Kansai Scene Magazine


Small is beautiful
Taketomi Island, Okinawa

With a population of about 350 and a coastline of nine kms, the Okinawan island of Taketomi is very small. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in beauty.

Taketomi Island has quaint sandy streets instead of grey tarmac motorways, pretty one-storey houses rather than towering apartment blocks, and alluring white sandy beaches as opposed to noisy pachinko parlours. And the only salarymen you'll find there will be the ones from the main- land who've come to get rid of stress.

Situated at the far south western end of the Japanese archipelago, the island is closer to Taipei than it is to Tokyo. Fortu- nately, Taketomi escaped damage during World War II and was also untouched by the rapid building development that trans- formed much of Japan in later years.

The residents are rightly proud of their picturesque island and stringent rules are in place to preserve it. This means that any new buildings must be constructed in the traditional style, so houses cannot consist of more than one storey and roofs must be built with red clay tiles. As a result, the island is widely regarded as an exquisite example of a traditional Okinawan village.

Access to Taketomi is via nearby Ishigaki Island, the main travel hub in the region for domestic flights. Taketomi is only ten minutes from Ishigaki by boat, and most people spend a day enjoying the scenery or lazing on the beach before heading back. For most visitors, a day is an ade- quate amount of time to spend there, but for those wanting to indulge a bit more in the peace and quiet, there are plenty of minshuku more than happy to put you up for around ¥4,000 a night.

Bicycles are by far the best way to see the island. It's relatively flat, the roads are safe and there's nothing like feeling the wind in your hair as you glide down a narrow lane to the beach surrounded by clouds of butterflies.

Exploring the island on foot means you might not get to see as much as you'd like, but you'll probably get a lot more done than if you take a ride with a water buffalo - though it can be a fun thing to try. Relax in a cart while the buffalo pulls you lazily through the streets. If you're really lucky, you might have a musician on board treating you to some traditional music on a sanshin, the three-stringed instrument famous in Okinawa.

From the village to the coast is an effort- less bike ride that takes no time at all. A popular destination is Kaiji beach, famous for its hoshizuna (star sand). Spend some time here sifting through the grains of sand and if you're lucky you'll find in your hand some miniscule star-shaped objects. These are the remains of tiny marine organisms that once lived on the bed of the ocean and hunting for them on Kaiji beach is popular with visiting children and adults alike. Not far from Kaiji beach is Kondoi beach, a hit with snorkellers thanks to its crystal clear waters. The beach also has shower and washroom facilities and is probably the most popular beach on the island for bathers.

It'd be a sin to leave Taketomi without trying the food. There are several familyrun places to choose from, mostly in the village. Goya chanpuru, a delicious Okinawan vegetable and tofu dish, is a favourite and makes an ideal lunch. Kuruma-ebi (a type of shrimp), a local delicacy, also features on many menus.

Text & photos: Trevor Mogg

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Getting there

Flights from the Kansai direct to Ishigaki take around two hours. To get to Taketomi, take a boat from Ishigaki's main port. The return ride costs ¥1,100 and takes about ten minutes. The first boat of the day leaves Ishigaki at 7.30am and the last leaves at 5.30pm. They run about every half an hour. If you're going to rent a bicycle, a minibus will take you from the port at Taketomi to the rental shop for free (it takes about five min). Bicycle rental costs ¥300 an hour, and the proprietor will lend you a map which

indicates restaurants and scenic spots.