Minamidaitō is a village on an island of the same name in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. Other than its tiny neighbor Kitadaito, the nearest land is Okinawa island, about 400 km (240 mi) to the west. The island itself is known as Minamidaitō-jima (南大東島) and the village is Minamidaitō-son (南大東村). The name is also sometimes written as Minami Daito, or Minamidaitou. With 1400 inhabitants, it has about twice the population of nearby Kitadaito.
Minamidaito island was first discovered in 1820 by a Russian Borodino-class marine vessel and named South Borodino Island. The sharp cliffs surrounding it completely made it inaccessible to humans, until in 1900 a Japanese pioneering team from Hachijō Island became its first inhabitants, using it to grow sugarcane. Minamidaito continues to produce sugarcane as its main source of revenue; it also runs factories for refining the sugar and producing a unique brand of rum called Cor Cor.
As a tourist destination, Minamidaito is one for the adventurous - flight tickets are not cheap and ferries are few, but the fascinating ethnic nature, culture and hospitality of the place can easily make it worth the cost, even just for a weekend visit. Everything about Minamidaito is unique, from the unique cultural blend between Okinawa and its ancestral Hachijo to its unique fauna and flora. It is also home to Japan's largest weather station and Japan's shortest airline flight.
The only way to get to Minamidaito is from Naha or neighboring Kitadaito either by plane or ferry. There are two flights per day from Naha, which can be reserved up to two months in advance from Naha Airport or by telephone or internet with Japan Airlines. Flights last about 70 minutes and cost ¥31,600 for a roundtrip (in 2011) or 24,900 for one way. The ferry costs around ¥10,000 for a roundtrip, but sails only once per week and takes 15-17 hours each way. The timetable is decided about a month before. Check with Daito Line (homepage in Japanese only).
The flight between Minamidaito and Kitadaito lasts for 3 minutes or 15 minutes counting takeoff and landing, and is the shortest airline flight in Japan. At 8300 yen it is comparatively no doubt the most expensive too.
The main village complex is easily navigable on foot. For the outer sights there is a rental service for cars and bicycles, but locals are always happy to offer a lift.
The first place to stop by is the Visitor Center (bijitaa sentaa) from which the manager, Kazuaki Higashi (Higashi-san), will help to organise your sightseeing needs. He organizes tours to the underground cave (Chiteiko), night wildlife sightseeing...
If you cannot speak Japanese, it will be important to bring a phrasebook. Almost all of the native islanders have virtually no comprehension of English. On the other hand, due to the presence of school staff, university students and migrants from the Philippines, there should be a few English speakers somewhere to be found.
Eriko Yoshizato, the manager of Yoshizato Hotel, speaks good English and will be able to help with any queries.
If you have studied Japanese, you will have a great opportunity to practice the Okinawan dialect and the rarer Hachijo dialect.
- Bats - Daito's unique bat, the okomori, will usually be eating fruit in the fukugi trees at night. Ask Higashi-san about where to look.
- Whale-watching (hoeru wotchingu) is also possible in the winter, while during the summer tsunami season you can watch the enormous waves crashing into the rocks.
- Daito Shrine (Daito Jinja) is hidden away in a beautiful forest setting. There is a large torii gate, a pathway around the forest walk, and a sumo stage used during the Honen Festival.
- Daito Culture Center (bunka sentaa) is not far from the village office, and hosts numerous artefacts from the island's history. Information is in Japanese, but the photographs speak for themselves. Entry ¥200.
- A view of 70% of the island is available at Hinomaru observation tower.
- The best place to investigate Minamidaito's unique plant species is next to Kaigunbo pool.
- Taiko drumming - The young traditional drumming group Daito Taiko practices hard every evening from 6.45PM-7.30PM at the sogo center. If you turn up to watch, they will probably do a performance just for you.
- The multiple prize-winning sanshin girl group Borojino Musume likes to perform for visitors. Ask ahead.
The visitor center can help you with all the activities and getting hold of any equipment. Services are very inexpensive, or free.
