring for snorkelers. The point does not have beautiful coral reefs and it’s too deep for snorkelers to enjoy (even if you can see manta rays, usually you see them very small from the surface).

Video by our friends (The last part is from the Manta Scramble point of Ishigaki): http://vimeo.com/31759035

Beautiful Landscape of Northern Ishigaki

Northern tip of Ishigaki seen from a plane (pick a seat on the right side of the plane for the view when flying from Mainland Japan):

Aerial view of Ishigaki Island with coral reefs and tropical water of Southern Japan, Okinawa

Tamatorizaki Observatory:

Typhoon waves hitting reefs of Ishigaki Island, Tropical Japan

Akaishi Paraglider Take-off Area:

Tropical Japanese island with fringing coral reefs, Ishigaki-jima

Cape Hirakubozaki Lighthouse:

Scenic lighthouse of Northern Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

Yaeyama Palm Tree Grove and Juice Bar with Ishigaki’s Tropical Fruits

Yaeyama palm trees (Satake palm) are endemic to Iriomote Island and Ishigaki Island. They are very beautiful palms and they have been introduced to Hawaii and Southern Florida. The area is protected so you can only enter a small part of the area, but it is beautiful. There is a juice bar next to the parking area where you can enjoy various local tropical fruit juices. Seasonal fruits like pineapple, mango, guava, dragon fruit, passion fruit, star fruit, etc., are best between May and October. Sugarcane and banana are excellent all around the year. We also recommend the simplicity and total deliciousness of fresh sugarcane juice full of vitamins and minerals, not like unhealthy processed white sugar. Also as opposed to many other countries, sugarcane are pressed only one time for its juice in southern Japan, which gives more flavor rather than just sweetness. Also there is Satake Palm Memorial Museum within a 5 min walk from the juice bar. You can have a panoramic view of these Yaeyama palm trees and the outer reef of Yonehara from the rooftop of the museum.

Forest of Satake Palm trees (Satakentia liukiuensis) on Ishigaki Island, Japan

Jungle of Satake palm trees in southern Japan, Ishigaki Island, Okinawa

Easy-access beach entry snorkeling

With any beach-entry snorkeling over fringing coral reefs, it’s important to snorkel around high tide in order to protect coral from breaking with fins, or stepping on coral accidentally. Also it can be dangerous as sharp coral can cut you. Please check Ishigaki’s tidal hours of the day here.

Shiraho Reef (along the south-east coast of Ishigaki Island) is internationally acknowledged as the world’s largest colony of Blue Coral. However, for easy beach-entry snorkeling, we recommend dipping into the water from Yonehara Beach, Akaishi Beach or this special snorkeling spot where you can see the colorful coral reef, many tropical fish, sea-snakes, etc. To see the amazing coral at the special spot, you have to swim about 10-15 mins from the beach to the reef edge. It’s close to the beach but you need to swim over a big drop (see the exact spot on our map). Yonehara Beach is famous for snorkeling so it attracts many tourists but snorkeling is actually not bad, with beautiful coral if you swim further to the reef edge. Akaishi Beach has beautiful Blue Coral just in front of the beach, often with no other people (see the exact spot on our map). The road to Akaishi Beach is blocked with a gate but the gate is just to keep the cows inside the grazing land so you can open the gate (just make sure to close it behind you!).

In order to have good water clarity, it’s wise to choose the snorkeling spot according to the wind direction of the day. When it’s a north/west wind Akaishi Beach has good clarity, while in case of a south/east wind Yonehara or our secret snorkeling spot has good clarity.

Coral reef snorkeling around Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

Ibaruma Sabichi Cave

Particularly if it’s a rainy day or typhoon day, visit Ibaruma Sabichi Cave located in the north of Ishigaki. This cave is connected to some secluded beaches which are also nice to explore. There are several cave systems all over Ishigaki, however we thought this Ibaruma Sabichi Cave was much better than the LED-lit caves closer to the port.

Sabichi limestone cave, Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

One of many secluded beaches of Southern Japan, Ishigaki Island

Stream-trekking to the upper waterfall of Arakawa Falls

If you are not going to Iriomote Island but still want to experience the jungle by stream-trekking, we’d recommend the stream to the upper waterfall of Arakawa Falls. As you hike up this rugged stream, it becomes surrounded by beautiful tree ferns. There is a car park by the road. Check our map for the entry point as it’s different from the lower waterfall of Arakawa Falls, which is popular among local kids. This stream-trek takes about 30 mins to get to the upper waterfall. Stream-trekking shoes (felt soled shoes) are highly recommended since you need to go over slippery mossy boulders.

Tropical Japan's jungle with tree ferns, Ishigaki Island of Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa

Jungle stream trekking on Ishigaki Island of the Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa, Japan

Jungle waterfall on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

Snorkeling tour to Sekisei Lagoon

We highly recommend a half-day or whole day snorkeling tour to Sekisei Lagoon. It is sublimely beautiful.

Sekisei Coral Lagoon, Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa, Japan

Coral cay beach and clear tropical water of Southern Japan, Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa

Restaurants and Cafes

There are more and more cute restaurants and cafes popping up all over Ishigaki. Some of our favourites include:

ULIULI CAFE

This cafe is located quite far north. They serve a delicious 100% Ishigaki beef burger on their lunch menu. Closed Thursdays. http://www.nbb-ishigaki.jp/~uliuli/aboutus.html

FUNAKURA NO SATO

Traditional Okinawan restaurant located in a previously private residence, spread over different houses and rooms. The premise is absolutely beautiful. The food is decent traditional Okinawan dishes best to share, and there is a Sanshin performance which is a lot of fun. http://www.funakuranosato.com/

Funakura no Sato restaurant, Ishigaki Island, Okinawa

HIGH TIDE CAFE

This cafe is located in a residential area in-between Kabira Bay and Ishigaki Port. It features the illustrations of Murakami Yasunari and has a museum of his work. The coffee & sweets set is delicious and great value. http://murakami-ishigaki.com/

MIRUMIRU HONPO

Located a short drive north/west of the port, this gelato shop boasts gelato made with local produce such as mango, pineapple, banana, dragonfruit, shikuwasa lime, purple sweet potato. http://mirumiru-honpo.com

SUGARCANE JUICE AT THE YAEYAMA PALM TREE GROVE IN YONEHARA

Ok, it’s not a “cafe” or “restaurant” but it is worth a mention to get the best juices on the island!

