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Iriomote attracts with exotic, tropical wilderness

Date Posted: 2012-08-03

Editor’s Note: Okinawa’s beautiful southern islands are being showcased in Japan Update each week. This week, venture into the mangroves and coral of Iriomote Island, the prefecture’s second largest.

It takes a boat to get to Iriomote Island in the far southern reaches of Okinawa Prefecture. It’s the prefecture’s second largest island behind Okinawa Island, but it’s not all that easy to get to.

Transportation going to Iriomote island is by ship, an average 35 – 40 minutes ride from Ishigaki. To be clear, there are two different sea ports at the Iriomote island, the east port is Uehara port, and west port is Ohara port. Don't get confused, and take notice which port you are scheduled to arrive at. In case of cancellations of ships to Uehara port because of weather conditions, you can take the ship to Ohara port with the ticket of Uehara port, then a bus from each shipping company will take you to the other port.

Iriomote island is 284 square kilometers and 130 km around the island. The second largest island in Okinawa prefecture. 90% is covered with subtropical primeval forest, and there are 15 natural monuments, including the Iriomote wild cat and the crested serpent eagle. Visitors quickly discover it is an important place for academic and wildlife study.

There nearly 40 rivers streaming on the island, both big and small. The mangrove are growing around most of the estuaries of rivers, with the mangrove area of Nakama River especially huge, containing 40% of of all Japan's mangrove. For those reasons, the entire Iriomote island was designated a national park in Japan in 1972. The shores around Iriomote host more than 400 coral and various sea creatures, and the shelf of coral area between the Iriomote and Ishigaki is also designated a national park in Japan.


The waterfall of Pinaisa-ra is the highest fall in Okinawa. “Pinaisa-ra” means “looking like a beard” in Iriomote dialect. Beneath of the fall is huge area of tideland, which will change to look like a lake during the high tide. You can rent a kayak and ride it from the coastal road. On the other hand, you can walk around the tideland during low tide, and there are a lot of creatures to observe. Just go toward Pinai estuary, and ride a kayak and row around the mangrove forest. Watch the sky color reflecting water surface, the twitter sounds of birds, sweet smells, and seemingly, voices from another world.

Yufu Island

Yufu Island is just 2km around island, but the island is designated to the subtropical botanical garden, where you can watch various southern flowers, Ryukyu boars, goats or water buffaloes. To go to the island, take a ride on a water buffalo carriage.

The falls of Maryudo

The falls of Maryudo is located at the headwaters of the Urauchi River on Iriomote Island. The falls is designated as one of the 100 Japanese great waterfalls. The falls consists of two levels, and has the specialty of a round basin of a waterfall. Maryudo means from this shape of fall, Mari meaning round, and Yudo pool in also Iriomote dialect. The falls is about 40 minutes on foot, including a stretch of jungle on the way from the port and the ship, and around headwater. The road is paved, but should hikers are encouraged to wear sneakers.

When visiting Okinawa’s southern islands, check with th Okinawa Tourland Hotel Booking site, http://eng.tourland.co.jp for special prices and deals on hotels, transportation and acitivies.

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