- Fishing is possible at all the ports, though there are good and bad days for fish. On a good day you have a better chance of catching an enormous fish than anywhere else in Okinawa.
- Caving - There are two major caves - Hoshinodo, a pink rock cave which is easily navigable with installed staircases and costs ¥800, and the impressive Chiteiko, which requires a tour for 1-4 people from Mr. Higashi costing ¥6000 per person. (It now includes wear, gloves, helmet, three torches and photos the guide will take and burn in a CD.)
- Canoeing - The ponds on Minamidaito are naturally networked, creating a large canoe course. Ask Mr. Higashi.
- Diving lessons are available from Borodino Diving Service, and gives a close-up view of the island's unique sea life. Prior diving experience is necessary.
- Swimming - There are two natural swimming pools carved into the rock next to the sea, Kaigunbo and Shioya. During the low tide in spring and summer these are available for snorkeling and regular swimming.
- Bird watching can be enjoyed from an observation tower next to one of the ponds, or from various other locations.
- Work out - The sports center is free to use and has a weights room, running balcony, and a weekly schedule of sports including basketball, volleyball and badminton.
- Prepare Daito sushi - Ms. Ryoko's bento (takeaway meals) shop just in front of the hotel "Southern Cross" offers a 1.5h lesson for 2500 yen. You can take a sushi box (8 pc.) when you finish.
- Daito celebrates most of the annual festivals of both Okinawa and Hachijo, the main event being the Honen Festival on September 22–23, featuring a shrine-bearing parade, a sumo tournament and a stage show.
Most souvenirs are available at the airport.
- Minamidaito's Cor Cor rum is one of the few brands of rum in Japan. There are two labels; red, made from the cane juice, and green, made with the refined sugar.
- CD recordings of local talent, including Borojino Musume, are available.
- Sea salt, sea essence, pressed local plants, sea jerky, t-shirts and picture books are amongst other memorabilia.
Eating on Minamidaito is highly affordable and very good quality. Most meals only cost ¥300-1000. Fish is usually served on the day it is caught, and is well known on Okinawa for this.
There are numerous eating houses, but they all offer roughly the same menu.
Groups usually share their food and drink, as well as the cost.
- Daito Soba (available at a restaurant of the same name) is highly reputed. A big bowl of thick soba noodles with a small buffet selection of meat and vegetables costs only around ¥700.
- Daito Sushi has a unique taste and a high reputation. It's usually made from mackerel. While in most of Japan the mackerel's season is spring, in the Daito islands you can catch it all year round.
- Vegetables are generally sweeter than in other places. Pumpkin and potato are the main vegetable produce.
- Nawakiri soup (fish) is often the dish of the day.
Beer and awamori are the favorites on Minamidaito. In the bars most beer is Okinawa's Orion Beer, although Yebisu can also be found. Most locals tend to have one glass of Orion then share out a big bottle of awamori.
Chu-hi, the vodka fruit drink, is also in supply, and most bars also have other drinks if requested.
The island's own produce, Cor Cor rum, is available but not often seen, probably because rum is unpopular with Japanese people.
As for soft drinks, look for Daito's fresh shikwasa (bitter orange) juice.
There are a few small hotels and guest houses on Minamidaito, but maybe the best choice for non-Japanese speakers is the larger Yoshizato Hotel, which is in the centre of the village. Ask about a hotel package when booking your flight tickets.
- Minamidaito Visitor Center - Tel: 098-022-2432
- Yoshizato Hotel - Tel: 098-022-2511
- Petit Hotel Southern Cross: 098-022-2947
- Guest House Kinjo: 098-022-2045
- Guest House Yoshizato: 098-022-2511
There are two flights per day to Naha, with one connecting through Kitadaito. The ferry is cheaper but takes very long and there is only a single roundtrip every week.
Flights and ferries occasionally do not run if the weather is bad - if an afternoon flight is canceled, then you will have to wait until the next day. Be careful about making reservations for connecting flights immediately after your trip.