Okinawa

Okinawa Travel Guide

If you’re looking for a tropical paradise in Japan, Okinawa is the answer. 

Often called the Hawaii of Japan, Okinawa is the group of islands located south of the main islands. The biggest island of Okinawa, Honto, is the most visited island since it’s the most populated while also having incredibly beautiful beaches and landscapes. It’s also home to Japan’s most famous aquarium as well as many American-influenced shops and cuisines. This guide will show you everything you need to know for traveling to Okinawa.

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About Okinawa

Okinawa consists of over 160 islands, 49 of which are inhabited. Okinawa was part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which extended from Kyushu all the way to Taiwan and then became a part of Japan in the 19th century. After World War 2, Okinawa was occupied by America for roughly 30 years before returning to be a part of Japan again. As a result of its past, you can see evidences of Ryukyu, American, and Japanese culture in this small island. 

The Weather

Okinawa’s weather is as one expects of a tropical island. In the summer, it gets hot and humid while in the winter, it stays relatively warm, but still too cold to go swimming. Just like most tropical islands, there are also lots of typhoons that pass by Okinawa, usually in the summer. It’s important to check the weather often when traveling to Okinawa in case the typhoon may affect flights, ferries, and activities. 

Best Time to Go

We think that the best time to visit Okinawa is any time except the middle of summer. In the summer, Okinawa is blazingly hot and humid while getting a lot of rainfall. May and June are considered rainy seasons while July and August are typhoon season. Ironically, summer is also peak tourist season since Japan’s major holidays tend to be around this time as well. 

March, April, and October are probably the best months since you escape the heat and crowd while also enjoying the waters. January is also a great time to go if you want to experience the cherry blossoms in Okinawa, much earlier than other parts of Japan.

Winter is also a good time to go if you’re coming from a colder climate (like from anywhere else in Japan) and want to escape the cold. However, the waters lose their warmth so swimming may not be an option for everyone. 

How to Get There

The only way to get to Okinawa is by either airplane or ferry. 

Naha Airport connects to every major airport in Japan, and a few from other countries nearby. The best way to get to Okinawa from far away would be to fly into a big city, like Tokyo or Osaka, and transfer to Naha Airport from there. It may also be a good way to see a part of main Japan before enjoying the island life in Okinawa.

You can check below for ways to get to Okinawa from your country!

Transportation

In Okinawa, there is a monorail that runs from the airport to Naha city and various buses that connect Naha to the other parts of the island. To ride the public transportation in Okinawa, you can either buy individual tickets or get the OKICA transportation card, which you can charge up and easily ride the monorail or bus. If you’re coming from mainland Japan, the PASMO or SUICA card does not work in Okinawa and you would have to purchase the OKICA card. 

While public transportation is available, the best way to see the beauty of Okinawa is by renting a car. With a rental car, you have access to remote beaches and parts of the island and get to places much faster. In addition to that, rental cars in Okinawa tend to be much cheaper than the rest of Japan, so it’s good to take advantage of that!

Where to Stay

Hotel Deal - Okinawa Marriott Resort & Spa just $84 (using Marriott LNF)

Naha (South Okinawa)

Hostel

3 Star Hotel

4&5 Star Hotel

  • Loisir Spa Tower Naha – Upscale beach resort with relaxing spa, luxurious dining, and rooms overlooking the sea. 

Nakagami (Central Okinawa)

Hostel

3 Star Hotel

4&5 Star Hotel

Nago (North Okinawa)

Hostel

3 Star Hotel

  • Hotel Resonex Nago – Beachfront hotel with onsen, gym, and an open patio next to the beach. 
  • Kanehide Kise Beach Palace

4&5 Star Hotel

What to Pack

Clothes

The weather is hot and humid from April to November, so you’d want to wear as light as possible. During the winter months, you might want to wear long sleeves and pants, but also keep some shirts as well. 

Whether it’s rainy season or not, Okinawa has random rainfalls, so it may also be a good idea to bring a waterproof jacket

For a more detailed clothing guide, you can check the official Okinawa Travel Guide

Cash

You need cash, not just in the natural parts of Okinawa, but also in cities like Naha as well. Many chain restaurants, supermarkets, and big establishments accept credit card, but cash is the only acceptable payment everywhere else. If you need cash while there, you can withdraw from any convenience store or a Japan Post ATM. 

Beach Essentials

Going to a tropical island means that you’ll be going to the beach as often as possible. Instead of figuring it out when you get there, it can be more cost effective to prepare everything beforehand. Here is a general packing checklist of beach essentials. 

Compact Umbrella

As mentioned before, Okinawa has random rainfalls, whether it’s rainy season or not. Having a compact umbrella around can be useful in these situations. 

Buy a compact umbrella here

International Drivers Permit

If you are renting a car you need either a Japanese drivers license or an International Drivers Permit. In the USA, an IDP application may take around 10-15 business days, so make sure to plan ahead!

