Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa 八重山諸島
The Yaeyama Islands (Yaeyama-shoto) are part of Okinawa Prefecture and are the mostly southerly and westerly parts of the Japanese archipelego, located approximately 100km south of Miyako Island and 430km south of Okinawa main island.
This group of 19 sub-tropical islands forms the remotest part of the Ryukyu Archipelago, which makes up Okinawa prefecture. Some inhabited, some uninhabited, the islands include Ishigaki, the main transport hub of the Yaeyama Islands, Iriomote, Taketomi, Kohama, Kuroshima, Hateruma, Yonaguni, Hatoma and Yubu (just off Iriomote).
The Yaeyama Islands are an ideal place for water sports such as scuba diving, snorkeling and kayaking as well as for soaking in the laid-back nightlife, good Okinawan food and relaxed shopping these delightful sub-tropical islands have to offer.
Yaeyama Archipelago Sights
Ishigaki, Iriomote and Taketomi islands are the most visited of the Yaeyama Islands.
Ishigaki offers tropical beaches to laze on and adventure vacation activities such as scuba diving, hiking or river kayaking. Ishigaki Island has a number of small museums, temples and shrines and the Ishigaki Public Market, which is a good place to shop for typical Yaeyama Archipelago souvenirs. Popular souvenirs include Ishigaki sea salt, awamori (Okinawa's local spirit), ceramic shiisa statues, and sanshin musical instruments (a mainstay of Okinawan music).
Tiny Taketomi Island, with a population of just 350 people, is a great half-day - or even full-day - outing from Ishigaki Island and offers cycling, water buffalo cart rides and searching for star sand on its beaches.
Iriomote, just 20 km from Ishigaki, is also a popular day-trip from Ishigaki, but there is plenty to keep the visitor enthralled for several days, mostly in the way of Iriomote Island's unique flora and fauna and the many outdoor adventures available here such as hiking, which includes the spectacular sight of Okinawa prefecture's highest waterfall.
Kohama Island is 18km from Ishigaki and has the Haimurubushi Resort - the place to stay on Kohama with 120 rooms set in idyllic surroundings. There are yoga classes, diving, a golf course, tennis courts, jet skiing, swimming pool and private beach.
Yonaguni Island (与那), is the most westerly point in Japan, and just over 100km from Taiwan. Yonaguni's attractions include the Atlas moth: the world's biggest, its own breed of horse (Yonaguni horse), and large marlin and hammerhead sharks in the waters offshore. Sonai is the main community on this 11km long island in the middle of nowhere. Yonaguni is easy to get around by hiring a bicycle to admire some of the amazing rock formations on the island and visit its deserted beaches. For dive enthusiasts, the must-see is the rock formations of the "underwater ruins" that some people believe are the relics of an ancient civilization, an eastern Atlantis. The local firewater is hanazake at about 60% proof, which can be sampled in the bars in Sonai or at source in one of the distilleries in town. Yonaguni is about 80 miles from the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, administered by Japan but claimed by both China and Taiwan. Presently there are two ferries a week connecting Yonaguni and Ishigaki. Ferries leave Yonaguni at 10am on Wednesday and Saturday for Ishigaki and from Ishigaki to Yonaguni on Tuesday and Friday at 10am. The journey takes about 4 hours.
Hateruma Island (波照) is 56km from Ishigaki-jima and is the southernmost point in Japan.
Beaches in the Yaeyama Archipelago
Maezato Beach is just east of Ishigaki Town and close to the old airport. The main resort hotel on Maezato Beach is the luxury ANA Intercontinental Ishigaki Resort. Maezato Beach is perfect for a quick swim if you are staying in Ishigaki Town.
Sukuji Beach is possibly Ishigaki's most popular beach with lovely clear and shallow water.
Yonehara is popular with divers and snorkellers but the dead coral and jellyfish make proper equipment and due care essential.
Shiraho-no-umi, just east of Maezato, offshore from the village of Shiraho, is another dive spot with rare Ao and Hama corals. Shiraho also gave its name to a locally-initiated protest movement against the construction of the new Ishigaki airport, which eventually led to the plan being moved 4km to the north, thus saving the Shiraho reef from possible damage and destruction.
Kabira Bay is famous for its lovely emerald colored water, cultured black pearl industry and incredibly fine white sand. Swimming is prohibited at Kabira Bay though there are glass-bottomed boat tours to view the marine life, coral and pearls.
Hoshinozuna Beach on the northern tip of Iriomote is noted for its star-sand (hoshizuna) made up of the skeletons of tiny sea creatures.
Nakano Beach is a lovely strand of golden sand very close to Uehara Town and has a camp site.
Funauki Beach is possibly Japan's most beautiful beach reached by boat from Shirahama.
The beaches on Iriomote are relatively undeveloped and care should be taken while swimming or snorkeling, especially of the potentially fatal habu jellyfish.
Nishi Beach is a lovely stretch of often deserted sand on Haterunuma Island and the island's main attraction.
Access - Getting to the Yaeyama Islands
Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, is the transportation hub for the Ryukyu Islands with short-hop flights to Amami Oshima, Ishigaki, Miyako, Kumejima, Yoron, Yonaguni, Minamidaito and Kitadaito islands.
Flights to and from Naha
There are also flights from Taiwan and other mainland Asian cities including Seoul. There are direct flights to Miyako Island from Tokyo and Osaka. Flights to Ishigaki Island from Nagoya and Fukuoka go via Naha.
Flights to and from Ishigaki
Ishigaki Island is the air transport hub of the Yaeyama Islands. There are flights from Ishigaki Airport with JTA (Japan Transocean Air) to Yonaguni (a nearby Yaeyama island), Miyakojima (a Ryukyu island), Naha, Kansai and Haneda; with RAC (Ryukyu Air Commuter) to Yonaguni, Miyakojima and Naha; with ANA to Miyakojima, Naha, Haneda, Kansai, Chubu Centrair, and (in summertime only) to Fukuoka; with Peach to Kansai, with Solaseed Air to Naha, and with China Air to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.
Getting from Ishigaki Airport to your hotel
From the New Ishigaki Airport (opened in March 2013) there are local Azuma buses (520 yen; every 15 minutes; 45 minute ride) or taxis (30 minutes; about 2,500 yen) for the journey into Ishigaki Town, though many hotels and resorts will pick you up from the airport. Airport parking is 100 yen an hour or 900 yen for between 9 and 24 hours.
Painushima Ishigaki Airport
Tel: 0980 87 0468
Ferries from Ishigaki
Ferries from Ishigaki Port are operated by a variety of competing companies and go to Taketomi Island (10 mins), Iriomote (40 mins), Kuroshima (30 mins), Kohama (30 mins), Hateruma (60 mins) and Yonaguni Island (4 hours). There are no longer any ferry services from Ishigaki to Naha or mainland Japan.
Some ferry companies offer a "passport" which is valid on all their ferries for a period of usually three days. Some of the companies have English-speaking assistants and Ishigaki Port has a dive center that can arrange diving tours of the coral reefs for you and other adventure trips such as kayaking and paragliding.
See our Japan travel section for further details.
Transportation on the Yaeyama Islands
Hiring a car costs about 6-7,000 yen a day including insurance on both Ishigaki and Iriomote.