Taketomi Island: Japan’s Southern Paradise
Just over 300 people call Taketomi Island home, and they must surely be some of the luckiest people in Japan to be able to enjoy the island’s fine climate, pristine beaches and traditional architecture every day of their lives. The rest of us, however, can still enjoy the laid back charms of this small but quaint island on a day trip from nearby Ishigaki Island. A ten minute ferry crossing brings you in to Taketomi’s port, where aside from the Ishigaki ferry, the majority of water traffic is made up of sun-bronzed fisherman. If you are feeling energetic, you can rent a bicycle at the port and travel to Taketomi Village. Alternatively, a more traditional mode of transport is the suigyusha or water buffalo cart. These docile water buffalos transport visitors around the village while a local driver serenades you with melodies on the sanshin, a traditional Okinawan three stringed lute.
The village itself has only a few streets, but what an impressive few streets they are! Almost all of the houses are built in Okinawan style, a tradition that is sadly dying out on the larger islands. With their red clay roofs and guardian shisa lions standing watchfully, you might find yourself transported to a different time entirely. You may find no more beautiful sight in all of your Okinawa travels than the bougainvillea and hibiscus flowers that completely surround the houses in Spring.
Having enjoyed the architectural splendor of Taketomi, you can then dive (literally) into its natural wonders. Rent a snorkel from the visitor center and then cycle, walk, or take a buffalo cart around half a kilometer north of the village to Misashi, the island’s best snorkeling point. The shoreline is surrounded by coral reefs and as soon as you enter the water, the magical colors of the undersea world will come to life in front of your eyes.
Just over a kilometer south on the west coast lies the beautiful Kaiji beach. It is also known as “Hoshisuna-no-hama” (star sand beach), so named because of the star shaped ‘sand’ that accumulates there. The sand is in fact made up of countless shells broken into tiny fragments over time by the tide. After a swim you might have worked up an appetite. Taketomi has several charming restaurants such as Takenoko which serves a good range of simple, high quality soba noodle dishes in a beautiful traditional house. After refuelling, pick up a souvenir in the adjoining shop; one of Taketomi’s classic keepsakes is a bottle of star shaped sand. You can also go to the village mingeikan (craft gallery) for samples of traditional southern Okinawan minsa, a finely woven indigo-dyed cloth that will always remind you of your Okinawa travel experience.
After a full day of sightseeing, there should be just enough time for a well-deserved beer before heading south to the ferry terminal and back to Ishigaki. Alternatively, if the thought of leaving doesn’t appeal, there are a number of friendly Bed & Breakfasts on the island. Staying will allow you to enjoy the sun going down over the village while savoring Okinawan food and perhaps a musical performance from your host. After all, when you’ve found paradise, nobody can blame you for wanting to linger.
How to get to Taketomi island: A two-hour flight from Tokyo to Naha on Okinawa island, then a 30-minute flight to Ishigaki island followed by a 10-minute ferry ride from Ishigaki Port to Taketomi.
photo credit: コンドイ浜 via photopin (license)