Universal Adapter

Japanese outlets have the same shape as the ones in the US. If you’re coming from the US, you won’t be able to connect your three-prong outlets. If you’re coming from outside of the US, you may need to bring an electrical adapter. It’s also recommended to bring a power cord as well so you can have multiple sockets. 

Buy a universal adapter here

Wifi

It’s hard to travel without wifi these days. When traveling to Okinawa, you need a wifi provider that has coverage in the smaller islands as well, 

Get pocket wifi here

Power Bank

The more you use your phone, the more battery it uses. 

You may need a power bank when traveling to countryside, when you’re not quite sure when the next time you can find an electric socket. 

Get electric power bank here

Attractions

Churaumi Aquarium

Japan’s most famous aquarium.

The Churaumi Aquarium is located on the north western tip of the main island, in Ocean Expo Park. It has one of the biggest tanks in the world that can hold 7.5 million liters and houses two whale sharks, manta rays, and hundreds of marine life. 

How to get there

The fastest way to get there is by car, by taking the Okinawa Expressway. There are also several local and express buses which you can take from Naha, Nago, and other parts of the island. You can see all the bus information and timetable on this website.

Tickets available here.

Hours: 8:30am – 7:00pm

Address: 424 Azaishikawa, Motobu, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-0206

Phone Number: 0980-48-3748

Orion Happy Park

If you have an interest in beer, Orion Happy Park is a great place to learn about the entire process. Orion is one of Japan’s most famous beer companies and they are based in Okinawa and at Orion Happy Park, they have tours that guide you through the entire process from raw materials, all the way to the bottle.

Hours: 9:00am – 6:00pm

Address: 2 Chome-2-1 Agarie, Nago, Okinawa 905-0021

Phone Number: 0980-54-4103

Nago Pineapple Park

Nago Pineapple Park (32183097142)

If you’re at a tropical island, it only makes sense to eat pineapples (and maybe go to a theme park about it). 

Okinawa is famous for its pineapples and at Nago Pineapple Park, you can ride through fields of them and learn about the various different kinds. There’s also a cafe that offers various pineapple dishes and a shop where you can take home some pineapple sweets, cider, alcohol, cosmetics, and other souvenirs!

Tickets available here.

Hours: 9:00am – 6:00pm

Address: 1195 Biimata, Nago, Okinawa 905-0005

Phone Number: 0980-53-3659

Ryukyu Mura

Ryukyu Mura is another theme park that’s more centered around the Ryukyu Kingdom culture. Here, all the houses are traditional Okinawa style and you can engage in various activities, purchase unique souvenirs, and eat traditional Okinawa dishes. 

Tickets available here

Hours: 9:00am – 5:30pm

Address: 1130 Yamada, Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0416

Phone Number: 098-965-1234

Okinawa World

Gyokusendo Nanjo Okinawa Japan03s3104

Okinawa World is a theme park based on the Okinawan culture with lots of attractions. Inside is the 5km long Gyokusendo Cave, the second longest cave in all of Japan. There’s also a village with Ryukyu-style houses with hands-on workshops inside for glass blowing, sugar cane processing, pottery making, and much more. The park also features a snake park, brewery, and a huge orchard where they grow various island fruits. 

Tickets available here

Hours: 9:00am – 6:00pm

Address: Maekawa-1336 Tamagusuku, Nanjo, Okinawa 901-0616

Phone Number: 098-949-7421

Culture and Landmarks

Shuri Castle

If you want to witness the symbol of Okinawa, you need to check out the Shuri Castle. Shuri Castle is located on top of a hill overlooking Naha and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site as part of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Inside is a small traditional Japanese style cafe where you can sit down and have some tea with light snack. Occasionally, there are festivals held at the castle grounds during certain times of the year. 

Note: The castle had been destroyed due to a fire in 2019 and is currently under re-construction. Constructions won’t be complete until roughly 2022, but you can still visit the castle park area during the re-construction. 

Hours: 8:00am – 7:30pm

Address: 1 Chome-2 Shurikinjocho, Naha, Okinawa 903-0815

Phone Number: 098-886-2020

Nakijin & Nakagusuku Castle Ruins

The Nakijin and Nakagusuku Castle Ruins are another UNESCO World Heritage site that’s part of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Here, you won’t find a full castle-like structure, but rather a field of remainders of the castle walls, thus being called the castle ruins. 

The Nakijin Castle Ruins are located in the north close to the Churaumi Aquarium, while Nakagusuku Castle Ruins are located in central Okinawa, near Ginowan city.

