Looking for a place to enjoy a relaxing holiday in Japan? Visit Ishigaki! Ishigaki Island, which is warmer than the main island of Okinawa, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture. The island is full of charms such as clear waters, starry skies that cannot be seen from the mainland, and gourmet food unique to the tropics.
In this post, we'll cover the must-visit attractions in the area and the best Ishigaki restaurants and cafes to visit. For more about Okinawan food culture, check out our guide, What to Eat in Okinawa: The Hawaii of Japan. We also have suggestions for vegan restaurants in Okinawa in our Okinawa Vegan Guide, so give that a read to find a plant-based meal in your area!
Ishigaki Island is the main island of the Yaeyama Islands, which are the southwesternmost of Japan's settled islands. Geographically, Ishigaki Island is only 270 km away from Taiwan, which means it is closer to Taiwan than most of Japan. It is even closer to Taipei City than Naha, the capital of Okinawa.
Ishigaki City, Japan's southernmost city, is the only metropolitan area of the Yaeyama Islands. It is home to Peace Bell Park, Torinji Temple (the oldest wooden building in Okinawa), a new manmade beach, and the sightseeing spot Southern Gate Bridge.
The region's main airport, the New Ishigaki Airport (a.k.a. Painushima Ishigaki Airport), is located in Ishigaki City. From the Ishigaki Airport, visitors can take the Karry Bus which goes directly to Ishigaki Port Ferry, allowing access to other major ports in the area like Uehara Port and Ohara Port. Okinawa's main island, Naha, is not directly accessible to Ishigaki Island by ferry, so you'll have to take a plane if you plan to travel between the two.
The answer to how to get around Ishigaki Island depends on your itinerary. If you're sticking around central Ishigaki City, the distances will be walkable, with a trip to Painuhamacho Beach taking around 30 minutes on foot. However, to see the major attractions, you'll want to stick with buses, taxis, or rental car.
Travelers in Japan are often surprised to hear that ridesharing apps like Lyft and Uber, which they've come to rely on, are not as commonly used across Japan as they are in the West. When it comes to using Uber in Japan, you’ll find that the prices are comparable to taxis and the drivers are few and far in between, except in cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Taxi-hailing apps like GO (ゴー) are more commonly used.
Bus passes are 1000 yen for a 1-day pass and 2000 yen for a 5-day pass. These allow you to ride on all of the buses (except sightseeing buses) for the duration of the pass and can be purchased right on the bus.
There are lines of taxis at the ready outside of the airport, ferry terminal, and hotels, and it's also possible to flag one down in the downtown area of Ishigaki City. If you're outside of the city, it is unlikely to find an available taxi, however, and it should be noted that most taxi drivers won't speak English (come with a map or address in Japanese handy).
Prefer to be unconstrained by bus schedules and the whims of taxis? We recommend renting a car. If you have an international driver's license issued by your home country, you'll be able to cruise around the island as you please. Just remember to drive on the left side of the road!
Here are 5 popular places to visit on Ishigaki Island:
Kabira Bay is the only scenic spot in Okinawa to be awarded three stars in the Michelin Green Guide. The seawater changes color from moment to moment, depending on the light and the tide, and is regarded as one of the most scenic Ishigaki Island attractions.
Although there's no swimming in the water here for safety and environmental reasons, sunbathers can head to the nearby beach to enjoy the sun. The one-kilometer-long crescent-shaped beach has soft sand and shallow water, and is surrounded by a variety of casual eateries. You could also take the glass boat without reservation to see the scenic coral reefs in the bay.
Hirakubozaki Lighthouse is located at the tip of Hirakubo Peninsula in the northeastern part of Ishigaki Island. The east side spreads out to the Pacific Ocean and the west side to the East China Sea. The lighthouse is built at the low point of the cape, and you can see it juxtaposed against the beautiful coral reef. It is also a popular sunset spot for Ishigaki Island sightseeing.
At Tamatorizaki Observatory, located in the northeastern part of Ishigaki Island on a small mountain leading to Hirakubo Peninsula, you can enjoy the colorful plants and spectacular views. It is only 20 minutes away from the airport and is also located on the route that circles the island, so it is known as one of the best observatories on Ishigaki Island. It is also a good spot for you to see the stars at night when the skies are clear.
