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. Geographically, Ishigaki Island is only 270 km away from Taiwan, which means it is closer to Taiwan than most of Japan.
In this post, we'll cover the best Ishigaki restaurants and cafes to visit, and the must-visit attractions in the area. For more about Okinawan food culture, check out our guide, What to Eat in Okinawa: The Hawaii of Japan. We've also previously covered vegan-friendly restaurants in Okinawa in our Okinawa Vegan Guide, so give that a read to find a plant-based meal in your area!
Here are our recommended spots for food on Ishigaki Island:
1. Painushimahyoka (ぱいぬしま氷菓 タマトゥリー商店)
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!
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.
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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