Get To Know the Paradise that is Ishigaki Island

The Yaeyama group of islands, located at the south-western edge of Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, consists of 9 islands and several islets. One of these islands is Ishigaki Island. Ladle-shaped Ishigaki Island or Ishigakijima means “stone wall”, and is the second largest island of the Yaeyama archipelago. It is the most populated one of them, with an estimate of 48,816 inhabitants. It is considered the region’s main center of transportation. Its total land area is 229.00 km2. 

The island is blessed with white, sandy beaches, lush, dense palm tree forests, sugar cane plantations, clear turquoise seas, and beautiful and awesome coral reefs. If you need to have a change of pace and scenery and be far from the hustle and bustle of modern Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto, this subtropical hidden paradise is the ultimate getaway. 

Ishigaki city is the cultural, political and economic center of the Yaeyama Islands The holiday city of Ishigaki covers almost the whole island. It was founded in 1908 as a village and later made into a city on July 10, 1947.  

The History of Ishigaki Island in Okinawa, Japan

Ishigaki Island is nearer Taiwan than Japan. Inhabitants of the island were immigrants from Taiwan, China and the Philippines and Thailand. Most settled by the sea because of the availability of abundant food and this diverse cultural heritage has influenced the present day Ishigaki.

It was in Ishigaki Island where Yasuo Hayashi, one of the members of the cult movement Aum Shinrikyo, responsible for the sarin gas attacks at the Tokyo subway station, got apprehended. Hayashi was caught 21 months after committing the crime wherein 12 people died, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

The Yaeyama Great Earthquake of April 24, 1771, happened southeast of Shigaki Island. The 1771 Great Yaeyama Tsunami followed and left the island severely damaged. According to historical reports, the earthquake killed 8,439 people just on Ishigaki Island. Much of agriculture and houses were destroyed and the population decreased to one-third. 

Information about the Ishigaki Airport

The only way to reach Ishigaki Island is by air.  It is not accessible by ferry. Once you arrive at Ishigaki, you can, from there, visit all the other islands. It has become a gateway to the other islands. 

Today, nine Airlines, including Japan Airlines, fly in and out of Ishigaki airport. Ishigaki airport is the second third class airport in Japan (after Kobe airport) that serves more than a million passengers yearly.  

An airport had been constructed initially for military use in 1956. In 1968, the runway was made bigger. Since Ishigaki became a popular tourist destination, the demands to have an airport that can allow large airplanes to land and handle large cargo containers was getting steadily imminent.

Plans for a new airport commenced in 1979 but had many setbacks because the location chosen for the new airport was not approved by the Shiraho residents. The new airport was going to be built by the shore of the Shiraho district, and there were concerns about coral being destroyed. Moreover, as the airport plans were developed, human skeletons, animal bones, and other historical artifacts were discovered inside the limestone cave of Shiraho Saonetabaru Cave Ruins. The skeletons date back to the Palaeolithic age of Japan. 

The newer and bigger airport called “Painushima Ishigaki Airport”, started construction in October 2006 and opened on March 7, 2013.

Hotels in Ishigaki Island

While staying in Ishigaki for a short period of time, you may want to consider staying in these hotels.

  • Hotel Emerald Isle Ishigakijima is a hotel with exceptional recommendations.
  • Club Med Kabira Beach is best for traveling families.
  • Ana Internation Ishigaki Resort is a 5-star resort with romantic views.
  • Okinawa Traditional Style Residence what you are looking for if you want to rent a whole house.
  • Ishigaki Seaside Resort another 5-star resort is right on the coast with some room options facing the ocean.
  • Blue Cabin Hotel is a comfortable, reasonably priced resort, especially for backpackers.  
  • Hotel Patina Ishigakijima is a 3-star Hotel with friendly staff, clean rooms and very near the tourist center.
  • Okinawa EXES Ishigakijima is recommended because the staff goes the extra mile to make your stay comfortable.
  • Art Hotel Ishigakijima is a 3-star hotel value hotel with all the amenities that comes at an affordable price. 

Where is Ishigaki Island Located on the Map?

Ishigaki Island is a far off the larger main islands of Japan, so it’s a little hard to spot. Firstly, it is an Island in the Pacific Ocean, towards the southern end of Japan that trail out, belonging to the Yaeyama archipelago, legislatively under the Okinawa Prefecture. It’s much nearer Taiwan than it is Japan, so when viewing world map, simply look towards the small islands on the map that are east of Taiwan’s Yilan County. 

Things to Do and Places to Visit In Ishigaki Island

Whether you like eating and drinking, scuba diving, trekking, cycling, kayaking, you will be able to do all these activities on Ishigaki Island. Renting a car is the best way to go around the island.

The Southern Gate Bridge, around 10 minutes by foot from the city center, can give you a gorgeous view of the sunset and Ishigaki city,

The Euglena Mall consists of two parallel arcades in the central shopping street of Ishigaki. Here you can find hundreds of stores, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Vegetables, fruits, special Ishigaki beef, accessories, folk crafts, and clothes are all available to make your shopping and dining experience a pleasant one. 

Nightlife is alive and lively with the many quality bars, clubs, izakayas (typical Japanese taverns) and restaurants open till late all over the island. Misakichou, Ishigaki’s District, right in the center of town, is a favorite among tourists as it offers lots of entertainment. 

Yonehara Beach is a highly rated beach and is part of the top 3 places you should go to on this island. It’s perfect for a day visit, or for snorkeling, as there are fish that swim through the shallow parts of the water, and the pleasant sunny state it usually possesses is relaxing.

