If you're looking for a hidden tropical getaway during your next trip to Japan, look no further because Ishigaki is the answer!
Ishigaki is one of the most tropical places in Japan. It's home to many unique beaches and it's a popular travel destination among Japanese people, but not so well known by travelers from outside.
We put together this complete, awesome guide so that you can know everything you need to for planning your next trip to Ishigaki!
Hope you enjoy!
Things to do
Enjoy Water Activities
Like many other tropical destinations, you can participate in various water activities in Ishigaki. Ishigaki is also one of the best places to scuba dive in Japan, with many different types of marine life flourishing around the island.
Here are some of the amazing activities that we highly recommend trying out.
- Scuba diving with hammerhead sharks
- Stand up paddleboard during the sunset
- Kayak through mangroves
- Snorkeling from an island made of corals (Barasu Island)
Chill Out at Kabira Bay
With clear blue waters and small green islands floating in the distance, the breathtaking view of Kabira Bay is the iconic symbol of Ishigaki.
Take the stairs down to the beach, and you can feel your feet sink right into the soft sand underneath the crystal clear water.
At street level, there are multiple souvenir shops lined up and restaurants that serve some amazing Ishigaki cuisine.
Here are some of the things you can do at Kabira Bay:
- Glass floor boat tour
- Scuba diving with Manta Rays
- Take a boat out to the uninhabited islands
- Kayaking around Kabira Bay
Short Hike Up Mount Nosoko Mape
Even for those that don't like hiking, we recommend trying this one out because it's one of the best hiking experience we've had thus far.
The hike up to the peak of Mount Nosoko Mape is a steep trail through a path in the forest, but it's a short one and takes less than 30 minutes. Once you get to the top, the trees clear away and suddenly you have this amazing view of Ishigaki.
Because it's such a breathtaking spot, the top of Mount Nosoko Mape is often considered a "power spot" among Japanese people, a place where you can go for spiritual healing, and there's no questioning why!
Explore the Ibaruma Sabichi Cave
The Ibaruma Sabichi Cave is not your typical cave.
The cave itself is small but it has a second exit on the opposite side that opens up to a secluded beach that's only accessible from this cave. Unlike other sandy beaches in Ishigaki, this one has big rocks distributed throughout the beach and you can find small sea crabs in the sands between.
Gazing at the Stars
Ishigaki is said to be one of the best places in the world to watch the stars.
You can see 84 of the 88 constellations and even a faint outline of the Milky Way Galaxy on clear nights. There's even an observatory here which you can visit.
The stars can be enjoyed from pretty much anywhere on the island, but if you want to watch from the best spots, there are many affordable tours available, some that take you out to sea to watch!
Buy Souvenirs from Euglena Mall
Euglena mall is a large arcade mall located in the urban area of Ishigaki, near the ferry port.
There's everything from souvenir shops to local public markets with fresh local produce. There's also many restaurants surrounding Euglena mall that serve traditional Okinawan food.
If you're wondering what souvenirs to bring back home, here's a list of some popular souvenirs from Ishigaki.
- Shima zori sandals. Okinawan style sandals that are nicely designed and comfortable to wear
- Black pearl accessories. Ishigaki is the only place in Japan to produce black pearls.
- Salt. Ishigaki is famous for salt, especially since the island is surrounded by corals
- Beni-imo tarts. Beni-imo is a type of sweet potato grown in Okinawa. The tart made from this Okinawan sweet potato is one of the most popular souvenirs here!
- Chinsuko. Traditional Okinawan shortbread cookie.
- Awamori - Traditional Okinawa Sake.
- Koregusu - Okinawa chili sauce made with Awamori.
Explore the Other Yaeyama Islands
Ishigaki's ferry port connects to the other Yaeyama islands and it only takes 15-45 minutes. Each island has its own unique culture and geography, and we recommend checking out at least one of them.
Iriomote and Taketomi are two popular choices!
Food to Try in Ishigaki
Ishigaki beef is famous in Japan for being very high quality and tender and we highly recommend any dish made with this beef. Even common Japanese food such as gyudon and yakisoba taste nothing like the ones made in mainland Japan.
Restaurants that do use Ishigaki Beef usually have a sign up indicating so. If you don't mind spending some extra money, try ordering the Ishigaki Beef Steak!
Yaeyama soba is a variation of the Okinawan soki soba with a seafood twist. Instead of using completely pork, the broth is infused with tuna and the dish is topped with minced meat and fish cake.
As with many island destinations, fish is a very common ingredient. Any sushi or sashimi made with locally caught fish will taste incredible.
Sugar Cane Juice
Sugar cane is one of Ishigaki's main produce and you can see sugar cane fields almost everywhere. Try a cup of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice from any smoothie shop in the island or even try some brown sugar snacks made from sugar canes!
Sata Andagi (Brown Sugar Donuts)
Speaking of brown sugar snacks, there's one you must try. Sata Andagi is the Okinawan version of a donut and it's in the shape of a ball rather than a ring. The natural sweeteners will make you feel less guilty when reaching for a second one!
We were surprised when we tried the tapioca in Ishigaki. We've had our fair share of tapioca in Tokyo, but the brown sugar from Ishigaki gives it a different scent and taste.