Ishigaki Stalactite Cave is a 3.2 kilometer-long limestone cave located on Ishigaki Island. It is comparable in size to the Akiyoshido Cave in Yamaguchi Prefecture, which is said to be one of the largest in Japan. In the 660-meter-long space open to the public, you can see fossils of shako shells and coral, signs that the cave was once submerged at the bottom of the sea. In the cave, there are illuminated stalactites, an underground water vein called the "Fountain of Longevity," and the "God of Forest" sculpture, a 40-meter-long hall where stalactites that look like sculptures stand in disorder, allowing visitors to feel the workings of the earth that have been repeated over tens of thousands of years.
Located on a hill overlooking the scenic Nagura Bay of Ishigaki Island, Ishigaki Yaima Village is the southernmost theme park in Japan that recreates the good old Yaeyama houses against the backdrop of rich nature.
The sound of a sanshin (a 3-stringed Okinawan instrument similar to a banjo) echoes from the red-tiled old houses that are registered as national tangible cultural properties. In the village, there is a buffalo pond, a crested serpent eagle conservation cage, and a squirrel monkey garden, where feeding the cute little squirrel monkeys is very popular.
At Ishigaki City Public Market, you can do your souvenir shopping and browse their offerings of local seafood, meats, and produce. There you can find cuts of Ishigaki wagyu and other local specialty foods, as well as souvenirs like Shisa Pottery (decorative guardian lions made of clay), eye-catching Ryukyu glassware, and colorful woven fabrics from Yaeyama. Located in the center of Ishigaki Island, the market is about a 30-minute bus ride from Ishigaki Airport.
For breathtaking views of the forest and sea, visit Banna Park, located at the foot of the 230-meter-high Mt. Banna. The park’s Emerald Sea Observation Point provides a panoramic view of Ishigaki Island’s nature. The park has five zones, including a playground for children, Stone Monument Forest, and grassy Forest Passeo that’s just as popular with butterflies as it is with human visitors. The mountain also provides a pleasant trek for nature lovers over bridges and up well-trodden staircases.
Here are our recommended spots for food on Ishigaki Island:
Located near the tourist attraction Tamtorizaki Observatory, Painushimahyoka offers delicious popsicles. Normally, seasonal fruits can only be enjoyed for one to three months a year, so to ensure customers can taste these precious fruits throughout the year, the shop cuts the fruit at their peak ripeness and freezes them to lock in their flavor and make "Island Popsicles” from a variety of fruits. The pineapple flavor is recommended as it is an iconic Okinawa fruit.
Want to enjoy Ishigaki music while having your meal? This next Ishigaki restaurant, Yuikaji, hosts live Okinawan shamisen performances and have a small seating area in the common and lively restaurant. The restaurant offers Okinawan cuisine, especially Ishigaki food, such as Ishigaki beef, and steaks made from brand-name beef from the island. A wide variety of awamori, a kind of Japanese distilled alcohol, is also available
See how awamori is made during the Flavors of Okinawa Tour and visit the world's only awamori cave!
Most of the soba restaurants on Ishigaki Island serve Yaeyama soba, which is a type of noodle from the Yaeyama area, so if you want to eat Japanese soba, go to Wafutei! At this Japanese-style restaurant in Ishigaki, there is a "Yaeyama Soba Set" for noodle lovers. The restaurant has both tatami rooms and tables, and is crowded with islanders. Japanese soba noodles, pork cutlets, yakiniku, and seafood are available, catering to a variety of customers. Music box-style tunes are played in the restaurant, and the staff is very attentive and helpful, coming to refill your tea several times.
Ichigyoichie is an izakaya in the downtown area of Ishigaki Island, a very lively place with live music! You can enjoy shima-uta sanshin performances while drinking sake. Okinawa's local fish such as gurukun and irabucha are offered, which are fresh seafood from the waters around Ishigaki Island. You can enjoy Ishigaki beef sushi, red sweet potato tempura, tofu, island rakkyo, sea grapes, tuna, and many other Okinawan dishes!
These are just a few highlights of what to do and what to eat in Ishigaki. So, start exploring and check out some of these Ishigaki attractions; you will surely be more familiar with Okinawa and see a different side of Japan!
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