Uganzaki Lighthouse and the Hirakubozaki Lighthouse have breathtakingly beautiful views of Japan’s warm southern coast. Here, you can soak in the mesmerizing seascape – and make sure to take pictures.Wear good shoes to walk up the rocky hills where the lighthouses are. You cannot enter the lighthouse.

Fusaki Beach is a fun place for snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddling, and dragon boating. Relax on the white sand with the hermit crabs that run back and forth. In this beach, sea turtles come to lay their eggs, which is a rare and respected phenomenon – as turtles are very vulnerable at this time and need help getting back to sea.

Kabira Bay is an emerald blue bay with white sandy shores; they offer rides on glass-bottomed boats to be able to admire the beautiful reef below. Swimming here is prohibited to protect the corals.

Hounensai festival is traditional harvest festival that starts at the beginning of August. These highly entertaining festivals are steeped in Okinawan culture and are interesting to experience. The festival starts with the carrying of the hatagashira, which is a heavy vertical banner with different inscriptions hoisted on sticks, carried by groups of 30 people. 

Later in the day, the “Tsunanumin” takes place wherein a choreographed battle between warriors is staged. The festival ends with the “Tsunahiki” where local teams do a public tug-of-war contest.

The “Haari” Boat festival is the first big festival of the year in Ishigaki Island, and visitors are free to spectate. It is the festival of the fishermen. Groups of fishermen race traditional “Sabani” boats up and down the port.

Yaeyama Museum is on the Main Street in Ishigaki city. It exhibits artifacts, various kinds of boats and other items with cultural significance that show the history of this group of Yeayama Islands.

Tamatorizaki Observatory rated the second best-recommended place to go to in the entire island, lets you have an all-around glimpse of the sea and the lush green foliage that cover the lands around it. It makes for a truly picturesque scene – as long as the weather complies.

Mt. Omoto is the tallest mountain in Okinawa Prefecture. You can go trekking up the mountain. The path is surrounded by dense foliage and lots of spiders, lizards, and other insects. When you reach the top, you will be awed by the beautiful, expansive view of the island.

The Torin-Ji Temple Gongen-do Shrine is the oldest building in all of Okinawa that has kept its wood from its second construction, thus becoming an important cultural and religious landmark in Okinawa. The Shinto shrine was built in 1614 when this part of the islands was considered the Satsuma domain belonging to the Ryukyu king Sho Nei. The wood you will see is the same used in 1786, as a Tsunami called “Meiwa” completely damaged the first building in 1771.

The kami that are enshrined in this building are namely Hayatama-o-no-mikoto, Izanami-no-mikoto, and Kotosaka-o-no-mikoto, who make up a daigongen. As for the Buddhist temple, while it possesses the oldest standing wood in Okinawa, its Deva Kings (Buddhist deities) wood carvings also have the same prestige and age. 

Go Scuba Diving Around the Waters of Ishigaki Island:

Ishigaki Island was voted as the number one Japanese diving destination for 16 straight years. Clean, clear water, picture perfect coral reefs and rich abundant marine life makes scuba diving and snorkeling a joy for tourists. Many places are famous dive points where large numbers of manta rays are encountered is Manta Scramble and Manta City. 

Diving is available all year round in Ishigaki. During the months of January, February, and March, huge humpback whales can be seen jumping in the warm Okinawan seas. Dugongs also can be occasionally spotted.

Some creatures seen aplenty in Ishigaki seas can be harmful. The “Habu” jellyfish is a clear colored highly venomous jellyfish that likes warm and calm water. Beaches that are not enclosed with nets can be risky for swimmers. Other dangerous aquatic creatures around the seas of Ishigaki are the Crown-of-Thorns starfish, and the Stonefish, which is considered the most venomous fish in the world. Divers and swimmers must be on alert of these deadly sea creatures.

Sea conditions can change quickly. Even experienced snorkelers, divers, and kayakers must deal with sudden rapid currents and high winds. It is better not to go alone and it is recommended that tourists join a professional tour or group.

Here are several dive operators in the island: Rates vary from 12,000 yen to 14,000 yen rentals for two boat dives (prices not including gear rental).

  • Prime Scuba Ishigaki: Has bilingual dive operators and offers full day dive cruise around the island.
  • Umicoza Kabira also caters to English speaking divers. There are no charge for transfers from anywhere on the island.
  • Viking Scuba Kabira attends to small diving groups and has English speaking staff.
  • Tom Sawyer offers diving and snorkeling classes and workshop. It also has underwater sightseeing cruises.
  • Hanalei Adventure Tours: offers jungle tours around the base of Mt. Omoto and snorkeling trips on sailboats. Kayaking and canoeing are also included in its itinerary. Tours are all led by English and Japanese speaking guides. 
  • Euro-Divers Japan Offers sightseeing tours under a professional staff. Customers noted that their equipment for rent is in superb condition.

The Weather Forecast for the Year of Ishigaki Island

The climate in Ishigaki is classified as a semi-tropical rainforest climate which is very different from mainland Japan. Consequently, visitors can enjoy relatively warm weather all year round but summers are hot and winters are warm.

In winter, which is December until February, the highest temperature could be just an average of 22 C and the lowest would be around 16C. Winter is relatively short and it is mixed with sunny and rainy days. From March until May, the weather starts to get pleasantly warmer. 

From March until May, the weather starts to get pleasantly warmer. In June until September, the summer heat gets to be intense. And the humidity can get unbearable. Typhoons may occur. Sunblock creams are a necessity. Temperatures can rise to 31C. During October until November, rain continues to pour, and late storms may still pass. 

Whatever the weather conditions may bring; that still shouldn’t stop you from visiting this beautiful island that has so much to offer. Travel to Ishigaki island for your next vacation.