Ichibanza is the perfect place to try many different kinds of Ishigaki cuisines. Ishibanza is an izakaya located right outside of the ANA Intercontinental Hotel entrance and it's the perfect stop from the airport to the city area.
They serve everything from Yaeyama soba to Ishigaki steak. Whichever dish you choose, we highly recommend ordering a side of the mozuku tempura which is a type of seaweed, fried in tempura batter.
When arriving in Kabira Bay, Kebab Kaboo is one of the first restaurants you'll see. They use Ishigaki beef in their kebabs, which automatically makes it a luxury kebab.
They also serve Ishigaki beef sushi which won't fill you up but is a great luxury snack.
Yuratic is a restaurant in downtown Ishigaki, located near Euglena mall, on the first floor of Hotel Cucule. Yuratic has a local vibe to it and serves a lot of traditional Okinawan food.
If you order any set meal, it comes with a piece of fresh sashimi on the side. They have great Yaeyama and Soki Soba, but their champloo was my favorite.
Originally from America, the A&W restaurant chain can be found everywhere in Okinawa and there are a few in Ishigaki.
If you're in Ishigaki and you're craving something more western, then there's no better choice than A&W. The A&W burger and the chili cheese fries are two great choices on their menu!
Banya Farm is a smoothie shop located on the north eastern part of the island, and its an awesome rest stop on the way back from Mount Nosoko Mape or Ibaruma Sabichi Cave.
Their smoothies are amazing but what's more interesting is the shop itself. There's a huge front yard with lots of greenery and various seating arrangements that can make for some great pictures!
On the other side of the yard is the shop owner's residence, with lots of dogs, cats, and a sheep! And they sometimes let them roam around the area. In the back, there's a short hiking path that takes you to an observation deck overlooking the coastline!
Papaya is another smoothie shop that's located in the central north part of Ishigaki, a small distance from Kabira bay. At Papaya, it's all about the taste.
They sell authentic, delicious fruit smoothies and sugar cane juice that they juice out on the spot. All of their flavor are natural and come from produce on the island.
You can't go wrong with any of their juices but we recommend getting the B blend, which is a magical mix of mango, pineapple, and sugar cane juice.
Blue Seal Ice Cream
Blue Seal is Okinawa's own ice cream brand that started in order to cater for American soldiers after World War 2. They have many different flavors from classic to unique but if you want a local taste, we recommend trying the beni-imo flavor.
Getting to Ishigaki
The Ishigaki airport is a domestic airport with international flights to some nearby countries.
Getting to Ishigaki used to be very expensive because only major airlines, such as ANA and JAL operated on their airport. The traditional way was to transfer from Osaka or Tokyo to the Okinawa airport, then transfer again to Ishigaki.
Recently, low cost carriers(LCC) such as Peach Airlines have started to make connections to Ishigaki, making it much cheaper(more than half the cost) to fly there from Osaka or Tokyo. Now it's a much more affordable option to take a flight to Osaka or Tokyo, then go directly to Ishigaki using an LCC airline.
Transportation In Ishigaki
The best way to experience Ishigaki and it's nature is through a rental car. Rental cars in Ishigaki are also much cheaper than they are in mainland Japan and can save you a significant amount of time compared to taking public transportation.
If you're unable to rent a car, it's still possible to enjoy your time in Ishigaki. There are buses that come every 30-60 minutes and allow access to popular areas of the island, such as Kabira Bay. You can check the bus schedule here.
Taxis are also available but they're often hard to come across unless you're near a tourist area. If you're ever in need of a taxi, try asking the nearest restaurant if they can help you call one!
If you booked an activity, you may also check if they provide transportation from your accommodation.
If you're without a rental car, we recommend booking your accommodation near the urban area of Ishigaki so you can have easier access to different parts of the island!
Transportation to Other Islands
You can get to the other Yaeyama islands through the port of Ishigaki. You can buy the tickets directly at the port. Make sure to get there early so you can secure the tickets for your desired departure time, especially during the busy summer seasons.
From the airport, you can get to the ferry port either by the shuttle bus or taxi.
Here are the list of Yaeyama islands that connect from Ishigaki.
For more info on the ferry time schedule and fare, you can check out the ferry's website here.
Ishigaki has all sorts of accommodation for different types of travelers. For solo travelers who are looking for a cheap and social option, there are a handful of decently priced hostels around Ishigaki's city area.
If you're traveling with a group or want to stay in a nice vacation home, there are lots of vacation home listings on AirBnb as well as hotels located in various parts of the island.
Ishigaki is also home to a few luxury hotels, as well and these are some of the most famous luxury hotels in Ishigaki:
- ANA Intercontinental Hotel
- Fusaki Beach Resort
- Okinawa EXES Ishigaki
When to Go to Ishigaki
Typhoon season for Ishigaki usually occurs around June to October and ironically, that's also the busiest season(most likely due to Japan's summer break schedule).
Therefore, the best time to visit Ishigaki is right before, around April and May, when tourism and temperature are not at its peak. The winter months of November to January are also a good time to go if cheaper prices and warmer climates are what you're looking for!
Ishigaki is the hidden tropical island getaway that you definitely need to add to your Japan travel itinerary! Go and enjoy the island breeze, participate in water activities, and indulge on some authentic Ishigaki beef!