Miyako (宮古島 Miyakojima) is the largest of the Miyako Islands. Most of the Miyako's 50,000 or so residents live in Hirara, the main business and entertainment district on the island. The rest of the island is pretty much undeveloped, with the exception of a few coastal tourist spots, especially Shigira in the south. Sugar cane and to a lesser extent tobacco are the island's cash crops. There is not much to see, not much of a downtown, no man-made wonders to behold, no rivers to explore and no mountains to climb. Don't despair! The lack of rivers and mountains means there is no silty run-off to cloud the water. Miyako and the two connected islands, Kurima to the west and Ikema to the north, have miles of nameless white sand beaches and clear blue water. On a moonlit night you can wade out chest deep to watch the "yakouchu" and still see your toes wiggle. During the day the snorkeling, diving and other beach activities are as good as it gets in Okinawa.
- 1 Miyako Airport (MMY IATA). Offers direct connections to Tokyo (Haneda), Naha and Ishigaki on JTA and Air Nippon. Chances are you will be transferring in Naha so consider spending some time on the main Okinawa Island as well.
As of 2018, there are no scheduled ferry services from outside the Miyako Islands.
Public transportation on Miyako is limited to buses that run every couple hours. Though they are fairly cheap (max ¥500 one way), they are inconvenient and seem to run on island time. Ask for information at your lodge or hotel, but don't be surprised if they don't have any more information than what is printed in the local tourist magazines.
Taxis are a viable option especially if two or more people are heading to one location for the day. Expect to pay about ¥2,000 from downtown Hirara to Maehama Beach, and arrange for return.
Don't drive drunk on Miyako! They have a very nice service called "Daiko." Local, sober people will drive you, your buddies and your car home for a very reasonable fee, probably no more than ¥2,000, no strings attached. It is completely safe and legit. Ask at your watering hole or in most parking lots.
Car rental is fairly expensive and scooter and bicycle rental isn't much cheaper. That being said, having your own transportation is key to enjoying what Miyako has to offer. There are several national agencies at the airport charging ¥5,000 or more per day. You must have an International Driver's Permit and a valid driver's license to drive in Japan.
- Kagisuma Rent-a-Car (call for delivery), ☏ . This is a local operation run by a very nice couple. Cars are well maintained and fully insured. Remove all your trash and empties, and fill the tank before returning the car. It is possible to arrange to drop off your car at the airport, lock the keys in the car and phone to tell them the parking space. ¥4,000 per day with discounts for long term rental.
- Tomikusa Motors, 288 Nishizato, ☏ . Daily 09:00-18:00. 50cc scooter ¥2,000/day, mountain bike ¥1,500/day
Beaches clockwise from Hirara Port:
- Sunayama is nice place to take a photo but not a particularly good place to swim. Drive 30 minutes north on Rt. 83 to Rt. 230 and cross the bridge to Ikema. Get a drink at the tourist trap, climb up and look at the view. Continue clockwise around the island just to say you did it, and less than a kilometer from the tourist trap you will find two excellent beaches named after their prominent features, one called Rope and one called Block. There are no signs, but maybe a car or two parked beside the road. Block has some nice coral, just be careful of the currents.
- Next head way back south and east on Rt. 83 in the direction of Gusukube. On the way you will find Aragusuku, a great shallow beach with lots more fish and coral. Two groups rent stuff and sell refreshments during the summer months. Go to the left side and feel free to sit at the tables. The proprietress is the chamisen playing, occasionally booze drinking, beach loving Yasuyo-san. She also runs a nearby pension. Yoshino is another decent place a couple kilometers down the road. They charge ¥500 for parking.
- Though it's not actually a beach, follow the signs to Higashihenazaki is a picturesque point with a lighthouse. As it's the easternmost point on the island, it is a popular place to watch the sun rise.
- Head back to Rt. 83 was in the direction of Bora and the very commercial Bora Beach Park. Stop in or continue west on Rt. 235 to Shigira a once wild place that has been taken over by mercenaries from Tokyo. The rocky beach is now manicured but still open to the public so you can bring your cooler and chill at their expense. The cove is fairly well protected, so a good option for kids or when the weather is bad. Swim out to the middle and just before the rock formation there are some anonome fish.
- Continue west on Rt. 235, cross the bridge to Kurima. Park in the lot on the left just after you cross and take the stone path 10 minutes to Tako. There are fish in the tide pool and lots more to see on the other side of the rocks, but be careful. Next stop Nagamahama. Follow the signs to 長間浜, look for a couple cows tied to a tree. Park in the lot and walk to the ocean.
- Head back across the bridge, turn left and proceed to Maebama, Miyako's most popular beach. Locals tend to hang out near the boat launch on the bridge side, though they also frequent Windy, a beach house serving Miyako-soba (¥500) and other very reasonably priced food. Maebama continues for almost 10 km somewhere turning into the secluded kite-board spot Nishi-hama and then the slightly odd Sanitsu-hama. During low tides you can walk the beach from Maebama to Sanitsu-hama (just sneak through the Tokyu Hotel's bogus private area) but there are also paved jogging trails on land.
