I’ve been on a social media hiatus the past week or so, and it’s been quite refreshing. Tied in with that was my three-night stay on Ishigaki, the westernmost island of Okinawa, Japan. It was exactly what I needed to get rid of the stress that has been building up lately. If you’re stressed and you can afford it, an island holiday is a great pick-up.
I never really thought of myself as a tropical island person. I like mountains, rivers, and cities. But I loved Ishigaki. The contrast between the rather cold Tokyo and the open friendliness of the island people was surprising and refreshing. Despite it being February, Ishigaki’s weather lingered between 20-25 degrees Celsius. And there was so much space. So few people.
I won’t bore you with every single detail, but here are the best things I did in Ishigaki and the surrounding islands.
1. The Limestone Cave
What I was expecting to be a touristy and highly commercialized spot was surprisingly awesome. We followed a path to admire some stalactites and stalagmites that had formed over thousands of years, sometimes taking on amusing shapes such as Totoro, the famous Studio Ghibli character.
It was only a ten-minute drive away from the port and there was also a souvenir shop. We also saw some funky cocoons and a creepy-looking crab. It’s worth visiting when you’re in Ishigaki.
2. Trying Wagyu Beef
When you talk about high-quality beef from Japan, most people think of Kobe beef. Ishigaki wagyu is made from the black cows of the local area (whereas Kobe beef is made from the cows in Kobe), and we were hoping to try this high-grade stuff while we were here. A taxi driver recommended a place called Kingyuu, which means gold beef.
It was just delightful. I’ve never had meat so marbled and tender, and now I finally understand what people mean by “melt in your mouth.” It was a fantastic experience. Kingyuu is just one of the many recommended places to try Ishigaki beef. If you want to go, make reservations.
3. Visiting Hateruma Island
We went to Hateruma Island for the day, which is an hour away by ferry from Ishigaki port. The island is the southernmost part of Japan and was so peaceful. The others on the ferry seemed to melt away and during our time cycling around the island, we didn’t see many other people at all. Just goats and sugar cane fields. It was gorgeous.
I took a photo of some farm workers, who were among the few people we spotted here.
You can see the southernmost point of Japan if you cycle down to the south coast of Hateruma.
4. The Beach
I’m not really one for the beach; when I was a kid, “beach” meant big coats, throwing rocks into the sea, and hot flasks of coffee. You wouldn’t really see me relaxing with a bikini and a book. However, we came across this lovely white sand beach on Haterumaand just had to take off our shoes and socks to play.
There were a few other people there, as well as a guy who seemed to be living there – he had his clothes hung up and was relaxing on a towel with a beer! I felt it would be rude to take a picture of him, but it was a pretty unusual sight.
I didn’t see anyone paddling or writing in the sand, but what’s the point in going to the beach if you’re not going to do those things?
5. Visiting Taketomi Island
Taketomi Island is so nice, but it had a lot more tourists on it than Hateruma had. That being said, there are a lot of experiences you can enjoy here, such as seeing fish from a glass bottom boat and riding a wagon pulled by a water buffalo.
I had my reservations about the buffalo part (I hadn’t booked it; I’d left all that to Ken), but the animals are strong and get fed well and showered every few steps of the tour. I think they were happy… but I really don’t know. They’re fed and washed and taken care of, so I suppose they’re as happy as buffalos can be.
Taketomi is full of charming houses, fields of cows, and pretty flowers even in winter. It’s also only a ten-minute ferry ride from Ishigaki, so it’s easily accessible for a half-day trip.
6. A Free Shamisen Show
As part of the water buffalo tour, the man who guided us, a local of Taketomi, played this cute song on the shamisen. It’s unusual and exotic and was an unexpected treat.
7. The Food
Wagyu beef isn’t the only food you can try in Ishigaki. On our last night, we had tempura, maguro (tuna meat) katsu, sashimi, tofu (which tastes a hundred times better here), and thick chunks of pork. The vegetables here are fresh and the mango, in particular, is much better than on the mainland.
8. Swimming in the Pool
The Japanese like to keep by the rules. The pool is generally closed in winter, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Ken asked if we could take a dip anyway, and to my surprise, they said yes. No one else was hanging around the pool (25 degrees is hot for me, but I suppose not to everyone), so the pool was empty.
This was a particularly special moment; my boyfriend asking the hotel staff if we could swim, and for us to be alone there, taking in the sea view and having a really refreshing dip before dinner.
Almost the entire trip was fantastic, but these eight things were definitely the highlights. Getting away from the stress of the city was completely refreshing. I adore Tokyo, but I’d suffered from writer’s block and anxiety and didn’t realise how much I was feeling it until I had this very relaxing three-day trip to Okinawa. If you’re thinking of visiting this tropical prefecture, I highly recommend Ishigaki.