Tiny even by Yaeyaman standards, Taketomi (population around 300, area 5.4 km²) gets a disproportionate number of visitors because of its convenient location just off Ishigaki and, above all, its carefully preserved Ryūkyū village (集落 shūraku). Many houses in the village have red clay roofs with guardian shisa lions, a low surrounding wall of coral and extensive flower beds, which are particularly pretty in spring. Most roads are unpaved lanes of white sand and ambling water buffalo pull tourist-packed carts through town. While hardly off the tourist trail even before, Taketomi's popularity skyrocketed in 2012 when NHK aired the drama Tsurukame Josan'in (つるかめ助産院), and accommodation prices have soared to match.
Beware that the administrative area of Taketomi Town (竹富町 Taketomi-chō) covers not just Taketomi Island, but also the neighboring far larger island of Iriomote and in fact all of the Yaeyamas except Ishigaki and Yonaguni. An address with "Taketomi" in it may thus be located elsewhere in the archipelago!
Taketomi has no less than 30 on (御嶽), or holy places for venerating the gods, usually marked off with low stone walls and Japanese signage. Don't venture inside.
The only way to get to the island is by boat. Both Anei Kankō and Yaeyama Kankō Ferry run fast boats from Ishigaki to the dock on the east side of Taketomi every 30 minutes from 7:30AM to 5:30PM daily. The trip takes just 10 minutes and costs ¥580/1,100 one-way/return, there is little if anything to distinguish the two operators but Yaeyama has a few more services daily.
The very dedicated penny-pincher may opt for the Yaeyama Kanko slow cargo boat instead, which takes 30 minutes for the trip and costs ¥430, a savings of a whopping ¥150. The only problem is that the slow boat runs only twice per week, at time of writing on Monday and Thursday at 2:10PM, so this is not a very practical alternative.
By water buffalo
The touristy way to see Taketomi is from cart pulled by a water buffalo (水牛車 suigyūsha), complete with guide telling folk stories (in Japanese) and twanging on a sanshin while at it. 30-minute tours start from ¥1200, including port transfers.
Taketomijima Kōtsū minibuses ferry passengers from the dock to the village for ¥200 and to the beach for ¥300, and can also arrange pickups for the same price (advance booking required). Guided minibus tours are also popular, but available in Japanese only.
Probably the best way to get around is on bicycle. Prices are standardized at a rather steep ¥300/1500 for one hour/full day, the bike rental companies hang out at the dock and will transfer you for free. The money conscious traveller may want to rent the bicycle in Ishigaki and take it on the ferry, though the gain is not much since the ferry fee is at least an additional ¥400 each way.
Motorbikes are also available: a 50cc bike costs ¥800/4000 for one hour/full day, while a 70cc bike is ¥1000/5000.
If you're on the island for more than just a day-trip, walking is a great way to see the island. The walks between the village and the beaches/port are beautiful and not too long (~1km port>village). Indeed, the walk between 'attractions' adds a decent buffer which will space out the experience over the time you're staying here.
If you want to tour the island on foot, ask for a map at the information stand in the ferry terminal. They lend English maps with a 6km/2hr "nature educational" route that covers all the highlights. Don't forget to return the map before boarding the ferry at the end of your tour.
Start your tour by dropping into the visitor center right next to the dock, which can give you a free rough map or sell you a better one (¥200). Most sights in the village are of fairly minor interest and it's generally more rewarding to amble around randomly, popping into little village shops and cafes.
- Kihōin (喜宝院), in the village. Japan's southernmost temple, but it's not much to look at. The resident priest's collection of 3000 historical items and handicrafts may be of mild interest, but entry costs ¥300.
- Nagomi-no-tō (なごみの塔), center of the village. Purpose-built concrete tower that offers views over the village.
- Mingeikan (民芸館), in the village. Has local artisans weaving traditional Yaeyaman minsā cloth. Free entry.
- Yugafukan (ゆがふ館), near dock. A new informative museum run by the national parks authority, but unfortunately all the information is in Japanese. The 15-minute film and the audio sets of Yaeyaman stories and songs are still interesting. Free entry.
- Kondoi Beach (コンドイ浜), west coast. A spectacular expanse of white sand and turquoise water. Toilets and showers provided, all sorts of beach gear rental also available but at steep prices (eg. ¥1500/day for a parasol or mask and snorkel).
- Star Sand Beach (星砂の浜 Hoshizuna-no-hama). Taketomi is one of only two islands in Japan (the other is Iriomote) that accumulate this 'sand' formed from the shells of thousands of tiny crustaceans. There are in fact two star sand beaches here, namely Kaijihama (カイジ浜) on the southwestern coast and Aiyaruhama (アイヤル浜) on the eastern coast. Try your luck at finding your own, or take the easy way out and head to the nearest souvenir shop. Bear in mind that people are not allowed to take the sand, you must pick the individual stars.
- Take a water buffalo tour around Taketomi.
- Search for tiny star-shaped sand at the two star sand beaches.
- Swim at Kondoi Beach.
Handicraft shops litter the streets of Taketomi. Popular buys include the local minsā, which is very expensive if hand-weaved and hand-dyed with indigo, and star sand, more affordable at around ¥30 per teaspoonful.
There are no supermarkets or convenience stores on the island, so stock up before you head over. Souvenir shops do sell beach essentials like sunscreen.
The island has half a dozen cafes and restaurants, which do a roaring trade at lunchtime and are quiet the rest of the day.
Much of the southern part of the island is taken up by a farm that cultivates kuruma-ebi (車えび), a type of shrimp, so no prizes for guessing what you are likely to find in any meal you order.
Taketomi has only one bar, Great Beats, which is on the edge of town closest to Aiyaruhama beach, a 10 minute walk from the beach. The bar features an extensive music collection, occasional live music, hand drums, and Orion beer on tap.
Accommodation on the island is limited and expensive, so most visitors choose to day-trip from Ishigaki instead. However, a night on the island is the only way to experience the beauty of the village in peace (after the day-trippers leave) and since the last boat is ~17:30 you also get some practically deserted beaches to enjoy before sunset.
- Taketomi Guesthouse Je t'aime (竹富ゲストハウス ジュテーム), Taketomi 321-1, ☎ 0980-85-2555. With young backpackers lounging in hammocks while reggae wafts in the background, Je t'aime is the probably the closest thing in all of Japan to a Thailand-style guest house. The owner sings and plays the sanshin, and is especially wicked on the sanba (three-leaf Okinawa castanets). Dormitory beds ¥1800.
The island has a surprisingly large selection of minshuku, most all of which charge a uniform ¥5500 for a bed and two meals.
- Hoshinoya Taketomi (星のや 竹富島). By far the fanciest digs in Taketomi, and quite possibly in all Okinawa, Hoshinoya is a luxury ryokan cunningly disguised as an Okinawan village, with open-air pavilions and low coral walls, plus the standard hotel amenities of pool, spa, etc. The restaurant serves Okinawan-influenced French nouvelle cuisine and even the plates are custom-made, which explains why dinner costs ¥12,000/person, although at lunch you can get away with ¥1000 for a bowl of noodles. Double rooms ¥40,000.
- Hotel Peace Island Taketomijima (ホテルピースアイランド竹富島). Opened 2012, this is the only actual hotel on the island, and has something of the feel of a tropical resort. The facilities are rather basic for the price (no pool, for example), but the rooms are fairly spacious and come with little outdoor balconies for enjoying the evening breeze, and the village center is a short walk away. Double rooms ¥25,000 with breakfast and dinner.
The only way out of this island is by ferry back to Ishigaki.