3 days in Ishigaki island: escaping a typhoon and swimming with jellyfish

Japan has plenty of cultural highlights and splendid natural spots; however, the country is not well known for its beaches. So, when planning a beach vacation, a list of all other South East Asia countries may pop up in your head before thinking of Japan. But if you are planning a visit to “the land of the rising sun”, keep in mind that white sands and turquoise waters are within a hand’s reach.

Okinawa Prefecture, the southernmost region of Japan, is filled with little hidden spots and it’s an ideal beach destination throughout the whole year! So after careful consideration of all the islands to choose from (and a bit of luck with cheap plane tickets), we found ourselves in the Yaeyama Islands which Ishigaki is part of.

Although typhoons are quite common in the summer months, it is normally nothing major to be scared of apart from spending a day or two indoors. Nonetheless, our luck prevailed once again as our flight landed in Ishigaki on the last day of a passing storm letting us enjoy three days of unconditional sun.

Interesting story: the official beaches are beautiful, conveniently equipped with showers, changing rooms and jellyfish proofed. However, it is the best know secret in the island that the most beautiful beaches are in the North part of the island which are completely virgin. We came across the beach 川平タバガ, aprox. 30 min bike ride from the Kabira Bay. It is truly beautiful: the transparent waters, rocks and mountains create a spectacular view (however, be careful, as there is no jellyfish protective-net in here). In a way, it’s like the locals try to keep the beautiful spots for themselves, putting tourists in the designated beaches.

Exploring other Yaeyama islands is also a must. You will see that it is very easy to move within islands, so during our short stay, we went to Taketomi Island (only 20 minutes by ferry from Ishigaki) with stunning beaches, red roofed houses and amazing island food. Also, from the people we met on the trip, we also heard that Iriomote Island is an absolute piece of heaven.

Ishigaki is a unique place in the world: here you can watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean and the sunset to the East China Sea.

So, if you are looking to include Ishigaki and the Yayeama islands in your to-do list for your next vacation, here are few tips to keep in mind:

  • Flights to Ishigaki are cheaper when buying from outside Japan – Funny enough, when buying tickets from outside Japan, you will see that tickets can be 5 times cheaper than buying it as a local.
  • Book accommodation in advance – hotels and hostels get filled up fast, especially if you want to stay further from the port and closer to the nice beaches.
  • Get your international driving license – as there are not many buses going through the north side of the island (and this is where the nice beaches are), renting a car for a day or two is a great idea.
  • Exploring the Kabira Bay area by rental bike, snorkeling/diving and getting on the sandbar in the East China Sea are among the must do things in the island.
  • Leave enough days to include day trips to the other islands – as each of them have a lot to offer.

Ishigaki was everything I expected it to be. The island is sufficiently developed to offer a convenient infrastructure for traveling across, while at the same time, leaving enough space for peaceful, undiscovered and beautiful virgin beaches.

I am a beach lover, so a visit to Ishigaki was an absolute highlight during our Japan trip. A beautiful and yet undiscovered island for those of us who often love to find ourselves in “off the beaten track” locations.