Ishigaki has 45,000 of Yaeyama's 50,000 people and is thus the political, economic and transport hub of the islands. Most of these live in central Ishigaki, known for lack of a better name in Japanese as shigaichi (市街地 "city streets"), chūshin (中心 "center") or just machi (町 "town"). The town's focal point is the rather sad 730 Monument (730交差点), where main roads Sanbashi-dōri (桟橋通り), running eastwards from the ferry terminal, and Shiyakusho-dōri (市役所通り), running north-south, meet.
Other population centers on Ishigaki are Kabira (川平), by the bay of the same name on the northwest coast, and Shiraho (白保), at the southeast corner. Much of the island, particularly the central mountains and the scenic northeastern peninsula, is quite sparsely settled.
- 1 New Ishigaki Airport (ISG IATA 新石垣空港 Shin-Ishigaki Kūkō) (15 km from the center of Shiraho), ☏ . The largest airport in the Yaeyama Islands.There are frequent connections to Naha and Miyako, some direct services to major Japanese cities like Tokyo, and daily flights to Yonaguni. The low-cost airline Peach offers flights from Osaka, and there are also low-cost flights from Naha on the main island of Okinawa. From outside Japan, Hong Kong Express offers direct flights from Hong Kong. There are also seasonal "scheduled charter" services to Taipei on Mandarin Airlines. China Airlines has seasonal scheduled flights to Taipei.
Azuma Bus lines #4 and #10 serve the airport every 20 minutes or so. The lines take different routes, but both take around 45 minutes, end up at the bus terminal and cost ¥520. You can also use the Free Passes for this (see Get around). A taxi to central Ishigaki costs around ¥2,500 and take 30 minutes.
Ishigaki Port (石垣港) is in the center of the city near the bus terminal. There are two parts: the central Ritō-sanbashi (離島さんばし), for services to nearby islands, and a second unnamed pier at the southeast corner of the port for long-distance services to Yonaguni and slow boats to Hateruma. The port information office is next to Ritō-sanbashi pier 1.
There are no scheduled services to Taiwan, mainland Japan or islands outside the Yaeyama group.
- Star Cruises. Cruises from Keelung (near Taipei) between late April to the end of October, but this is not a ferry service (you must board in Keelung, and stay with the ship for the round trip. From ¥26,500.
There are extensive services (daytime only) to the other islands in the Yaeyama group:
- Taketomi (¥690, 15 min), departures every 30 minutes or so
- Iriomote Ōhara Port (¥1,800, 35 min) and Uehara Port (¥2,000, 40 min; summer months only), departures roughly hourly
- Hatoma island north of Iriomote (¥2,360, 40 min), 3 departures daily, one stopping at Uehara first and therefore taking longer
- Kohama (¥1,220, 25 min), departures roughly hourly
- Kuroshima (Kuro) (¥1,320, 25 min), 5 departures daily, 6 in summer months
- Hateruma (¥3,550, 70 min), 2-5 departures daily
Prices and times above are one-ways on fast ferries. Return fares are usually slightly cheaper. The schedules seem to now be unified, so that you can buy a ticket for any of the above routes from any company's desk for the same price, and round-trip tickets will be honored by all operators.
The ticket desks in Ishigaki accept credit cards, but the ones on other islands generally do not. If taking a ferry to another island without a round-trip ticket, make sure to bring enough cash for your expenses plus your ticket back, or be sure you're able to withdraw money from post office ATMs, since there are no other brands of ATMs outside of Ishigaki.
Slower service with regular ships is somewhat cheaper but connections are less frequent:
- Hateruma (¥3,000, about 2 hours), 1 departure per day (weekdays only)
- Yonaguni (¥3,500, 4-5 hours), 2 departures weekly
To get to some smaller and uninhabited islands, it may be possible to charter a boat or water taxi service, or else you can join a snorkeling or diving tour. Inquire at the ferry ticket desks.
Azuma Bus operates services throughout the island radiating from the bus terminal on Sanbashi-dōri, just across the street from the port. The most useful services connect to the airport (¥520) and Kabira (¥700).
