Your guide to Ishigaki.
Japan’s southernmost city is the definition of paradise: pure white beaches, intense turquoise sea and verdant emerald vegetation as far as the eye can see. It’s a sight straight out of Robinson Crusoe; only with the addition of purple ice cream to cool you off. But, make no mistake, Ishigaki isn’t just for sun seekers. The island is rich with Samurai and Ryukyu Kingdom history, while adventurous visitors can kayak through mangrove-lined rivers, hike palm-laden forest, and dive among manta rays in colorful coral reefs.
From picture-perfect beaches (some so protected you can’t even swim) to historic landmarks depicting Ishigaki’s American and Ryukyu Kingdom occupations, there are myriad ways to pass the time on this Japanese port call. In the centre of Ishigaki city you’ll find Miyara Dounchi House & Gardens, an early 19th century residence belonging to the official who unified the Yaeyama Islands. Also in the city centre is Yaeyama Museum, offering 5000 exhibits documenting island life in the Okinawan province. A little out of town is Torinji Temple, a Buddhist temple built in 1614, besides which you’ll find Gongendo Shrine; a government-designated property of cultural importance.
Eating and drinking.
Although Okinawan dishes feature ingredients similar to those you’d find in mainland Japan, the province prides itself on the uniqueness of its cuisine; a blend of South East Asian, Chinese and American influences. Ishigaki is no exception, boasting a vibrant blend of restaurants proudly serving typical provincial delicacies. The main concentration of eateries is located on the side roads converging off Shiyakusho Street, as well as within Yu-gurena Mall. Both areas offer a blend of cafés, bars and restaurants, giving visitors a taste of everything from purple sweet potato ice cream to donuts coated in black cane sugar and awamori (a potent provincial spirit).
Ishigaki’s shopping offer includes gourmet foods and colorful local crafts, split between traditional markets and shiny contemporary arcades. You’ll find most shops a short distance from the city’s port, along the intersection that unites Sanbashi and Shiyakusho streets. Yu-gurena Mall, also referred to as Euglena Mall, is a great place to source souvenirs. A jumble of fresh fruit, clothes and gift stalls, it’s one of Ishigaki’s foremost shopping destinations, offering rows of vendors along two covered avenues. If you’re looking for a unique island keepsake, here is where you’ll find it. The market sells everything from local salt and ceramics to bottled sand from Kaji Beach.
Wider Ishigaki is a treasure trove of history, adventure and discovery. Take a glass-bottom boat tour at Kariba Bay to see pearls, reefs and marine life unfold beneath your feet or make the hour long hike up Mt. Omoto, the highest peak in Japan’s Okinawa province. Just a six minute drive (or 40 minute walk) from town is Ishigaki Stalactite Cave, a 200,000 year old limestone cave you can walk through via raised platform. Kayak tours along the Miyara River also depart close to the city. The river is lined by dense mangrove forests, and guided excursions typically last for around 90 minutes.