The unending diversity of landscape that Japan has to offer never ceases to amaze me, and in the summer of 2015 I had the great opportunity to visit its emerald islands that looked as if they had been plucked straight out of Jurassic World (amusingly, I had just seen Jurassic World the previous week). Okinawa, beyond being a famous American military base, is a short (approx 3h) hop from Tokyo and a little tropical paradise. But then, going to Okiwana wouldn’t have been exciting for us…
Enter the Yaeyama Archipelago – a further 40 min away from Okiwana Island by plane and even further away from all those pesky white foreigners. Ishigaki Island (where we would make our base), certainly looked more deserted than expected – but this was exactly what we wanted in a way. There weren’t as many people (tho they would crawl out from somewhere especially towards the sunset, and there were even the occasional westerners), and the buildings somewhat reminiscent of communist times sprinkled around gave the island a certain je ne sais quoi.
Ishigaki has a number of beaches that were great for marine life, especially deadly marine life: really everything from sea snakes, to box jellyfish, sharks, manta rays, blue ring octopuses that make your lungs collapse if they bite you. There are also non-deadly marine life, like clown fish and other beautiful looking creatures (great snorkeling). There’s also deadly non-marine life, like the habu snake and the violin spider which necrotizes your flesh where bitten.
Apparently if you want to drive in Japan you need to have applied for an international driving licence – so we ended up with granny bikes (the ones that only have one speed) which sound fun, but then you realize that even the slightest uphill road means you will pedaling for your very life. In scorching sun. For about 20 km from Ishigaki Port (where I would suggest staying) to Kabira Bay.
When we arrived at a restaurant there and someone asked how we got there and we said bikes they looked at us as if we were aliens. Almost the same reaction as when I had asked for a bike chain at the bike rental shop and the lady could not fathom why I would want one (theft is actually a very rare occurrence in overly-trusting Japan).
What was even more fun was going downhill – similar to when “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” has her breaks break – when I could just visualize my tire blowing and me ending up dismembered on the road. It was a crazy and tiring, but ultimately memorable day. Luckily there are random vending machines in the middle of nowhere and I have several pictures of Ioana hugging them (they offer ice cold beverages).
Should you not want to be adventurous there are also buses (with a daily pass) that go to most beaches but they aren’t very often throughout the day.
Head over to Iriomote Island (daily ferries) if you fancy some more jungle adventure (we went canoeing – apparently there are sharks in the river every now and then) and, if you have time, try getting to Yonaguni Island where you can find a giant moth which inspired Mothra (Godzilla’s nemesis).