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Beautiful scenery and country-life lure visitors to Ishigaki

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-09-25

Ishigaki is a beautiful island situated south west of Naha. It is the second most populated island of Okinawa Prefecture, and it boasts the largest tourism industry among all of Okinawa's outer islands. Besides tourism, its main industry is agriculture. The island has an abundance of nature and long stretches of beach. There are many rivers flowing from its rugged interior, where rare plants and animals exist. The "Semaru-hako-game', an endemic tortoise living only on Ishigaki and Iriomote, is just one of the many forms of wildlife that can be found. The surrounding coral reefs offer fantastic diving and snorkeling - Ishigaki is known to have one of the largest colonies of blue coral in the world, and there are many dive tours available for both experienced and novice divers. You can enjoy sightseeing, fishing, marine sports, or just relax. Accommodations range in price from simple, inexpensive "minshuku", to elaborate resort hotels. Ishigaki town holds plenty of small shops and local restaurants, where you can find great bargains and good food. All of these factors put together, make Ishigaki a great place to visit for a short vacation.

One of the best ways to see Ishigaki is by a rental car. Many package tours to the island include a vehicle, but if you are searching for one on your own, "Thank You Rent-a-Car" will pick you up at the airport or ferry station and also drop you off at your hotel when you return the car (Tel 09808-2-5528).

Starting from Ishigaki town and heading north along the west coast, you can drive around the whole island in one day. Taking the west coast route, you will first come upon Kabira Bay. The tiny islands lying just off the shore are often shown in many post cards and brochures. Kabira Bay has a thriving cultivated black pearl industry, which can be learned about at the Ryukyu Black Pearl Center. The area also offers glass bottom boat rides and other marine sports. From here, you can also drive out to Sukuji Beach, which is a long stretch of white sand.

Located further up north is the Yonehara Camp Ground, offering campers a great place to enjoy Ishigaki's fantastic scenery. The beach here is also very long, and it is a popular place for snorkeling. Lush green mountains, which hold hundreds of Yaeyama palm trees, backdrop the coastline. The species of palm tree is the only true indigenous palm to the Ryukyu Islands. While in Yonehara, you can also visit the Museum of Tropical Nature and Folklore.

As you approach the northern tip of the island, the terrain becomes more rugged and mountainous. The east coast is much the same, but with tiny villages dotting the coastline. Life here is very slow, and mostly everyone either farms or fishes for a living.

Some other historical sites of interest are the "Miyara Residence" and "Torinji Temple". The Miyara Residence was constructed during the Ryukyu Kingdom era, and it was the home of a samurai warrior. Torinji was first built in 1624, and it is one of the few historical temples remaining on Ishigaki.

Another nice aspect about Ishigaki is its proximity to many smaller, surrounding islands. Taketomi, Hateruma, Iriomote, Kuroshima, and Yonaguni can all be reached by ferry from Ishigaki Port.

Getting to Ishigaki is half the fun. You can fly from Naha to Ishigaki Airport for as little as 8,000 one-way, but the ferry is much more romantic and adventurous. Arimura's "Hiryu" offers one-way second class cabins for 5,350 per person. First class is 10,700 per person for a one-way ticket. The cruise ship offers you comfort, and luxury at an affordable price. You can gaze at the stars from its expansive deck, and wake up to a beautiful sunrise. The "Captain's Bar" and "Panorama Salon" will help you relax with a cold beer or cocktail. You can also enjoy dining at the ship's cafeteria or "Seven Seas Restaurant". The ship departs Naha's Aja Port every Monday night at 8 pm, and arrives in Ishigaki the next day at 9:40 am. There is nothing like waking up, and being surrounded by ocean as you approach the beautiful Yaeyama Islands. To make a reservation aboard the "Hiryu" call 860-1980.

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