Visiting Ishigaki Island has got to be the absolute highlight of my time spent in Okinawa and possibly one of the most truly and thoroughly enjoyable adventures I’ve ever had in Japan, or indeed in my life. Every day held a new journey or a new experience, and I took advantage of every single one, whilst meeting some life long friends along the way. It was a magical time from beginning to end that I will reminisce about for years to come.
Ishigaki Island – The Hostel
What made my stay really special was the people. I was lucky enough to stay in the best hostel, with the best mixed-group of young foreign and Japanese people. We formed a group, shared cars and traveled around to various places on the island each day, but it was the generous hostel owner who made our adventures come to life. He knew the best places to go, the time of the sunset, the tides, the best driving routes, the car rental agencies, good restaurants…there was literally nothing this man didn’t know about his island. Not only this, but the hostel was stocked with free booze, including habushu, awamori, and, one day, some French wine he didn’t really want. He managed to bring everyone together and was one of the most significant reasons why this holiday was one of the best of my life. So, if you stay in Ishigaki, you need to stay at Shiraho House, or at least make sure your hostel is knowledgeable about the island. But when I return, I know exactly where I’ll go.
Ishigaki Island – Local Festivals
On the first day, I was lucky enough to be told about a local night festival, happening just streets away from the accommodation. In true Shiraho House fashion, I was given a map, told where I could get some dinner and sent on my way within just minutes of arriving. As I walked down the dark, desolate, gravel paving I had wondered what I’d gotten myself into. With each step, I could hear the sound of rhythmically, beating drums getting louder and louder, accompanied by repetitive chants and whistling sounds. I finally turned the final corner to the temple to find seas of people holding a massive rope and waving around fire on the end of large sticks. When I’d finally settled myself from the shock of this absolutely out of this world display I realised that there appeared to be two teams from neighbouring villages pulling the rope from either side. It seemed to be like the preparations for a massive tug of war with chants, traditional outfits and a rope as thick as a tree trunk. When the tug had finished, a few large men picked up massive poles and bobbed them up and down with the sound of the chants. All in all, it was a completely new, bizarre and surreal experience for me, and one that I’ve not seen anything like since.
Ishigaki Island – The Food
Another bonus of Ishigaki life, particularly when located in the village, are the local shops. About 5 minutes away from Shiraho house was a tiny shop, run by an amazing local family, who handmade the meals everyday, and even took requests. The chicken tonkatsu I had for breakfast that day was by far the best I have ever tasted. In all honesty, I think it’s worth me returning just to eat it again.
Ishigaki Island – The Best Snorkeling Spots
Aside from the amazing local food, Ishigaki also offers some of the best snorkeling and diving spots in the whole of Japan. On a hearty recommendation, we traveled to “the blue caves.” The scene was simply breathtaking but that was only the beginning. We ventured into the large expansive sea to find the floor covered with fish. Tropical blues, oranges, neons and even rainbow coloured fish swam around us like something out of a documentary. I had never thought such places existed, yet I was surrounded with every shape and size and every colour of fish both imaginable and unimaginable. My day hit an all time high when we found a dip in the coral. The sea expanded so far downwards that the bottom was invisible, yet the pool was filled with layers upon layers of different kinds of fish, from the small ones that like to follow each other, to the large ones that catch you by surprise. At that precise moment, I was filled with so much joy that I could do little more than smile and laugh at how fortunate I was at that moment to witness such a thing. We stayed in the water for around 3 hours, but the time felt like nothing. I could have stayed there all day.
Ishigaki Island – Star Gazing
The stars in Ishigaki are indescribable. The quiet, dimly lit villages and nearby beaches make this simply the best star gazing I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Not only could you see the faint outline of the milky way and the unimaginable amount of stars glistening each night, we could also enjoy from the comfort of the hammocks on the roof of the hostel, it was simply perfection. We ended up star gazing every night and life couldn’t haven gotten much better than that.
Ishigaki Island – Sunset Kayaking Through the Mangroves
Ishigaki Island has a good few tours on offer and of course, my hostel owner knew all about them. He told me where to go and recommended we go for a sunset tour that evening. Not only did we cruise through, under and around a fantastic little mangrove forest that the tour leader’s grandfather had planted, but also we got to venture out onto a lake and watch the entire glorious sunset, from beginning to end. The peaceful serenity of the scene sank deep into my bones and, by the end of the sunset, I was left relaxed and practically speechless.
How to Get There?
Flights from Tokyo to Okinawa (Naha) are fairly regular and shouldn’t cost too much more than ¥6,000 if you book long enough in advance. Of course you can get much cheaper deals if you’re lucky and know how to search well, but they can also cost far more if you leave it to the last minute. From Naha Airport you can then take a another flight to Ishigaki island, again costing around ¥6,000 (as an estimate). This is by far the cheapest way from Tokyo and it even allows you the option to stop and explore Naha for a day or so. Flying directly to Ishigaki from Tokyo is an option, but it tends to be more expensive.
Ishigaki is a fantastic island with the potential to be one of the greatest destinations you’ll ever go. This was certainly my favourite place I’ve ever been so far, but you need to make sure you have a knowledgeable hostel owner and have a suitable car or bike license to enable you to rent a car (this is an absolute must!).