- After leaving Sanitsu-hama take Rt. 390 from Shimoji back toward Hirara and Painagama Beach just before Hirara Port. Paiangama isn't a particularly good beach by day, but convenient after a night on the piss. Just be safe!
Scuba diving is probably Miyako's main attraction. Everyone on Miyako knows someone who "has a boat." Usually they can get you a small discount or at least some priority. If you don't like what one person says ask another.
- Aqua Story (アクアストーリー), 市平良字下里482-1 (call or have someone at your lodge call for pick-up), ☏ . The staff may not speak English, but this is a reputable dive shop
- M-Air Kiteboarding, 233 Yonaha, Shimoji, ☏ . If you don't know, is a huge kite in the sky and a board (usually) in the water with a crazy-ass fool in the middle.
- Windy Maehama (Maehama Beach near the Tokyu Resort Hotel in Shimoji.). Ask the owner about having a sunset BBQ on the roof. Around ¥2,000 per person.
- Shi-Sa Monogatari, 246 Shimozato, Hirara (Across from Painagama Beach.), ☏ . Daily 10:00-20:00. Make your own shi-sa. Perfect for a rainy day. If you like what you create you can have it fired and shipped anywhere in Japan. ¥2,500.
Miyako-jima doesn't really have any particular claim to fame in the souvenir area. Most things available in Miyako come from the main island of Okinawa or mainland Japan. There are locally grown fruits, mangoes (June to August), dragon fruit (May to October) and island bananas (year round), but they are not unique to Miyako and are subject to import regulations. Miyako-jima salt holds the Guinness World Record for the salt with the most complex mineral make-up. The salt is available in souvenir stores, supermarkets and a salt shop on Nishizato street.
Awamori (泡盛) is available everywhere and though it isn't made on Miyako, Taragawa (多奈川) is a popular brand. Kuusu (古酒) is aged awamori and a bit more expensive.
- Potan (ポタン). Local craftsmen.
- Kaikoubou (海工房). Local craftsmen.
- Sabo, Across from the A&W on Shimozato O-dori.. A T-shirt shop. Decent designs that usually say Miyako on them.
- Uminchu Miyako (海人宮古), 2 minutes on foot, past A&W and the Sabo shop. A T-shirt shop. Catch 22 here: the fact that you are buying an overpriced T-shirt means that you are not 海人, but the stuff inside is cool just the same.
- Miyakojima Kankou Bussan Center - Hanashiro, Hirara (Rt. 78 near Max-Value but on the other side of the street; look for the big, gaudy arch.). King of kitsch souvenirs. For a fee, ship anywhere in Japan.
- Miyako Mokkou Gei (宮古木工芸). A sanshin shop.
- Self Catering. Max-Value has a pretty decent selection of stuff to keep you nourished. The food prepared in the market, ranging from fried chicken and sushi to bento "lunch boxes", is all pretty good. The retort packs of curries, pasta sauces and "hashed beef" coupled with the microwavable rice packs are cheap and convenient if nothing more. There are two locations in Hirara, one on Rt. 78 and one on 390. Both are in mini-malls with a pharmacy next door. The Italian restaurant next to the Max on Rt. 390 serves relatively good pizzas and has a ¥1,000 lunch buffet. Bass Line, near the Max on Rt. 78 serves cheap, large portions of decent food and has a picture menu. Sane-, on Mateita-dori, is your best bet for low priced meats and veggies.
- Miyako soba (宮古そば). Available everywhere and is a cheap filling meal. Miyako soba is more like pasta or udon than the traditional Japanese buckwheat noodles. It usually has a piece of "rafute" and some "kamaboko" in it for protein. Rafute is a fatty piece of pork that has been simmered in broth. Japanese will tell you that the gelatinous fat is good for you. Kamaboko looks like plastic but it is steamed fish paste and fairly healthy. You can also get soba with souki (spare-rib) or tebichi (pig's feet). Add the condiments slowly as they are quite spicy.
- Maruko-chan, Downtown Hirara (Nishizato-dori across from Mos-Burgers, 2nd floor). Open 24/7. Very retro taco shop with gambling and interesting regulars. Recommendations: breakfast set, tacos, taco-rice, steak. The tables are vintage 1980s game tables and the slot machines do pay-off. How it works is a mystery to be solved some rainy day.
- Painagama Shokudo, Hirara (just off Rt. 390 across from Painagama Beach). Dinner. Excellent mom and pop shop serving typical Japanese/Miyako fare at reasonable prices. Think of it as visiting your Japanese granny's house for dinner.
- Pani-Pani, Kurima Island (cross Kurima Bridge and it's on th right at the top of the hill). Lunch. Relaxed place run by a nice ossan (uncle). Recommendations: Pizza dog, fruit juices. Stop here on the way to Tako beach or Nagamahama Beach. Cheap.
