Ishigaki Island, Okinawa

The 4 AM wakeup call never sounded more melodious. Our droopy eyelids were terribly confused with the static smile plastered on our faces even at this hour. We were headed to Ishigaki and that smile was here to stay!

Sitting at the heart of Okinawan prefecture, Ishigakijima is the loving daughter of the Yaeyama family of islands. When our friend Google showed us this little speck of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we were transfixed.

White sands, blue waters, lush greens, freedom from the layers of wool and not a worry in the world?

We were far too human to have denied the offer. There are 20000 languages in India, and I would have screamed “YES!”  in all of them if I had the chance (or talent)

This post narrates the Okinawan tale of our 8 days Japan story. To check out previous days of this itinerary, check out Mainland Japan.

Japan Day 6: Ishigaki

Date – 26.12.2019

We checked out of our hotel and picked up tuna and ham sandwiches from the convenience store for breakfast on the go. The train station was just a 5 mins walk from the hotel but the nightlong drizzling and the biting cold manipulated our mind to feel otherwise.  Two stations away was the Kansai airport, where Peach Airlines was waiting to give wings to our tropical dreams.

We snoozed throughout the 2.5-hour long flight, compensating the hours of sleep lost due to the early start of the day. On landing, we did not rush to the baggage conveyer belt immediately. One, because the sweat glands had just finished hibernation and were begging to drop the heavy woolens first. And second, because we had ample time.

Ishigaki island is accessible by either renting a car or using the public bus network operated by Azuma. Our first choice in any place away from the maddening crowds is always the self-drive option, but only an International Driving License (IDP) under the Geneva Convention of 1949 or a Driver’s License from a specific few country with a valid legal translation would suffice here. So, we resorted to the Public Bus as our preferred mode of transport to avoid getting into a soup.

The route between the airport and the Ishigaki city has the maximum frequency of buses with one leaving every 15 mins.

We could have chosen to stay in the city, but why take the beaten track, when there is an option to maneuver through unconquered territories?

We had booked our stay far away from the city, surrounded by the beautiful beaches.

There were only 6 buses per day on the Airport – Seaside Resort route and the next bus was due to arrive at 12 PM, which gave us a good 1.5 hours’ time to kill after landing. The souvenir stores tried to entice us, but we were sharp enough to not fall victim to the high mark-up price at airports.

The bus arrived when the seconds hand of the clock was 2 seconds away from touching 12:00 PM. It picked us up and left the spot, before the clock had struck 12:01 PM.

Swiss watches and Japanese people have one thing in common for sure – Precision.

The road leading to the resort was almost deserted except for a few locals in bicycles.
We bypassed farms and small patches of forests, which was intercepted at equal intervals by traditional red tiled Okinawan cottages and unrivalled views of the blue sea peeking from the side.

Small hedges outlined the outer edges of most cottages with the gorgeous Akabana (hibiscus) flowers in full bloom.

One hour later, we reached our destination. Natural grasslands swaying to the rhythm of the winds formed the gateway to this isolated resort. A mammoth manicured lawn stood in the front which hosted swimming pools imprinted with hibiscus motifs. The lawn merged with the sands of the Sukuji beach where strings of waves brought shells and untold stories from the deep blue sea. We stepped into the resort and our hearts filled with the salty aroma captivated from the ocean breeze. 

Reading the cues of our growling bellies, we deposited our luggages in the cloak room, and headed straight to the inhouse “Coral Reef” restaurant for lunch.

If the untainted tropical scenes had not already done the trick, Okinawan cuisine was sure to completely swipe us off our feet!

Starkly different from the mainland cuisine, local veggies native to the climate, tofu, beef and marine delicacies offer a superlative gastronomical experience. We ordered the famous Yaeyama Soba noodles with the chilli oil, Yakiniku styled Ishigaki Wagyu Beef steak and Jasmine tea to go with it. 

The sound of waves crashing in the distance, the beautiful plating and the burst of flavors struck all the right chords. We left as happy as a clam.

