Ishigaki’s North Coast: Beautiful Bays and Local Crafts


2020.02.18

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

An island too big to explore in a day, this snapshot of the northern coast is a fantastic way to spend a day in Ishigaki. Combining world-famous views, local crafts and unusual spots, it’s a tour that shows the creativity of the island as well as its natural beauty. There are plenty of op-portunities to get involved too, with pottery classes and tours of local distilleries, not to mention the chance to kayak to some of the beautiful Kabira Bay’s uninhabited islands.

  • 01

    Ishigaki-Yaki: A Delicate Craft of Ocean Blues

    Pairing ceramic and glass in a rare but beautiful combination, the pottery of Ishigaki-Yaki is a mesmerizing creation. With pools of deep blue and turquoise green plucked straight from the nearby seas, they have fast become a symbol of the island.

    The deep colors were discovered by Kaneko when he combined natural minerals with glass during the firing, keen to recreate the seas that surrounded him. The finishing touch is the yu-teki-tenmoku glaze effect which leaves silver speckles on the background, a nod to the starry island skies. A difficult combination, the two elements of glass and ceramic offer different characteristics, with glass setting faster and liable to crack. A mission of trial and error, Kaneko is still developing the craft, with pieces on display in galleries and museums across the world, worn by royalty and used to represent Okinawa on global stages.

    Often considered to hold far-away galaxies and clear seas in one, the pieces are captivating, be it in large oval dishes or small delicate pendants.

    If you’re keen to try your hand at this unusual craft, there are workshops available that offer your own handmade souvenirs. Taking an hour to turn your kilogram of clay into a work of art with the help of skilled craftsmen, you must then submit it for glazing and firing. Taking eight months, the finished piece will be shipped to a Japanese or international address as a perfect reminder of your trip, just as begins to feel like a distant memory.

    Address: 1356-71 Nagura, Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture 907-0021
    Access: A 20-minute drive from the airport or the Ishigaki Ferry Terminal.
    Hours: 9 am - 11 am and 1 pm - 4 pm.
    Entry: Workshops cost 4,500 yen per person and include clay and firing, but not delivery.
    Booking: Reservations are required in advance and can be made over the phone on:
    Website: http://ishigaki-blue.com/

    Ishigaki-yaki Pottery Studio
    place
    Okinawa Ishigaki-shi Nagura 1356-71
    phone
    0980888722
    opening-hour
    9:00-18:00[Experience Cerami…
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  • 02

    Colorful Creations at Yoneko-Yaki Shisa Garden

    A slightly more unusual take on the island’s traditions, the Yoneko-Yaki offers a whole different side to pottery in Ishigaki. While travelling in Okinawa it is common to see the fierce lion-like shisa animals perched on gateposts or roofs. Popular creatures from Okinawan mythology, the open-mouth lion wards off evil spirits while his closed-mouth companion keeps good spirits in. Often in plain terracotta and available across the islands, the grounds of Yoneko-Yaki tell a different tale. More of a statue theme-park than anything, the gardens are filled with enor-mous, vividly-painted shisa, all in comic poses and perched in unusual places.

    Be it balanced atop a pile of money or open-mouthed and big enough for visitors to squeeze in for selfies, the variety is jaw-dropping. Adding a more playful approach to the island’s history, the park is undoubtedly fun, with new creations always being worked on. Close to Yonehara Beach, the garden is attached to a small workshop showcasing the shisa craft process from start to finish. There is also a shop where you can pick up your own colorful shisa as a souve-nir of the trip.

    Address: 447-1 Fukai, Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture 907-0451
    Access: Yoneko Yaki is a 30-minute drive from the Ishigaki Ferry Terminal or a 20-minute drive from the airport.
    Hours: 9am - 5.45 pm
    Entry: Free
    Booking: Not required
    Website: https://yonekoyaki.com/

    Yonekoyaki Craft Center
    rating

    4.5

    111 Reviews
    place
    Okinawa Pref. Ishigakishi Fukai (Maibara) 447-1
    phone
    0980882559
    opening-hour
    9:00-17:45
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  • 03

    Glass-Bottom Boat Tours at Kabira Bay

    Possibly the most famous spot in Ishigaki if not Okinawa as a whole, the breathtaking vista of Kabira Bay is a sight to behold. White sands, blue skies and the crystal waters are a perfect combination, dotted with bobbing boats and green-covered islets to form the picture-perfect landscape. Familiar from guide books and postcards alike, the reality certainly doesn’t disap-point, and it’s one of Japan’s top 100 views - but there’s more to do at Kabira than just enjoy-ing the scenery.

    While swimming is strictly prohibited due to the strong currents, it’s possible to admire the busy sea-life beneath the surface using one of the many glass-bottomed boats that line the shore. Taking visitors out into the bay in search of turtles, tropical fish and coral, the tours also provide detailed information about the ecosystems below, while skillfully guiding the boats to the best positions to find them.

    Walking on the soft, fine sand, the water that laps around your feet is warm, and while swim-ming is temping, you would have to head to another of the island’s beaches to enjoy a swim. Yonehara and Sukuji beaches on the north-west coast are two of the best options on the is-land, with the same gold sands and turquoise waters, but without the dangerous currents.

    At Kabira Bay, however, paddling, walking with an ice-cream in hand and spotting shy turtles from the boat is a pretty perfect way to spend an afternoon. If you’re keen to get out into the water, you can kayak or paddleboard to the remote islands and see the bay from a rare per-spective. The best viewpoint can be found at the nearby observatory, offering those postcard-worthy shots and views that could distract you for days.