The best deal for transport on the island is the Michikusa Free Pass (みちくさフリーパス). It's not quite free, but ¥2,000 gets you unlimited trips around the island for 5 days. This isn't great if you're only getting a bus between the airport and the port (and are planning on spending your time visiting other islands or the beach), but given that a single trip from the airport to Kabira and back would cost you ¥2,440, if you're exploring Ishigaki (or are staying outside the city) this pays off pretty much instantly. There is also a "One-Day Free Pass" (1日フリーパス), which is just that, for ¥1,000.
While service between the city center and the airport are quite frequent, the same is not true for the Kabira Resort Line. There are a few buses in the morning, none at midday and a couple more in the late afternoon, with the last departing Ishigaki at about 18:00. This means that you should only stay outside Ishigaki city if these time constraints work for you, or better yet if you have a car.
Taxis are the only other form of transport and it's common to see them slowly cruising the streets waiting for passengers. Flag fall is ¥390 and the meter ticks at alarming speed after 2 km.
There are many car rental companies in the island and many hotels offer car rental for ¥2,000-¥4,000 per day. A drive between the city and the farthest point of the island is about an hour and a half.
Yaeyama Visitors Bureau publishes a free small guide about Yaeyama Islands cycling routes, including Ishigaki, with distances and gradients. If you start from downtown (southwest of the island), visiting the different parts of the island will mean some long rides, especially if you return to your accommodation every evening.
- The route from downtown Ishigaki to Kabira is the flattest on the island (only 50 m altitude gain in the end) and offers beautiful seaside landscapes. Allow 1½ hours and 21 km. Starting from downtown, if you make a slight detour along the seaside instead of following Highway 79 as proposed by the guide, you will see the Tōjin Grave, a small temple and a lighthouse. Unless you're cycling athletically, it's better to ride on the sidewalk, which is widely used for this purpose (as is often the case in Japan).
- The portion from the southern part of Kabira Bay and following the north coast is more hilly. Going from the intersection south of Kabira Bay to Yohenara Beach requires a positive difference in altitude of 85 m and 6.5 km both ways.
- If you plan to travel to the northwestern part, the route will also be hilly and the distances quite long. Allow 30 km and 2 hours to go from downtown to the beginning of the northwestern peninsula, then one more hour to reach the tip of the peninsula.
Many hotels offer bicycle rental at about ¥500 per day. Bicycles can be taken in most ferries to the islands at an additional price (may not be possible during peak periods).
- 1 Ishigaki Eight, Yashima-chō 1-3-7 Maison Yashima 1-A (from the ferry terminal, take the East exit and follow the port by turning twice on your right ; turn left just before a small park then right, it will be on the left in a building), ☏ . Daily 09:00-19:00. The only or one of the few bike rentals on the island. Offers hybrid bicycles and electric bikes. Reservation possible but site in Japanese. Hybrid bike ¥500 one hour, ¥2500 a day, ¥5000 3 days; +¥500 for an electric bike.
Central Ishigaki can be comfortably covered on foot, but you'll almost certainly need another means of transport for the rest of the island.
Many backpackers hitchhike between different parts of the island. As hitchhiking goes, this is an easy place to get rides, sometimes even from within the city, but be prepared to be picked up by someone who speaks extremely little English.
Ishigaki is a little low on must-see attractions and somewhat tamer in terms of scenery than Iriomote. Most visitors hit the beaches of the northern coast and stay there.
Ishigaki's beaches are among the most spectacular in Japan.
- 1 Kabira Bay (川平湾 Kabira-wan). At the northwest corner of the island is this stunning emerald blue bay with a perfect yellow-white beach, dotted by craggy islands — but no swimming allowed, so the closest you can get is a glass-bottom boat tour (¥1000, 30 min). You can walk along the coast from bay to bay, but beware of the fast-moving tides that may trap you if you dally too much in the evening. The best free landside views are from Kabira Park (川平公園 Kabira-kōen), a promenade complete with viewing pavilion that stretches along the coast above the beach.