- Chuzan (中山), 1-10 Nishizato, Hirara (see web page), ☏ . Dinner. Good "izakaya" with a nice selection of Miyako food. Moderate.
- A-Dish, 215-3 Shimozato, Hirara (Rt. 390 across from Painagama Beach.), ☏ . Tu-Su 6PM-10PM. Reasonable Italian fare, wood fired pizza, relaxed atmosphere and a good bar upstairs. Moderate.
- Hakuai Saikan (博愛菜館), Hirara (near the big Sane-supermaket just off Mateida-dori). Daily from 17:00. Small Chinese place serving massive portions for ridiculously cheap prices. Best to go with a group. Cheap.
The local beer is Orion, brewed in Nago on the main island of Okinawa. It tastes different from Orion sold in the rest of Japan which is made by Asahi. The other local drink is awamori (泡盛), which is usually 30% alcohol in Miyako. Much has been written about its potency and locals will tell you that it is good for you and doesn't give you a "bad drunk" (waru-you) or a hangover (futsukayoi). Nonsense! It can be drunk in many different ways, but for starters try the orthodox: on the rocks, 2 or 3 parts water to 1 part awamori and drink it as you would any other 10% alcohol drink.
Miyako has its fair share of watering holes, so just ask around. It's also perfectly legal to head to the beach with your cooler and some fireworks. Just follow the golden rule and leave the place cleaner than you found it.
- Copacabana, 175-5 Nishi-zato, ☏ . From 20:00. A standard bar with a reasonable staff and clientele, stays open as long as there is someone standing. Reasonable.
- New York, New York, Gaisen-dori (between Nishizato-dori and Shimozato-dori), ☏ . From 19:00. Another standard sports bar with a big screen TV, billiards and decent bar food. Reasonable.
- Guesthouse Miyakojima (ゲストハウス宮古島), 233 Yonaha, Shimoji (call for free pick-up anywhere on the island), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-out: 10:00. Located near Maebama, Miyako's main beach, and even closer to Nishihama and Sanitsuhama, two prime kite-boarding spots. The owner, Shu-san, speaks good English and also runs M-Air Kiteboarding school/shop. Shared kitchen and shower room. Free use of internet, marine sporting goods, washer, BBQ, bicycles and 50cc scooters. You must have a valid International Driver's License. Private rooms ¥3,000/night, dorms ¥2,500/night, discounts for longer stays.
- [dead link] Deigo, Hirara city (call for directions/pick-up), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. In Hirara city, near shopping, restaurants and bars. Shared kitchen, and living room. Always a highly recommended guesthouse. Private room ¥3,000 per night, dormitory ¥2,000 per night with discounts for longer stays..
- [dead link] Greek Pension Ilios, 285-1 Azamaesato (just across the Ikema bridge), ☏ , email@example.com. Funky place with a great Greek restaurant. From ¥13,000.
- Marea Diving Resort (マリンロッジ・マレア), 847-3 Yonaha, Shimoji (1,500 m off Rt. 390 in Shimoji, just NW of Maehama Beach and the Tokyu Resort Hotel), ☏ . A really nice place catering to divers of all levels. 6-hour dive for ¥14,000, 4-day open water diving course ¥61,000. Rooms from ¥5,000.
- Miyako-jima Minaai Mansion (宮古島皆愛マンシヨン) (four-floor apartment complex just before the Kurima Bridge), ☏ . Great, romantic option for a couple on a one week or longer vacation. Just to clarify, mansion in Japanese actually means condo. These fully furnished places were built in 2006 and are convenient to Kurima Island, Maehama Beach and overlook the Emerald Coast Country Club. Call in Japanese for prices.
- Miyakojima Paradise, ☏ . Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 10:00. Fully furnished studio for rent front of the Painagama beach. English/French/Japanese staff always available for support and request. Full private apartment. Rental bicycle/car possible (valid international Driver's License required). Free internet access in the studio. ¥9,000.
- [dead link] Private House Miyagawa, 1276 Aza Higashinakasonezoe, Hirara (east of the AP) (phone to make arrangements), ☏ . This two-bedroom house is perfect for a family of 4 and could hold a lot more if the kids wanted to sleep in a tent in the yard. It would also be nice for two couples though not discreet enough for loud shagging. The location is convenient though not spectacular. Since the price includes a car this is not a problem. International Driving Permit required ¥15,000.
- [dead link] Villabu Resort, Irabu Island (Ferry to Irabu), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 11:00. Incongruous with the surroundings, absolutely gorgeous bungalows with restaurant, private beach, pool. Ooh but the price! ¥35,000 per person, per night.
- Moritaya (もりたや), Hirara Nishizato 335-1, ☏ . Apartment-style lodging, with a Japanese-style room, fully equipped kitchen/dining area and a private bathroom with a washing machine. One person ¥4200, two ¥6200, three ¥7800. Free A/C, but no Internet. Can be booked online in English from booking.com, but only for 2-3 people. For one person, can be booked in Japanese from Rakuten Travel or similar.