We then checked into our beautiful sea view suite room. This room was huge – a pleasant deviation from the Japanese standards. The sink area, the bath and the toilet were all separated from each other and could be accessed independently. The bedroom had a lounge area and an adjoining balcony overlooking the sea.

Next, we went down to stroll on the beach and let the breeze lull our senses. Although the weather was warm, December is clearly not the best season for snorkeling. The strong winds made the sea quite choppy.

The sun peek-a-booed from behind the cloud cover mirroring itself in the glittering waters. Shortly afterwards, it fused with the horizon few minutes after making its farewell appearance.

We retreated to our room before evening smudged its colors onto the sky and changed into the complimentary “Kariyushi’s” provided by the resort to embrace the islandic vibe. Kariyushi means “Happiness” or “Harmony” in Okinawa and is the island’s equivalent of an Aloha shirt.

Sitting in the lounge area, we talked about tales from the past present and future while sipping on Okinawan draft beer and popping peanuts bought from the only store within the resort. The sea also joined us in our conversations.

At dinner we ordered sautéed local fish with herbs and chargrilled Ishigaki Agyu pork with sesame seeds and locally sourced Okinawan veggies and pickles. Okinawan Ice Cream wished us sweet dreams.

As the night fell more silent, we transcended into a sleep so relaxed that could make everything happening in reality diminish to a folklore.  

Nap Hour is always a Happy Hour.

Day 7: Ishigaki

Date – 27.12.2019

What could be better than waking up to the murmuring sound of the sea waves and the beguiling sight of the dreamy sea? Nothing. Except, waking up like this every day for the rest of our lives!

The cloud cover had lifted over the night and even the distant hillocks guarding the island greeted us today. The blue from the sky seemed to have percolated through an invisible funnel, gifting most of its rich color content to its friend down below. 

The next time I pick up the “Sky-Blue” shade from the crayon box, I will remember to feel grateful for all my friends and well wishers.

Few seagulls were hopping and skipping on the sea membrane in pursuit of their first catch of the day. Inspired, we decided it was breakfast-o-clock for us too.

We quickly got dressed and hit the restaurant, with little to no knowledge of the food hurricane brewing in the kitchen since dawn. The breakfast spread looked like a celebration. Like it was prepared for welcoming a war hero, an alien or an extinct species. It was the most expansive, colorful and flavorsome buffet breakfast in the history of our lives, and we ate like we were going to get extinct tomorrow!

Grilled Mahi Mahi Remon, Glossanodan Semifasciatus Dried Whole, Okinawan styled cooked tofu, Miso Soup, Kamaboko from Yaeyama, Purple Sweet Potato, Yaima Beef Rice Bowl, Stewed winter melon and fish marinated with bitter cucumber, Dragon fruit, Mango & Aloe pulp

We had to pace up the food coma recovery process as there was some delightful beach hopping lined up for the day. 

Sukuji Beach -> Yonehara Beach -> Kabira Bay -> Sukuji Beach.

When residing at the Ishigaki Seaside resort, one wrong move with the punctuality can be catastrophic. The only way we could reach Yonehara Beach was via Route 11 and it gives you a very small window of opportunity only 2 times a day (10:01  and 13 :01 hours).

Of course you can hire a cab, but that drills a bigger hole in the pocket and frankly speaking the fact that you are at the mercy of a single bus in a remote location is the kind of cheap thrill we dig for! We stood at the resort entrance by 9:55 AM just to be extra cautious and watched the  head of the bus bob past the resort turnaround sharp at 10:01 AM.  Not a minute earlier, not a minute later. How do they do this every time?!

Our bus dropped us off at a deserted place with lush green hills bordering the broad winding roads with patches of crimson red cement. A signboard guided us to take a detour from the main road into a forested walkway.

We could hear the familiar chimes of the waves cradling the briny water in a rhythmic sonnet while continuing to walk through the trail.

The first sight of the pristine sandy beach came 10 mins later, almost as if challenging the phenomenon of light travelling faster than sound.