- 2 Sukuji Beach (底地ビーチ) (2 km west of Kabira). 1 km of white sand beach, equipped with changing rooms, showers, toilets and other essentials. The view from the beach is stunning and on a clear day Uganzaki lighthouse is visible in the distance. The sea is the shallowest to be found on any of Ishigaki's beaches, which is great if you fancy a relaxing paddle in the ocean, but swimmers should look elsewhere. Trees at the rear of the beach provide partial shade from the sun throughout much of the day.
- 3 Yonehara (米原). Offers nice sand and better coral reefs within easy snorkeling distance, and it's probably the most rewarding place to snorkel near the shore anywhere in the Yaeyama Islands. The reef begins within meters of the beach and hosts enough life to interest experienced snorkelers and beginners alike. Caution should be taken, however as Yonehara's rip currents are notoriously strong. There is a sign facing the beach on the path from the parking area that shows which areas to avoid - just stay by the western portion of the beach, between the stream mouth and the cliff. This area is both the safest and the best for snorkeling. But please, don't stand on the coral! If you're not comfortable floating for a long time without ever standing up, this is not the place for you. There is shop with snacks and snorkel equipment rental at the main parking lot near the west end of the beach.
- Okanzaki Lighthouse (near the island's westernmost point). A popular scenic destination. Good views of Iriomote island when the weather is okay.
- Tōjinbaka (唐人墓) (Tōjin no haka stop on the Kabira Resort Line.). This ornately decorated Chinese-style "Tang People's Grave" commemorates the sorry fate of some 400 Hokkien Chinese coolies, who mutinied and ran aground on Ishigaki on their way to California. Pursued by the English navy, those captured were killed, so many headed into the mountains where they starved or committed suicide, and only a lucky few were taken under the wing of friendly locals and protected.
- Nearby is also a bilingual monument of angular concrete, built in 2001, dedicated to three Americans shot down over Ishigaki in April 1945, during the closing days of World War II. After being captured and tortured, two were beheaded and one was used for bayonet practice, and monument duly notes that such things are not fair play according to the Geneva Convention.
- Kannonzaki Lighthouse (観音崎灯台 Kannonzaki-tōdai). A little lighthouse on a little cape, not open to the public but there's a little park and viewing pavilion next to it. Not worth much of a detour but conveniently located across the road from Tōjinbaka.
- Kannon-dō Temple (観音堂). Rounding out the trio of low-key attractions around Tōjinbaka is this quiet Okinawan-style wooden temple, with a grand lantern-lined staircase but little to see when you get there. The toilets, however, are kept in excellent shape.
The transparent waters around the island are full of coral reefs, making scuba diving the number one activity on Ishigaki. In particular, Manta Scramble (マンタスクランブル), just off the island's north coast, is a legendary spot for manta ray spotting where groups of manta rays are almost guaranteed during Autumn. There are a large number of dive operators and rates are more or less standardized at around ¥12,000 for two boat dives (not including gear rental).
- Umicoza (海講座), Kabira, ☏ . Friendly dive shop that also caters to English-speaking divers. Free transfers from anywhere on the island, Visa, MC, Amex accepted. Two dives ¥12,600, full gear rental ¥5250.
- Tom Sawyer, ☏ . This diving shop has a branch at the ferry terminal and offers diving courses, diving, snorkeling and underwater sightseeing cruises. A double dive is ¥13,000 and full diving rental is ¥4,000.
- Hanalee Adventure Tours, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Offering jungle zip line tours around the base of Omoto mountain on Ishigaki. Snorkeling trips on board a 43-foot sailboat or via kayak from the beach. Sunset or nite sailing cruises. All tours conducted in Japanese and English by a native English speaker. Hotel pickup and drop-off in the Ishigaki city area included.
Snorkeling is also excellent at Yonehara Beach.
Souvenir shops abound, particularly around the port. The closest thing to a dedicated shopping area are the two streets of the covered Ayapani Mall (あやぱにモール) arcade just west of the post office.
- Ishigaki-shi Tokusanpin Hanbai Center (石垣市特産品販売センター), Ayapani Mall 2F, Okawa 208. This city-sponsored retail center sells only authentic Ishigaki-made products, ranging from handicrafts to food items.