Nakajin Castle Ruins

Hours: 8:00am – 6:00pm

Address: 5101 Imadomari, Nakijin, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-0428

Phone Number: 0980-56-4400

Nakagusuku Castle Ruins

Hours: 8:30am – 5:00pm

Address: 503 Ogusuku, Kitanakagusuku, Nakagami District, Okinawa 901-2314

Phone Number: 098-935-5719

Nature and Beaches

Naminoue Beach

When you arrive to Naha, Naminoue beach may be the first beach you might visit. In fact, Naminoue Beach is the only beach in Naha city and also the only one with a highway running over it. It’s not exactly the type of beach that comes to mind at a tropical island, but the waters are very clear and it’s the most accessible beach from Naha. 

Address: 1 Chome-25-9 Wakasa, Naha, Okinawa 900-0031

Ginowan Seaside Park

If Naminoue Beach doesn’t satisfy your tropical cravings, then perhaps Ginowan Beach will. Located only 20 minutes away from Naha, Ginowan Seaside Park is a huge national park with an endless beach on the other end. Here, you can not only enjoy the tropical beach settings, but also enjoy a nice barbecue, participate in sports, and use clean beach facilities such as showers and bathroom. 

Hours: 9:00am – 9:30pm

Address: 4 Chome-2-2番1号 Mashiki, Ginowan, Okinawa 901-2224

Phone Number: 098-897-2751

Cape Manzamo

Onna Okinawa Japan Cape-Manzamo-01

Halfway up north is Cape Manzamo, the perfect place to find stunning views overlooking the ocean. The cape is famous for the elephant trunk shaped roots and is a popular spot for scuba diving as well since it’s surrounded by corals. The cape is also visible from the ANA Intercontinental Resort Hotel, on the opposite side of the water. 

Hours: 24 hours

Address: Onna, Kunigami District, Okinawa 904-0411

Phone Number: 098-966-1280

Kouri Island & Kouri Bridge

If you can make it to the north of the island, you can find the most beautiful beaches in Okinawa. Kouri Island is a small island in the Nakijin area. You can access Kouri island through a 2 km bridge with an amazing view. 

Address: Kouri, Nakijin, Kunigami District, Okinawa 905-0406

Water Activities

Into the water

Snorkeling in Kerama Islands – Dip in the water with various marine life in the archipelago next to the main islands.

Blue Cave Snorkeling and Scuba Diving – Snorkel or scuba dive into an underwater cave by Onna Village. 

Onna Village Marine Walk – Walk on the ocean floor with a special dive helmet and witness marine life up close. 

Semi-Submersible Boat Ride – Descend to the ocean in a semi-submarine and witness marine life through windows from the boat. 

Over the water

Parasailing Experience – Safe and fun parasail ride up to 50 meters above the ocean and a nice boat ride over the tropical ocean. 

High Speed Jet Boat Ride – Soar through the Okinawan waters inside an exhilaratingly fast jet boat. 

Surfing Experience – Learn to surf from a licensed instructor in the beautiful beaches of Okinawa.

Marine Sports Package – Package including 4 marine activities: jet ski, parasailing, and 2 variations of banana boat ride. 

Shopping & Entertainment

International Street

If you want to find the “city side” of Naha, look no further. International Street (Kokusai Dori) is the central street of Okinawa and has everything from shopping to restaurants and various kinds of entertainment. Personally, we love to visit here after sunset, when the neon signs light up the streets. This is also a great place to shop for souvenirs as many shops sell the Okinawa classics such as Shisa merchandise and snake sake. 

Hours: 9:30am – 10:00pm

Address: 3 Chome-2-10 Makishi, Naha, Okinawa 900-0013

Phone Number: 098-863-2755

American Village

American Village is a huge, flashy entertainment complex located in the city of Mihama. It was once used to be an American base that’s now been turned into a popular entertainment district. There are more than 100 American influenced shops and restaurants that sell various American and Japanese goods. 

It’s a nice unique place to go for sightseeing, shopping, and trying out various Okinawan foods (plus it’s right next to the beach). American Village is quite huge so you may want to refer to this interactive map for information on individual shops. 

How to get there:

There are various buses that connect American village to both the Naha side and Nago side. You can find the bus information here

Hours: 10:00am – 10:00pm

Address: 904-0115 Okinawa, Nakagami District, Chatan, Mihama, 9−1

Phone Number: 098-926-4455

Other Islands

There are many islands in Okinawa and Honto is only half the experience. Each island has its own culture and hidden nature. Some are reachable by ferry from Naha while others require plane transportation. Here are some islands that are worth visiting among the Okinawa Islands! 

  • Ishigaki
  • Miyakojima
  • Amami
  • Yonaguni
  • Iriomote
  • Taketomi

What are you looking forward to the most in Okinawa?

The Complete Travel Guide to Ishigaki

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 home to many unique beaches and is a popular travel destination among Japanese people, but not so well known by travelers from outside the country. We put this guide together to introduce this beautiful island to everyone and hope that you add it to your bucket list!

