There are various activities that one can do during the summer season. Typically, summer means going to the beach and frolicking in the water under the sun. With the intense heat coming from the sun during this season, a splash of cold water is rather refreshing. In Japan, there are various places where one can find a beach where one can hang out during summer. With numerous islands in this archipelago, there are a plethora of options. Among these islands is Taketomi Island.
Facts: Map, Transportation like Ferry, Accommodations like Hotels and Resorts
More commonly known as Taketomi-jima in Japanese, Taketomi Island is located in the Yaeyama District situated in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. In the Okinawan dialect, the island is called Dakidun. Taketomi Island is part of the group known as the Yaeyama Islands or the Ryukyu Islands. As of January of the year 2012, the island had a population of 323. The island is also located in the Pacific Ocean.
With a total area of 5.42 square kilometers, which is equivalent to 2.09 square miles, the island is situated south of Ishigaki Island at a distance of 4 kilometers, which is equivalent to 2.5 miles. Taketomi Island is 3.4 kilometers long, which is equivalent to 2.11 miles, and 2.7 kilometers wide, which is equivalent to 1.68 miles. The highest elevation of the island is at 21 meters, which is equivalent to 69 feet.
A village sits on the center of the island bearing the same name. A raised coral atoll, the island is shaped like a circle. Coral reefs surround the beautiful island of Taketomi. The island is also a portion of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, which was established in the year 1972.
One of the many distinct characteristics of Taketomi Island is its “traditional Okinawan” houses, along with its sandy streets that lead to beaches and its stone walls. Because of these, the island is also quite popular not just among domestic tourists but also among international visitors. To preserve the natural beauty of the island, there are several rules that are mandated in Taketomi in relation to various aspects of modern construction. This includes the replacement of hand-packed stone with walls made of concrete.
There are various activities on the island that tourists can participate in. These include snorkeling and riding in an ox-cart through the village. These activities are quite popular among visitors of the island. Guests can also just relax and lounge at the beach if they are not into activities. Biking around the village is also a popular activity, as guests are able to appreciate more the quaintness and simplicity of the village – a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city.
The “traditional Okinawan” houses in Taketomi can be identified by their roofs made of red tiles. It is interesting to note that back in the day, commoners were not even allowed to build houses with tiled roofs by Ryukyu. Thankfully, after its abolishment, the locals were then able to construct their houses with tiled roofs, which have become a symbol for the island of Taketomi through the years due to its appealing visuals.
It was in the year 1905 that a house with red-tiled roof first surfaced. It became a symbol of wealth on the island for several years. Forty percent of the houses in the island incorporated this traditional style by the year 1964. The popularity of this design grew as the conservation movement spread and evolved.
Aside from the red-tiled roofs, Taketomi Island is also famous for other things such as its pristine beaches. One of its beaches features the hoshizuna. Translating to “star-sand,” hoshizuna consists of the remains of Foraminifera. Tourism, as well as the production of sugarcane, are the primary industries of the island. The beautiful island can be accessed by taking a boat ride from Ishigaki Island. The trip takes about 10 minutes. Within the island, all its different areas can be reached by foot. If one does not feel like walking, there are also bike rentals available for visitors.
While most tourists prefer to visit Taketomi Island on a day trip, one may also opt to stay the night on the island. There is a wide range of choices for minshuku. Typically, they charge around 5,500 yen for a night, which includes a bed and two meals. Spending a night on the island may be a good option for people who wish to fully experience what the island has to offer without the tourist crowds.
For a high-end option, one may opt to check in Hoshinoya Taketomi Island. It is a beautiful resort that incorporates strict zoning regulations. A fully isolated resort, Hoshinoya offers accommodations that incorporate the red-tiled roof design. It also features stone walls called “gukku” in Japanese. With the resort facing south, the privacy of the guests is guaranteed.
The best part about spending the night in Taketomi is the star walks. From the island, one can view 84 out of the 88 constellations in the sky. Every night, visitors are also able to witness the 21 first magnitude stars in the sky. Thanks to its clear skies, one would be able to see the stars shining with clarity.
What to See and Do on the Island: Beaches, Snorkeling, Etc.
There are various places to see in Taketomi. Of course, one should take a look at the traditional houses with red-tiled roofs in the island. Its traditional Ryukyu village is also preserved so visitors are able to see its lasting beauty and quaintness from way back. Most houses on the island are accompanied by shiza statues, which resemble lions, believed to protect against evil spirits. A number of these houses also serve as minshuku accommodations for tourists who wish to stay the night on the island.
Aside from minshuku accommodations, some traditional houses also serve as restaurants and shops that offer local delicacies as well as traditional crafts. The village is not exactly for the techy, there are no rental cars available in the area. Instead, people are encouraged to either walk or rent a bicycle to travel through the village. The streets are covered with some sand and lead to nearby beaches.