- Tezukurikan Kōbō Uminchu (手作り館工房海人), Misakichō 4 (Sanbashi-dōri just south of port). Home of the ubiquitous Uminchu T-shirts worn by approximately half the local population. A vast variety of designs from ¥2625.
- Yashiya (ヤシ屋) (next to Tōjinbaka). This little factory-shop cooks up tasty cane sugar candy, sold on premises for ¥500 per cake. You can also view the making process, which basically consists of mashing up sugarcane and then boiling the juice until it turns into brown sugar candy.
- Koubou Tumeya (工房夢屋), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Shīsā (シーサー) is a traditional Okinawan decoration, often found in pairs, resembling a cross between a lion and a dog. This workshop makes Shīsā using traditional materials from the island. A visitor (of any age) can also make a Shīsā with a step-by-step guidance from the staff.
There are plenty of eating options in central Ishigaki, although many of the fancier places are open only for dinner. The stretch of Sanbashi-dori between the piers and the bus terminal has a good selection of reasonably priced Okinawan places, most of which offer affordable set lunches.
- 1 Beach (ビーチ), Okawa 209 (inside Euglena Mall). Daily 11:30-22:00. This friendly stucco-walled beach café trapped in a mall offers the Okinawan speciality taco rice in both "standard" (Mexican-ish) and "original" (Asian chicken) versions for ¥800 with tea/coffee or ¥1000 with a draught Orion beer.
- 2 Māsan-dō (まーさん道), 3 Misakicho, Shiyakusho-dōri, ☏ . Daily 11:00-21:30. Specializes in Yaeyama soba, ¥500 for a basic bowl, ¥800 for the sōki version with a big hunk o' pork on top. Add your namecard to the vast collection on the walls.
- 3 Paikaji (南風) (near the main post office), ☏ . M-Sa 5PM-midnight. A nice izakaya. Good space, good food.
- 4 Marusa (まるさ), Misakicho 3-2F (Above bus terminal), ☏ . Tu-Su 10:00-21:00. Even locals come here for Yaeyama soba. Set lunches are a generous size. ¥400-700.
- Uechi Jersey Bokujō Soft Cream Hanbaiten (上地ジャージー牧場ソフトクリーム販売店), Okawa 281-2 (on Yui Road), ☏ . daily 11:00-19:00. This is the place to sample milk-flavored ice cream, made only from the milk of local Ishigaki cows. ¥300 cones.
- Yarabu Shokudo (やらぶ食堂), ☏ . Daily 11:00-23:00. An old traditional house with red-tile roof was transformed into this cozy restaurant. Here you can relax and enjoy Yaeyama soba, a noodle dish, or if you're craving a rice bowl, Su-chika-don (the local pork, marinated in salt) and the original Yarabu-don.
- Kato-soba (八重山 嘉とそば), 76 Tonoshiro, Ishigaki City (2-3min from Yaeyama Post Office). 11:00-16:00, closed on Wednesday. Our favorite menu is an Ebi-soba (local prawn noodle) ¥900, Yaeyama soba ¥550. It's a very nice and quite old traditional red brick house.
- 5 St. Elmo's Café & Kitchen, 新川1629-3, ☏ . Daily 11:30-16:00, 18:00-21:00. This is a nice place to see the sunset. The sun will set into the ocean right before you and you couldn't ask for a better place to be. The food presentation is nice and the service is very friendly. If you are looking for a relaxed, calm and easy going place to have a drink and see the sunset, this is a good choice within a reasonable distance of Ishigaki town (if you have transportation).
- Trattoria Romana Ishigaki, Misaki-cho 8-15-2F, ☏ is in the center of the city. behind the bus terminal there is an Italian flag. Italian chef coming from Rome makes authentic Italian cuisine. He is very friendly and can give you good tips about traveling around. All the ingredients are imported from Italy. If you are tired of eating Japanese foods and being surrounded by Japanese people, this is the place to relax in a lovely atmosphere. good veg menu
Ishigaki's beef (石垣牛 Ishigaki-gyū) is meltingly smooth and well worth the splurge for meat lovers, although you'll generally be looking at around ¥5000 for something approximating a decent-sized steak. Sampling strips served as yakiniku or even raw sashimi is somewhat more affordable, but if the price seems too good, double-check that it's real Ishigaki beef, not a cheaper import.