    Address: 1054 Kabira, Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture 907-0453
    Access: A 40-minute drive from the airport, with two direct buses per day, taking 40 minutes. It is a 35 minute drive from Ishigaki Ferry Terminal, which also has two direct buses a day from the nearby bus terminal.
    Hours: Boats generally run from 9am - 5pm
    Entry: Approximately 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for children.
    Booking: Not required for boats, kayaking and paddle boarding require reservations:
    Website: http://visitishigaki.com/sights-activities/kabira-bay/

  • 04

    Rare Ryuku Pearls

    Aside from being beautiful, Kabira Bay is also one of the only two black-pearl cultivation sites in all of Japan, along with Iriomote. Known as Ryukyu Pearls, the incredibly rare and therefore highly sought-after pearls have a long-standing connection with royalty. While naturally occur-ring in only one in 400,000 black-lipped pearls, it was Susumu Tokashiki who developed a cul-turing technique to grow beautiful black pearls. Still cultured by hand using carefully selected mother-of-pearl, they develop unique layered effects due to the changing temperatures of the bay’s waters. Deeply colored with a soft luster and a hint of rainbow when catching the light, the pearls are favored around the world for their mysterious appearance.

    At the small shop beside Kabira bay, you can see the pearls up close and learn about their creation. Taking years, the process is run by locals and ensures the art of black pearl cultiva-tion continues for the future of the island.

    Address: 934 Kabira, Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture 907-0453
    Access: A 40-minute drive from the airport, with two direct buses per day, taking 40 minutes. It is a 35 minute drive from Ishigaki Ferry Terminal, which also has two direct buses a day from the nearby bus terminal.
    Hours: 9am - 6pm.
    Entry: Free
    Booking: n/a
    Website: https://www.ryukyu-shinju.co.jp/eng.html

    Ryukyu Pearl
    rating

    3.5

    24 Reviews
    place
    Okinawa Ishigaki-shi Kabira 934
    phone
    0980882288
    opening-hour
    9:00-18:00
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  • 05

    Taste Awamori at the Takamine Distillery

    Just across the street from the Ryuku Pearl shop you’ll spot the Takamine Brewery - one of the oldest awamori distilleries on the island. Unassuming from the outside, within, you’ll find viewing windows into their distillery as well as an impressively stocked shop. Indigenous to the Okinawa islands, awamori is made using long-grain rice and is distilled and aged in clay pots to give a mellow and unique flavor. Often served with water and ice, the relatively strong spirit is available in a range of flavors now too.

    At Takamine, you can walk through the process step by step, and if you’re lucky, there will be craftsmen working on the process when you visit. Started in 1949, they continue to make awamori in the traditional way, entirely by hand and have a strong reputation across Japan. Tours are available from 9 am to 5.30 pm and take about twenty minutes, but are only availa-ble in Japanese.

    Winning first place in the awamori category for the National Liquor Competition in 2003, the small business has plenty of orders, which will become apparent as soon as you step into the shop. Covering the roof beams in neat rows, tacked receipts line the room showing the orders of loyal visitors. For a small fee, the shop will store your purchased bottle for a number of years, allowing it to mature and ready for your special occasion. Adding to the list is one way of ensuring you return to Ishigaki, leaves a note of your visit and supports the local community.

    Address: 930-2 Kabira, Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture 907-0453
    Access: A 40-minute drive from the airport, with two direct buses to Kabira per day, taking 40 minutes. It is a 35 minute drive from Ishigaki Ferry Terminal, which also has two direct buses a day from the nearby bus terminal.
    Hours: 9am - 6pm
    Entry: Free
    Booking: Not required, 20-minute tours available in Japanese from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm.
    Website: http://omoto-takamine.com/index.html (Japanese only)

    Takamine Brewery
    rating

    4.0

    24 Reviews
    place
    Okinawa Ishigaki-shi Kabira 930-2
    phone
    0980882201
    opening-hour
    9:00-17:30
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  • 06

    Transport on Ishigaki

    The easiest way to explore Ishigaki is by rental car, but there are also bus services running relatively regularly. There are a wide selection of car rental agencies close to the airport in-cluding Nippon Rent-a-Car and Budget Car Rental .



    If you plan on taking the bus, you can purchase a ‘Free Pass’ for one day (1000 yen) or five days (2000 yen), for unlimited use on all buses except the special sightseeing buses. Both versions of the pass are available to buy on board using cash. The bus schedule is available online here but there are clearer English timetables available at the tourist information office.

    It is also possible to explore some areas by bike, with rentals available from hotels and small shops dotted around the main town. If you are keen to cycle, Taketomi is a very bike-friendly island to explore with few hills and plenty of beaches and sightseeing spots to visit.

    Website: http://www.kotsu-okinawa.org/en/map_yaeyama.html

  • 07

    Access to Ishigaki

    There are no longer any ferry services connecting Japan or Okinawa with Ishigaki, although there are cruise ships from Taiwan. The only way to reach Ishigaki is by plane, using their re-cently renovated Painushima Ishigaki Airport. There are flights to and from Tokyo, Osaka, Chubu, Fukuoka, Okinawa, Hong Kong and Taiwan Airports, as well as the smaller islands of Miyako and Yonaguni island airports. The airport is located on the East side of Ishigaki’s main island and is accessible by bus with an airport shuttle service also available.

    Ishigaki Ferry Terminal is a half-hour drive from the airport and there is a connecting bus ser-vice running every 15 minutes 7am to 9pm.

    Bus Map: http://www.kotsu-okinawa.org/en/map_yaeyama.html

    From Tokyo
    There are direct flights available from both Haneda and Narita Airport from airlines including Peach, ANA and JAL. The flight takes three and a half hours from Haneda and four hours from Narita.

    From Osaka
    Osaka has multiple daily direct flights from Peach, ANA and JAL which take just under three hours.

    Ishigaki Island
    place
    Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture
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