For our long awaited summer break, we decided to go to Ishigaki Island, around 450 km south west of the main Okinawa Island. We were able to travel using our ANA miles – yes, meaning free. The usual summer fare is 120,000JPY round trip, which may be more expensive than going international.Having lost my passport, however, there are no chances of going international for the time being.
Went to Ishigaki for a week. Will write one long post about it.

We were in Ishigaki for a week. We had to stay overnight in mainland Okinawa going to and coming back from Ishigaki. There is a a direct flight to and from Tokyo, but I don’t know much about that, if it requires more miles. For our trip (that is, with stopovers), it required only 20,000 miles per person.

Places to stay

kamehouseThe first night, we stayed at a shitty place called Kame House. Well, I should have been able to predict already. For 4000JPY a night, one can easily surmise what kind of place it is. Still, to be fair to Kame House, it has hot water, functioning kitchen, kitchen utensils, fridge and TV. It all looks pretty run-down though, as you can see in the picture, as if Kame House has once been a popular hotel in Ishigaki, now long forgotten and abandoned. The TV is working- now that is true – but it sometimes just zaps out while the signal fluctuates. *sighs* So much for cheap places to stay. Also, take note if you are tall you may ishigaki01not even want to try this place or you’d end up banging your head and knees in just about everywhere, like my husband did. Poor thing. Plus, it’s so far out (25km from downtown), no wifi.

peacereepeacereesakiedaThe second hotel we stayed at is called Peaceree in Sakieda, a mid-rise hotel fronting an un-swimmable forever low tide sea. We had a double room, that features the usual Japanese flair of maximizing space, fitting in all of the amenities by the corridor while keeping the bedroom spacious. It was so clean I could see my reflection off the floor! Plus we had access to our own veranda that had drying lines on it, talk about awesome.

Of all the three hotels we stayed at, this was the best with its own clean kitchen (microwave, stove, fridge) and in-room washing machine plus detergent, meaning you can wash your things anytime you want. Don’t take for granted the detergent and dish washing liquid, when the nearest convenient store is 15km away.

Like Kame house, it was in the middle of nowhere where my portable wifi just didn’t work. To be fair though, they offered LAN internet, so it’s perfect for those bringing their own laptop (which I didn’t).

Peaceree is 15km from downtown. No convenient stores around you- be sure to stack up on food and things before getting back to Peaceree.

I forget the last hotel we stayed at. Will right more about it later.

Things to do

When we got there, the first thing we did was rent a car. There are no trains in Ishigaki, so the most convenient means to go around would be by car. But worry not, car rentals are pretty cheap in Ishigaki, compared to say, Tokyo or Honolulu. The whole week cost only 30,000 yen, compared to Honolulu’s 100 USD per day. Many of the parking area are free too- they have the luxury of space, this oh-so priced commodity in Tokyo.

Taketomi Island

taketomiAccording to Wikipedia, Taketomi Island (竹富島 Taketomi-jima?, Yaeyama: Teedun Okinawan: Dakidun) is an island in the Yaeyama District of Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. Taketomi is one of the Yaeyama Islands.The population of Taketomi Island was 323 as of January 2012. Taketomi is known for its traditional Ryukyuan houses, stone walls, and sandy streets, making it popular with tourists. Various rules are in place to prevent the more aesthetically displeasing aspects of modern construction from ruining the beauty of the island, such as replacing concrete walls with hand-packed stone. Popular tourist activities include relaxing at the beach, snorkeling, taking an ox-cart ride through the village, and simply walking or biking around the island while enjoying the quaintness of the village and the natural scenery. The island is also famous for its beautiful beaches and hoshizuna or hoshisuna, meaning “star-sand”, which is composed of the remains of tiny sea animals.

We had three options when we got to Taketomi : either we go on foot, we rent a bike or we take the ox-drawn cart. We chose the second, because I wasn’t walking on foot under the roasting sun or paying 15USD for a cart drawn by buffaloes more common in the Philippines than elsewhere in the world.

The bike rentals gave us a map of Taketomi outlining the usual bike route. It would have been super easy to go around if the heat wasn’t just so intense. And this is coming from a Filipino, who’s supposed to be very tolerant of extreme heat. It was really intense – bring a sun cream! (Just a thought on the side – I noticed that the maximum SPF of sun creams in Japan is ”50++++++”. In the Philippines, we have up to 100 SPF. Does the ++++ matter? )

taketomikondoiKondoi Beach

From Ishigaki-Japan.com : “Kondoi’s beautiful crescent-shaped bay has made it the most popular beach on the island. Its beautiful turquoise water is relatively shallow meaning that anybody can enjoy a dip in the ocean and there’s reasonable snorkeling to be enjoyed if you own / rent gear. To the rear of the beach there is a picnic area, showers, and public conveniences. Parasols and deckchairs are also available for rental.” Being the cheapasses that we are, we decided we didn’t need a parasol. We dove in, swam, bought a couple of beers and left.