- Kinjō (金城), Hotel Peaceland 1F, Misakichō 11-1 (south end of Center-Dori). Daily 11:30-15:00, 17:00-00:00. The lunch-only ¥2500 steak teishoku set with 150 g of Ishigaki beef to grill by yourself is one of the better deals around, especially when washed down with some Ishigakijima beer. Offers half-price dinner on the first day of the month, but you will have to stand in line for a good hour as that is a very popular night with locals in the know. Kinjo also has other branches around town.
- 6 Hitoshi (ひとし), ☏ . An izakaya that specializes in tuna fish. Their tuna sushi and sashimi are something to dream for. There are two branches in town. This is a very popular eating place so it is best to book ahead.
- 7 MARU, 〒907-0004 沖縄県石垣市字登野城26 (5 minutes walk from the centre of town), ☏ . 17:00-23:00. Yakiniku (grilling meat yourself at the table) with different cuts of Ishigaki beef. Really tasty, and the staff are friendly; one even speaks pretty good English, though he probably has a day off once in a while. Menu is fully in Japanese, so ask for the 'three cuts of Ishigaki beef' (¥2600) or the 'top quality beef platter' (¥4280).
- Yurateku (ゆらてぃく), Hotel Cucule 1F, Misakichō 8-1 (south end of Center-Dori, next to the Coco convenience store). 11:30-22:30. Specializes in Yaeyama cuisine. The Ishigaki beef comes as a 130-g steak for ¥2880 or as a 200-g burger for ¥1680, or both for ¥4180. Menu partly in English.
Ishigaki has a surprisingly vibrant nightlife, mostly centered around izakayas offering the ubiquitous local firewater awamori. Also be sure to sample the local Ishigakijima Beer (石垣島地ビール) microbrew, now available in "marine" (lager), "kuro" (dark) and three other versions.
Misakichō Center-Dōri (美崎町センター通り) and nearby streets, just north and west of the 730 Crossing, have a range of izakayas, karaoke lounges and nightclubs of varying degrees of respectability. Outside the city, however, there is little to no nightlife of any kind and you'll be hard pressed to find even a restaurant open after 18:00.
Ishigaki has a wide range of accommodation, ranging from expensive resorts for ¥10000+ to backpacker-oriented minshukus that can go as low as ¥3000 for your own room or ¥1000 for dormitory-type "guest house" accommodation.
- 1 Yonehara Campground (米原キャンプ場), Fukai 446-1. No tents are provided, but some camping equipment is available at the 100 Yen Shop (upstairs in Max Valu). The bus pass is highly recommended because nearby shopping is limited. Apr 1-Dec 28. ¥600.
- Emix Ishigaki. Reputedly the cheapest hostel in Ishigaki, though others may sometimes beat its price. Dorm beds from ¥1600.
- Matsukaze: The Guesthouse Ishigaki. Cozy hostel-style accommodation with friendly hosts, the kind of place where you're introduced to the other guests and treated as a friend. Dorm bunks can run as low as ¥1600 per night depending on the dates. Easily located with a search on Google Maps or OpenStreetMap.
- Sumio's Kiiyama Dormitory House. Small hostel with just a female-only dorm, run by the brother of Okinawan star rock band Kiiyama Shouten (if you're not familiar with them, you will be by the time you leave the hostel). Beds are very short (under 170 cm) and there are no windows in the dorm, but otherwise a nice place, friendly and casual. Sometimes can be as cheap as ¥1000 if you inquire in person. When we stayed there, you were allowed to borrow a bicycle at no additional cost.
- Rakutenya, ☏ . (楽天屋), Okawa 291. Two rambling old wooden houses run by an affable if eccentric English-speaking couple, ¥3000 per night gets you a private room with free laundry and Internet. The catches are that air-con costs ¥100/hour and only the newer wing (別館 bekkan) has mosquito nets.
- Mariudo, ☏ . Pension (ペンション). Rooms come with TV, air conditioning (very, very important in summer) and cheap rates at ¥1800 per night. The owners are extremely friendly and so are most of the guests. Excellent place to make traveling friends. Located seconds from the port by foot, it serves as a great hub for day trips throughout the Yaeyama Archipelago. Breakfast is not included and if you ask for internet you will be directed to a nearby cafe.