KATO SOBA

Delicious home-made soba restaurant, famous for their soba with “Ishigaki Kuruma Ebi” (Japanese tiger prawn from Ishigaki Island).

Okinawa soba noodle with Japanese tiger prawn, Ishigaki Island

Markets

YURATIKU MARKET

For all things local, namely fresh fruit and vegetable, check out the local farmers market “Yuratiku market”, located a few hundred meters from Ishigaki Port.

SHIRAHO SUNDAY MARKET

Shiraho Sunday Market is located within the “WWF Japan Coral Reef Conservation and Research Center” at the coral village of Sangomura, about 25 minutes drive west of Ishigaki Port. Cheap seasonal fresh produce and traditional prepared food such as food wrapped in banana leaves.

“Mujin hanbai” – Honesty produce shops

We love these road-side stalls – you never know what you’re going to find available! You can get very fresh vegetables and fruits directly from farmers for a very low price. Just drop the designated amount in the money jar and you’re set to go.

Car Rental

It goes without saying that a car is essential on Ishigaki Island. You can rent a small car just for a few thousand yen per day including insurance (can be as little as JPY2,000 per day depending on the time of the year) through the Japanese version of Rakuten Travel. Unfortunately, the price is often double on most English booking websites (only costly international rental car companies are in the English system). Best to ask someone who can read Japanese to book, or use our service. You will need an International Drivers License.

Accommodation

Ishigaki has more and more nice and reasonable accommodation in beautiful locations. If you need help booking accommodation on Ishigaki, check out our service.

KABIRA VILLAGE

Thatched roof stand-alone villas next to Sukuji Beach. Each spacious cottage has an inviting outdoor jacuzzi on the balcony, surrounded by beautiful, tropical vegetation. This place is great for families (although there is no kitchen). It is next to the main “Seaside Hotel” where you can have breakfast or dinner, and enjoy the facilities of the hotel, including the swimming pool. If you book it early you can get a great deal of 12,000 yen per cottage per night (between January and June, excluding the Golden Week holiday). http://www.ishigaki-seasidehotel.com/stay/kabira.html

Beautiful cottage hotel of Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Tropical Japan

Traditional cottage hotel, Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

YOKABUSHI (HERMITAGE)

A lovely boutique hotel set beside a beach, with a beautiful central pool. There are self-contained 2nd floor apartments and stand-alone Okinawan-style cottages. It’s modern, clean, and the service is outstanding.

Boutique hotel with pool, Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

NICO STAY

This B&B style accommodation is located overlooking scenic Kabira Bay. This premise has just two rooms. http://www.nico-stay.com/

UMISUZUME

A simple, clean and homely guesthouse (shared bathroom) located on the north west side of Ishigaki. Umisuzume offers delicious, high quality breakfast and dinner packages using local ingredients.
https://umisuzume.org/

MARINE MATE

This place has a few basic and nice cottages suitable for families or groups (recommended over the rooms within the main building). The premise has a small pool and a restaurant (the food is not bad but not special). There is a small private beach right in front of the property, and their scuba diving/snorkeling tour boats and kayaking tours leave directly from there. http://marinemate.net/

Cottage hotel with pool, Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

Hotel private beach, Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

About the Yaeyama Island Group

The Yaeyama Islands have one of the largest coral reef systems in Asia. These islands are located near the Tropic of Cancer; more south than Taipei and closer to the northern islands of the Philippines than to Okinawa Main Island. If you like jungles as well as beaches, we highly recommend the Yaeyama Island group. The Yaeyama Islands are also perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. There are many beach-entry points, but a boat-entry tour with a local guide is the best, as they know the finest points of the day, depending on the weather and water clarity conditions, and your own preferences, ie. if you want to see sea turtles, manta rays or specific coral, or many different types of coral, etc.

Weather

Located at the same latitude as The Bahamas, Ishigaki Island has a Tropical Rainforest climate as opposed to Humid Subtropical climate of Okinawa Main Island and the other northern islands of Okinawa Prefecture. The average yearly high temperature is 26.9°C (80.4°F), and the average yearly low temperature is 22.2°C (71.9°F). The climate is similar to Southern Taiwan, warmer than Hong Kong and Northern Taiwan due to the warm ocean current around Ishigaki. The annual average humidity exceeds 75%, which makes the feeling temperature very different from dry places with similar average temperatures such as Townsville in Queensland, Australia. The sea temperature is warm all around the year, ranging between 21°C (70°F) and 31°C (88°F). The rainy season is May-June but it does not rain much. Usually it’s just a few showers in-between blue sky. The core season for typhoons/tropical storms is August-September but some years have very few typhoons/tropical storms while other years have many typhoons/tropical storms even as early as May or as late as November. However, at least one typhoon/tropical storm hits Ishigaki during August or September every year. Usually a typhoon/tropical storm affects the weather only for a few days and you get beautiful clear blue sky as soon as the typhoon passes away.

Climate data for Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan (1980-2010, Japan Meteorological Agency)

  • Average high temperature °C
  • Average low temperature °C