After Kondoi, we went to eat at Maki’s, near the Nagaminoto Tower. We stayed at Maki’s for over an hour trying to cool down and recharge . Because it was so hot, we decided to forego the un-swimmable beach Kaiji and the rest of the island.

taketomi4Nagaminoto Tower

We headed to Nagominoto Tower. Unfortunately for me, the bumpy ride caused my camera to break down (the second time for me). I didn’t have my GoPro with me so I had to use my cell camera to take pictures from the tower.

If you Google “Taketomi”, you’d probably end up seeing the same pictures – red tiled roofs, stone walls and dirt roads. That’s because that’s what it really looks like, thanks a lot to the preservation efforts by the island.

After this, we returned our bikes and headed back to Ishigaki.

Surfing

The following day, we had our surfing lesson with Kala.

surfishigakiKala’s lessons were a disappointment. First, in true Okinawan style, he arrived late for our 8 am meeting by the golf parking of Intercon. Next, when he got there, he started smoking and taking it “easy” as if the hours weren’t being billed to us. Third, when we finally surfed and he saw that we were not complete beginners, he simply let us be. The reason I wanted to do lessons was because I wanted to improve on the wave-catching itself (timing, position etc) . Ok, he didn’t have to teach me, but I was hoping Kala would assist my husband who was obviously having difficulties in the water. But Kala mainly just surfed by himself and let us surf for ourselves – as if we were simply renting the boards and not paying him for lessons. It was definitely not worth the 200 USD we paid him. Plus the fact that he kept asking if was tired already and if I’d like to head back to the shore. Yaru ki nai ne. He doesn’t know that I can surf eight hours a day back home. (For comparison : in Waikiki, surf board rentals cost 100 USD per week) . To give credit to him though, he took our pictures and posted it on his blog. The thing is, if you Google “surf Ishigaki” it would be Kala’s site on the top of page one. I don’t see much competition going on in Ishigaki, no other surf instructors or board rentals. And the break – my god, the break is a grueling 20 minute, 700m to 1km paddle from the shore fronting Intercon. Meaning once you’re in there, no water breaks, no sugar breaks, it’s one long session until you tire out.

Eat all You can at Intercon’s Lunch Buffet

After losing a lot of energy, we decided to stuff ourselves with Intercon’s buffet for 2300JPY per head. What a better way to finish off our day, one minute paddling out into the sea and getting wiped out, the next getting a plateful of sweets! It was worth the money, and it is one of those things you’ll never find in Tokyo (except in Indian restaurants).ishigaki02

Kabira Beach

ishigaki03Kabira Bay wasn’t so far from where we were staying. We decided to drive by and check and see the fuss. Well, what can I say, it does deserve all the fuss after all. One of those places I could never have imagined existed in Japan. So incredibly stunning and not one soul!

In fact, that is probably one of the charms of Ishigaki – a tourist spot that is not (yet) too touristy. I could count off with my fingers the Westerners I saw. But then again, Chinese tourists are a dime a dozen, so maybe it is getting touristy in a Chinese-sort of way.

tamatorizakiTamatorizaki Observation Point

We drove off to Tamatorizaki Observation Point, which would have been stunning and nice if it wasn’t so hot. The five minute walk to the deck will drench you in sweat, so get ready, prepare yourself mentally and physically. Make sure to rehydrate yourself or to bring a bottle of water. In the end, it’s all worth it.

hirakubo1hirakubo2Hirakubo Lighthouse

Hirakubo Lighthouse is at the northern tip of the island , an hour’s drive from the city center. The best thing about this is, even at noon, it doesn’t feel so hot because of the wind. It is inaccessible through any public transportation (a seasonal bus, probably), and one’s best bet is to rent a car and visit this place for a day. Come on, views like this make it worth the money. Words and pictures don’t do it justice. Hands down, it is among the nicest places I’ve been to in Japan.

ishigakicaveIshigaki Cave

I tried to search this in the internet, but I kept seeing another cave (albeit more popular one) that I haven’t been to. We found a huge banner of this cave on the way back from the lighthouse and decided to try it out. It was a short walk into the cave and out into the beach. It was a total rip off for the price of 700 JPY per person, 200 JPY would be much more appropriate for that place. But I guess that’s what tourists do – get ripped off. How else does local tourism industry flourish, yes?