- Yashima Youth Hostel, ☏ . A short walk from the Small Boat Harbor in Ishigaki city, this hostel provides basic Japanese-style dormitory rooms for around ¥2500 per night. The male dormitory room is busier than the female one which can be a plus for women traveling alone. The staff are extremely hospitable. Breakfast and internet included. Be sure to join in on the nightly (free) awamori time to enjoy the traditional Ryukyu alcohol.
- Churayado Cocochan (美らやどココちゃん), Ishigaki 155-1, ☏ . ¥2500 per night gets you a private room with TV and free Internet. The catches are that air-con costs ¥100/three hours. There is a scuba diving shop in this cheap hotel.
- Oohamaso (大浜荘), 844-2 Kabira. Minshuku near Kabira bay. The building definitely feels old, but it's clean. ¥3000 gets you a private Japanese-style room, ¥4000 with breakfast, ¥5000 with breakfast and dinner, +¥500 for a Western-style room. Free A/C and wifi.
A number of largely identical highrise hotels have sprouted up around Ishigaki's harbor. This is hardly the most scenic area to stay, but it is undeniably convenient, both for day trips to the islands and for eating and shopping in the city center.
- East China Sea. Smack dab in the middle of the harbour, close to the 730 Crossing, this is probably the best of the bunch. Rooms are simple but clean, with tiled floors and balcony views over the sea, and there are some Japanese-style tatami rooms on the second floor as well. The breakfast buffet is remarkably good, with an excellent spread of Okinawan and Japanese dishes, and it's served on a pleasant outdoor terrace. ¥8000 and up.
- Club Med Kabira. One of Japan's two Club Meds, this swanky resort offers beautiful views of Kabira Bay. Last stop on the Kabira Resort line.
- Auberge Kabira (formerly B&B Kabira). Small and friendly hotel right on Kabira Bay, this place does good though expensive food in the evening. Rooms are a little small but they do offer free bike rental. Closing permanently on February 28.
There is free Wi-Fi access at the ferry terminal and in Euglena Mall, the covered arcade a few blocks away from the bus terminal. There is also free WiFi at the bus station, and a leaflet with the password is on the wall next to the ticket window.
There's an internet cafe in Ayapani Mall, the arcade that's farther from the port.
There is also free internet in the public library, though its only available from one terminal.
Vanilla Deli, directly across from City Hall also has free internet for patrons.
The FamilyMart convenience store on 730 Crossing has a cafe area with seats, free WiFi, and electric plugs for your charging needs.
The Ishigaki City Hall Tourism Division (市役所観光課) and the Ishigaki City Hall International Section (国際交流係) have good information in English for tourists. The International Section also employs a coordinator of international relations, fluent in both Japanese and English, who is available to assist non-Japanese tourists in local knowledge and hotel reservations. The hours for the city hall international section are (excepting holidays) M-F 08:30-16:30. Both the tourism division and the international section are located on the second floor. The Hirata tourist company near the ferry terminal also has English information. Try to pick up copies of the free Ishigaki Town Guide or Yaeyama Navi pamphlets, which are useful packs of information with lots of maps to show you around. They are in Japanese only and any listings inside are essentially paid ads, so not everything is listed. City Hall and many restaurants, shops and lodgings usually have one or both available.
Finding ATMs that work with foreign cards is no longer a big problem in Ishigaki city. You can find them in the ferry terminal, Family Marts, and post offices. The Family Mart ATMs are owned by Bank of the Ryukyus, so you might be able to go that bank's branch as well. If you're going to other islands , the only foreign-friendly ATMs are at the post offices (better be sure your card will work there, or bring a lot of cash!)
- Iriomote — an hour away by boat, offers mangrove jungles and the elusive Iriomote wildcat
- Taketomi — 10 minutes by boat, known for its well-preserved Ryukyu village
- Yonaguni — 30 minutes by plane or 4 hours by boat, the westernmost point of Japan offers mysterious ruins and diving with hammerhead sharks