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Best Time to Go

Typhoon season for Ishigaki usually occurs around June to October and ironically, that’s also the busiest season since it’s also summer break time in Japan. Therefore, the best time to visit Ishigaki would be right before summer, around April and May, when tourism and temperature are not yet at its peak. 

Winter is also a great time to visit if you’re looking to escape the cold. Ticket prices also tend to be cheaper around November to January and you can also enjoy Ishigaki without the crowd of tourists as well!

How Many Days to go

To see most places in Ishigaki, you’ll need at least 3-4 days, but to completely enjoy your island vacation, we recommend staying for at least a week. Ishigaki has beautiful beaches, awesome food, and stunning nature, but to get the most out of this island, you’ll need to fully immerse yourself with it. Jump into the waters, search for the local mom & pop restaurant, and explore the neighboring Yaeyama islands as well. 

How to Get to Ishigaki

Ishigaki has a small domestic airport with occasional international flights to nearby countries. In most cases, you would transfer at either Osaka, Tokyo, or Naha and then arrive at Ishigaki. Another option is to purchase a ticket to Ishigaki separately, which can potentially help you save costs. 

Note: Since the end of 2019, more LCC (low cost carrier) airlines have increased operations to Ishigaki, making traveling to this island much more affordable. Now is definitely the best time to explore what Ishigaki has to offer!

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, we recommend booking your accommodation near the urban area of Ishigaki since this is where public transportation is. 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 available as well but they’re often hard to come across unless you’re near a central area. If you’re ever in need of a taxi, try asking a nearby business or restaurant if they can help you call one!

If you booked an activity, you may also check if they provide transportation to and from your accommodation.

Accommodation

Hostels

Budget

Mid-Range

Luxury

Things to do

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.

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

What’s interesting about the Ibaruma Sabichi Cave is that you can experience 3 different landscapes within a couple minutes. The entrance to the cave is a lush, green forest. If you walk through the other end of the dim cave, it opens up to a secret, secluded beach. Unlike other sandy beaches in Ishigaki, this one is a rocky type one and is partially the reason why this cave is a must-see in Ishigaki. 

Gazing at the Stars

(Source)

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.

Water Activities

Kayak or SUP in Kabira Bay & Snorkeling in Blue Cave

Once you’ve feasted your eyes onto the iconic Kabira Bay, the next thing you’ll want to do is jump into the clear, cobalt waters. One of the most popular water activities in Ishigaki is to explore the waters by either kayak or SUP (stand up paddleboard). From on top of the water, you can see all sorts of marine life that live here.

Book your activity here.

Snorkel at Phantom Island

Take a boat and sail out to a close-by mini island made entirely of sand. On this island, the waters are shallow and the beach runs in a U shape. There are lots of diverse marine life in near the island and you can explore the waters with snorkeling gear by jump in straight from the island. 

Book your activity here.

Introductory Scuba Diving

What better way to enjoy the tropical island than to dive into the ocean? There are tons of marine life flourishing around Ishigaki island and one of the best way to experience it is by scuba diving. 

The waters are crystal clear and you may get a chance to run into some manta rays. In fact, Ishigaki is the most popular place to scuba dive in Japan. If you’ve never tried scuba diving before, don’t worry! There are plenty of places that don’t require a scuba certification. They teach you how to dive and make sure that nothing goes wrong. 

Book your activity here

Kayak into the Sunset

If you’re into unique, picturesque scenery, you can enjoy the golden hour on a kayak. The activity starts later in the day and lasts until the sun goes down. If you’re interested in participating in a calm activity, then we highly recommend this type of activity!

Food to Try in Ishigaki

Ishigaki Beef

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

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. 

Local Fish

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!

Tapioca (Boba)

Ishigaki is known for its brown sugar and where there’s good brown sugar, there’s good tapioca drinks!

Ishigaki Restaurant

Ichibanza

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. 

Hours: 11:30am – 3:00pm, 6:00pm – 12:00am

Address: 354-5 Maezato, Ishigaki, Okinawa 907-0002, Japan

Phone Number: +81 980-83-5080

Kebab Kaboo

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.

Address: 917-1 Kabira, Ishigaki, Okinawa 907-0453, Japan

Phone Number: +81 90-1086-2413

Yuratic

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.

Hours: 11:00am – 10:00pm

Address: Japan, 〒907-0012 Okinawa, Ishigaki, Misakicho, 8−1 石垣島ホテル ククル1F

Phone Number: +81 980-88-7970

Banya Farm

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!

Hours: 10:00am – 5:00pm 

Address: 165-411 Tozato, Ishigaki, Okinawa 907-0241, Japan

Phone Number: +81 90-4490-7153

Papaya

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. 

Hours: 8:30am – 6:00pm

Address: 491 Fukai, Ishigaki, Okinawa 907-0451, Japan

Phone Number: +81 980-88-2583

Conclusion

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!