The island features both sandy beaches and rocky beaches. Visitors are able to enjoy water activities on these beaches such as swimming and snorkeling. It is important to take note that beaches in Taketomi do not offer any public utilities aside from Kondoi Beach. Moreover, it is also vital to be cautious of the strong currents that may pull one out to sea. There are also poisonous creatures out in the sea that one should look out for like the Habu Jellyfish, which is a type of box jellyfish that is most common from June to October.
There are various signs in the beaches that are written not just in the Japanese language but in English as well. These signs caution visitors about the dangers that visitors may encounter while frolicking in the waters. There are also some beaches that consist of netted off swimming areas to ensure that guests do not swim off too far or too deep.
It is rare for visitors to get stung but should this happen, it is important that one knows how to treat stings. Immediate relief includes pouring vinegar on the affected area and removing any remaining tentacles. After which, seek medical help immediately as the sting may become life-threatening.
Probably the best beach on the island is Kondoi Beach. With its shallow, sandy floors, the beach features emerald green waters. A big white sand beach, Kondoi Beach is great for people who wish to lie down and bask in the glory of the sun. The beach also offers waters warm enough to swim in without getting too cold.
However, the waters may sometimes be too shallow to swim in during low tide. Kondoi Beach also offers shaded picnic areas great for family gatherings and restrooms. Changing rooms are also available in the area. Visitors can rent beach gear in the area. However, the prices for these rentals may be a bit steep with a mask and snorkel gear selling at around 1,500 yen per day.
Another famous beach on the island is the Star Sand Beach. The island of Taketomi is one of only two islands in Japan that accumulates a specific type of sand. As the name suggests, Star Sand Beach consists of “sands” shaped like tiny stars. These “sands” are actually shells or skeletons from thousands of small crustaceans that live in the area. There are actually two star sand beaches in the area. These two are Kaijihama, which is located on the southwestern coast, and Aiyaruhama, which is situated on the eastern coast.
A lot of visitors try to find these tiny stars in the sand. However, one may also head to a souvenir shop nearby where these stars are sold. It is important to note that taking sand from the beach is prohibited. Hence, visitors would have to actually look for these tiny stars if they want to take some home as a memento of their time at the beach.
Other Attractions in Taketomi Island, Okinawa
Aside from the beaches, there are also other local attractions that Taketomi Island has to offer. One of these is the popular water buffalo cart ride. These rides are only available from 8:30 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. A ride costs 1,200 yen per head for adults and 600 yen per head for children. There are only two companies that offer this type of ride to tour around Taketomi Village.
The tour takes about 30 minutes. During the ride, visitors are able to view the traditional streets of the village that has been preserved for years. During the trip, there is a Japanese tour guide that provides information about the island as well as sings songs and plays sanshin to produce Okinawan music. The water buffalo rarely has to be guided as they may already know the routes by heart.
These rides are run by Nitta Tours and by the Taketomi Tourism Center. With their great services, it is highly likely that they would leave a deep impression when thinking about Taketomi Island. Visitors can call the carriage drivers “Ojii,” which stands for “old man” in Japanese. He serves as the source of information about the island such as its history and flora.
Carriages run by Nitta Tours take the western course and make stops at Nagomi Tower as well as the Asadoya Kuyama House. On the other hand, carriages run by the Taketomi Tourism Center take the eastern course and make stops at Nishitou-Utaki, Machinami-kan, and, of course, the Taketomi Tourism Center. Albeit slow, the journey is accentuated by the beautiful music made by playing the sanshin.
Also known as Nitta Kanko, Nitta Tours can be reached at 0980-85-2103. Its address is Taketomi 97 Yaeyamagun Taketomicho, Okinawa 907-1101 Japan. On the other hand, the Taketomi Tourist Center can be reached at 0980-85-2998. Its address is Taketomi 441 Yaeyamagun Taketomicho, Okinawa 907-1101 Japan.
Aside from the water buffalo ride, visitors can also go to Nagominoto Tower. Standing at 4.5 meters high, the tower stands almost at the center of the village. At the top, visitors can see most of Taketomi Island. Sitting on a hill, Nagominoto Tower is around 10 meters above the houses surrounding it. Below it are some shops and restaurants that one can also look into. At present, the tower cannot be climbed because of its deteriorating state.
Renting a bicycle to tour the area is highly recommended. With its clean, fresh air, riding a bicycle while enjoying the scenery is a must. There are multiple rental shops in the area. With a circumference of about 9.2 kilometers, which is equivalent to around 5.71 miles, the island can be toured by bicycle in an hour.
Why Taketomi is A Must-Visit
With so many activities that the island has to offer to visitors, it is no wonder that Taketomi Island is such a hit with foreign tourists. Aside from the beautiful beaches and sands that look like stars, Taketomi is also brimming with culture. The village in the island is well-preserved to show tourists how it used to be in the area. There are also places on the island that refer to the various traditions upheld by the locals in Taketomi.
Other things to check out is the Mingeikan, where tourists are able to observe local artisans weave a traditional cloth called minsa. The resident priest in the island known as Kihoin also has a collection of more than 3,000 historical items as well as crafts. Visit Taketomi Island to learn more about these as one is able to enjoy the beauty of its architecture.