Aloof from the perils of human menace, this beach had its innocent charm intact.
In fact, we were the only tourists at that point of time, and we had the entire beach to ourselves.

Well, either “We had the beach” or “the Sea had us” – one of the many paradoxes of the universe.  

Orchestrated by the strong winds, the dormant rage that was gurgling beneath the water surface, was shooting authority in all directions. It was a bit too windy for our preference.

The angry sea was not going to permit us to befriend a curious Manta Ray, neither shoo away the poisonous Habu Jellyfish. Sensing the mood, the Snorkeling and Diving equipment shop also had its shutters drawn.

In a tropical paradise with equal measures of scenic white sand beaches and rugged island greenery, it is difficult not to find a picturesque spot. The windy weather added a raw impish appeal and we floated around for a while until the hypnotic effect wore off.  

On our way to Kabira Bay we came across the Yonekoyaki Craft Center Shisa Park, just down the road from the Yonehara beach. Shisha’s are colorful idols of mythical creatures originating in Okinawan folklore. Often seen hogging the roofs of local cottages, they are believed to be warding off evil and bringing good luck.

We had yet again managed to sync with the bus timing and got a lift to Kabira Bay.
Kabira Bay (KabiraWan) captivated our hearts with the same ease as a fisherman’s fishing ritual.

The sparkling water had stolen hues from all the aquatic and emerald shades of nature and carefully layered it. Only occasionally the colors were permitted to blend into a beautiful new shade.

White glass bottomed boats lapped softly against the low humming waves while the white sandy beach framed this utopian picture. No wonder Kabira Bay features as one of the 100 landscapes of Japan.

The wind god seemed to be in an unexpected deep slumber in this beach and we took the opportunity to explore the reef on a glass bottom boat. Swimming is not allowed in Kabira Bay to protect the cultivation of Black Pearls. Many colorful fishes, sea cucumbers and corals greeted us through the glass and made our day brighter.

We stopped by at a local restaurant for some snacks and Benimo ice cream and later at a local store to buy Awamori and Shikuwasa juice.

Benimo (Purple Sweet Potato) Ice Cream

Given that Kabira Bay was only 3 kms away, we decided to let go of the last bus back to our resort and walk our way back. We did not regret the decision.

Akabana (hibiscus) flowers shroud Ishigaki like wild flower. Every nook and corner of this island looks like a cutout from a Hawaiian post card.

Empty roads with undulating green highlands on one side and the great Pacific Ocean on the other side. We were walking inside a painting!!

On reaching the resort, we headed for the Onsen after resting for a while. The warm fuzzy steam did its job diligently as always and rinsed out even the tiniest stain of fatigue.

Back to our room, we responded to the requests of Awamori and Shikuwasa (shequasar) juice which were waiting to tantalize our taste buds. Together, we again indulged in conversations ranging from music to love to space.

Awamori is an alcoholic beverage indigenous and unique to Okinawa. Shikuwasa is a citrus fruit native to Okinawa.

By now, the sky had zero cloud cover and looked like a thick carpet embedded with gemstones. When kids are taught the nursery rhyme “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, this is where they should be. Not under the insanely polluted city skies.

Ishigaki is renowned for its star gazing experience owing to its strategic location close to the Tropic of Cancer. It is said on a good weather day, 84 out of 88 constellations can be seen here.

For our last meal we had Stewed Okinawan wagyu beef in red wine sauce and fried duck. We slept like happy little new borns to the calming melody of the waves.

Day 8: Ishigaki – Tokyo

Date – 28.12.2019

Goodbyes are hard wrenching , but it was time to move on. Only when you leave, you can hope to come back. We took a direct flight back to Tokyo and stayed overnight at Hotel International Garden Hotel which was very close to Tokyo International Airport, Narita.

Day 9: An early morning flight flew us back to our motherland. Japan was phenomenal and we cannot wait to come back. Till the next time, Sayonara!

This post narrates the Okinawan tale of our 8 days Japan story. To check out previous days of this itinerary, check out Mainland Japan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: