Okinawa is the place to go in Japan if you want to avoid the crowd, the hordes of tourists, and the city’s hustle and bustle. It is a group of little subtropical islands south of mainland Japan with coral reefs, white-sand beaches, ancient forests, and rich culture. Okinawa is actually Japan’s poorest prefecture, so it’s often a much cheaper destination for anyone dreaming of having pristine, idyllic beaches all to yourself but scared by the costs involved.
I was there for about a week last month just before “escaping” to Vancouver and I’ve documented my travel.
Kabira Bay in Ishigaki Island is one of the most famous sightseeing spots among Japanese in Japan as it’s renowned for its white sands, turquoise blue water, and corals. Swimming is prohibited since it’s one of the two places in Japan where black pearls are cultivated.
Also on the same island is Yoneko-yaki Pottery (aka “Yonekoyaki Craft Center”) which it’s a bit of a hidden gem. It produces colourful traditional Ryukyuan figurines.
Yonehara Beach (米原ビーチ) is on the northern coast of Ishigaki Island (close Kabira Bay). It doesn’t have the best sand quality, but you can camp and party there all night — there’s a first-come-first-serve campsite just steps away from the sandy beach. In the summer, you can sometimes find parties that go on into the wee hours of the morning. The beach isn’t officially sanctioned — it’s completely at-your-own-risk. Over the years, it has claimed many lives as you can easily get swept away into the open sea by the strong current. (There are warning signs and information of the locations of currents posted, but they’re in Japanese only.) It’s a fantastic summer party spot — just heed the warnings and respect the environment. It’s a very popular spot amongst experienced snorkelers and divers due to the abundance of coral reef and large variety of sea life!
Next to Ishigaki Island is Taketomi Island (竹富島), which is famous for its bleached-white beach, crystal clear water, and it’s the home of one of Japan’s largest coral reefs. If you fly above it, you can actually a ring of coral surrounding its entire coast! Kondoi Beach (コンドイ浜) has a crescent-shaped bay with fine, bleached-white sand leading into very shallow, warm, calm waters, making it a perfect day trip for family with small kids (or anyone who wants to relax). It’s undisturbed and almost always very quiet.
If you find relaxing on the beach too boring, how about a challenging hike? I personally hate hiking, but I was the lone dissenter of the group. I trekked what felt like eternity deep into the lush forest to the Pinaisara Falls (ピナイサーラの滝) in Iriomote Island (西表島).
Yubu Island (西表島) is a tiny island next to Iriomote Island that is only accessible by the local water buffalo taxis. The water that separates it from the neighbouring landmass is so shallow that you can actually walk or wade across it, depending on the tide. The whole place is less than 2km and it’s now essentially a botanical garden with a lot of butterflies (and water buffalos). According to Yubu Island’s own census, there’re actually more water buffalos living there than people!
Barasu Island (バラス島) is a super tiny island made of nothing but coral floating above the water. Walking on its thin coral pathway during the rising tide makes you feel like you’re walking on the ocean. It’s a perfect snorkeling spot since the water is exquisitely clear!