Taiken

For our third day on the island, we decided to do “taiken” or “experience doing something”.

Ishigaki Pottery

ishigaki04Trying my hand at pottery at Ishigaki Pottery Studio

We paid 3300JPY for this pottery course in Ishigaki Pottery Studio. The teacher taught us for ten minutes, in a very yaruki nai manner, on how to do your own pottery. You have a choice of working with the 1kg of pottery mud or dividing it into half so that you use only 500 grams to work on two smaller plates. If you decide to do this, there is additional charge for the extra dish since you only paid for making 1 dish (I know, kinda doesn’t make sense). If you use only 500 g, and make one dish, then all is good. But since we are young and kechi we decided to maximize what we paid for and use 1kg worth of pottery mud and make large serving dishes, one in the shape of manta (mine) and one regular, oblong shaped dish (my husband’s). For this there is no additional charge. The design on it can be done by freehand (mine) or by pre-made stamps (my husbands). It will take roughly six months for my dish to get to me in Tokyo. Yep. You read right. 6 months. Half a year.

taikenFabric Painting

The second taiken on the same day was at downtown Ishigaki. In true Okinawan style, the shop was late in letting us in *sighs* because the students in the previous slot hadn’t finished. They told us to get back after 15 minutes, so we spent some time roaming the arcade shops. I won’t even write the name of this shop because it was simply annoying, making us wait 15 minutes and the “teacher” also being the shop keeper, meaning if someone was paying, she had to interrupt her “classes” to attend to paying customers. WTF. Customer service is really bad in Ishigaki compared to mainland Japan.
So to the lesson. First she made us decide on what design to work on and what to do with it : do we want it to become a bag, a pouch, a shirt and so on and so forth. There were templates of designs to choose from and samples of bags, pouches etc. So once we decided, we filled out the forms and mailing addresses and she proceeded to teach us. She kept wanting to know how we want our designs to be, what color combination we wanted to use as if we could decide in an instant how we want our work to turn out.  Personally, I prefer to decide as I go along, but she insisted that the fabric is made in such a way that once the dark colors were absorbed, lighter ones could no longer be put on top of it. Fine. I could remember this one little rule and act accordingly, but she didn’t trust us. She opened bottles of paints and handed us the corresponding brushes, one by one, as if we couldn’t find by ourselves which brushes go with which color. So if she was by the cash register attending to customers, we’d have to wait “patiently” as if we weren’t paying customers ourselves. I decided that I’d like to go rasta, that is green, orange, yellow – and she insisted that I add more colors, like all the sample works in her template collection, all splashes of colors with no theme, no coordination, no harmonious excuse, pretty much like Japanese TV, as if left to the devices of two-year-olds. I said no, thank you, I don’t want to add more colors. It’s not like more colors mean more artistic sense, yes? But she asked me again like 2 more times and I said NO, NO, NO each time. My husband for his part painted his mostly green.My husband somewhat annoyed me too. He’d start of really enthusiastic about something, then ten minutes later, he’d be bored and sometimes he’d be whining about wanting to get out of there. I could see from the way he looked and from the way his “art work” turned out that he was getting an attack of his attention deficiency. I, for one, am pretty patient with getting the most of something we paid for, even if the service is pretty bad or the activity itself is boring (it wasn’t). He gets bored easily, whether we are surfing or drawing. The only thing that interests him is gambling!

Banna Park

I don’t know why Banna park is not very popular among Ishigaki visitors. At least it seemed so when we paid it a visit, with hardly any one in sight. Admittedly, we went only to two viewing decks and an insect museum, but if one has the time, I think it is well worth visiting.

banna1Insect Museum in Banna Park, Ishigaki

Then we drove off and proceeded to see the rest of Banna Park. We saw only two observatories though – it was starting to rain. Never mind that we visited some viewing decks the revious day, Ishigaki is just so stunningly beautiful, it is good to see it from all angles possible. Unfortunately for us, it was pretty cloudy. Still, if it were hot, I know I’d be complaining of the heat.

bannapark2

Walk around Downtown Ishigaki

If you have some time to kill, I suggest taking a walk in Downtown Ishigaki and see where that may lead you.
templesishigaki

To a temple?

ishigaki05

To the blue bridge?

cats

Or to this cat haven where cat owners allegedly dumped them?

ishigaki06

Or to mountain peaks accessible by car? ?

fishingishi

On our last day, we were lucky enough to find an open fishing rentals not far from the port. The gear rental was 1000 yen for 24 hours,a pretty good deal. We went fishing for the whole afternoon, I caught 9, my husband 1.