Miyakojima Island: Beautiful beaches and unspoilt nature

Clear blue sea near Ikema on Miyakojima Island

A purple heron is wading through the shallow water, followed by a couple of ducks. Only some unpaved roads and small foot paths lead towards the lakes and wetlands in the interior of Ikema Island, a small island north of Miyakojima Island in Southern Japan.

A purple Heron in the Ikema Wetlands of Miyakojima, Okinawa

Not many tourists venture out here and even the circumferential road around the island providing access to the wetlands, a lighthouse, an unusual stone formation on the coast, and a few hotels is not very busy.  Since 1992, Ikema is linked to the larger island of Miyakojima by a long bridge over beautiful coral sea. But still, it is among the most distant attractions from Miyakojima’s main port town of Hirara.

Miyakos Soba, a local noodle speciality on Miyakojima Island, Japan

A retreat for sailors

Hirara itself is a rather gritty sailors’ town with run-down quarters near the harbour, a couple of streets with pubs and nightclubs, and a small tourist centre. Catering mostly to Japanese travellers, almost every restaurant is offering a show of local sanshin music in the evening.

Hirara’s history is dating back into the time of the Ryûkyû kings. These local rulers governed Miyakojima Island from 280 km away Okinawa mainland, and there are some historic remains from this time. They include tombs of local rulers from the 15th century and a tax marker that indicated who was tall enough to pay taxes! The logic is that children growing taller than around 1.40 m were considered old enough. In addition, we find a memorial stele sent by German Emperor Wilhelm I in 1876.

A German castle on tropical Miyakojima Island!

The German Marksburg castle rebuilt on Miyakojima Island in tropical Okinawa

Emperor Wilhelm I was impressed by the islanders’ altruistic rescue of the sailors of a German trade ship. Oh, and perhaps he appreciated the opportunity to establish diplomatic relations with a small kingdom strategically located off the Asian coast in the Pacific.

The long-established friendship with Germany also led to the foundation of a “German Culture Village” on Miyakojima.

The main attraction in Miyako’s German village is a 1:1 model of a mediaeval German castle – the Marksburg. Its strong walls and mediaeval European look strangely contrast with the lush green and the blue ocean in the background.

Sunayama Beach on Miyakojima Island

Fantastic beaches, turquoise blue water and coral reefs surround Miyakojima. When you aren’t diving or snorkelling, the fun thing to do is driving around the island and over to several other islands connected by bridges. Rental cars are pastel-coloured “light vehicles” and feel like bumper cars. The speed limit is 40 km/h everywhere on Miyakojima. 

Kurima-jima (Kurima Island)

Kurima-jima is a tiny island south of Miyakojima, connected by a bridge. With its laid-back atmosphere, plus nice beaches, it attracts a small community of divers, esoterics and dropouts. The Kurimajima Bridge was built in 1995, when the island’s population consisted of less than 200 sugar cane farmers.

The islands Irabujima and Shimojima

The newest addition to the bridges is the huge Irabujima Bridge. It is stretching 3.5 km over the coral-studded sea towards Irabujima Island. Or rather, towards the twin islands of Irabujima and Shimojishima, only divided by a canal of brackish water.

Irabujima Sawada Beach

Dozens of large rocks are scattered around the bay on the northern side of the two islands. Picturesque and peaceful, we feel. But then we read how the rocks arrived in the bay! In 1771, a great tsunami struck the Ryukyu region, carrying huge rocks such as these and drowning whole islands. On Ishigaki, just 100 km from here, the wave was reportedly up to 80 m high. On the way around the island we notice the red tsunami warning signs detailing one’s elevation above sea level. “5 m”, “10 m”, we read, and where most of the houses are, “20 m”. At least the latter signs are not red – but yellow. Nowhere on Irabujima is “green” with regard to tsunami warnings.

Landing strip on Shimojishima, off Miyakojima Island, Japan

Most of Shimojishima, the smaller and more distant of the two islands, is off-limits: A fully-fledged airport runway takes up most of the island. It has mainly been used as a training airport for commercial airlines. But in 2019 the Shimojishima Airport also opened for passengers – currently on a few domestic routes. For Miyakojima Island, this could mean a huge increase in tourist capacities for the future, especially if it starts bringing in international travellers.

Notchi rocks near Ogamijima, Okinawa

The Island of Great Gods

But one small island may withstand the tourist influx nonetheless: Ôkamijima, the Island of Great Gods, is the only nearby island without a bridge to Miyakojima Island itself. A ferry boat leaves 4 times a day for Ôkamijima, only 15 minutes away from Miyakojima. The island has only one road, about 1 km long, and a settlement of about a dozen houses and about 30 inhabitants. Mostly they are elderly – and did we mention the red cats? There are no cars, but lots of interesting rocks and old tombs. A large part of the island consists of a holy mountain, and several other holy areas are not accessible year-round. 

If you want to travel to Japan and like beaches, snorkelling and exploring, Miyakojima might be the place for you. Would you like to visit? Also have a look at some of our other posts about beaches and islands in Japan, such as the Kerama Islands or Hateruma Island.

A sign against drinking on Miyakojima Island
Don’t drink and drive, Okinawa style!

Access to Miyakojima Island

Currently there are only a few domestic Japanese airline connections to Miyakojima. They tend to be more expensive than to the other islands of Okinawa.

Once on Miyako Island there are only a few bus connections (also over the bridges to the smaller islands). Renting a car is neither difficult nor expensive.

Accommodation on Miyakojima Island

Most hotels and tourist facilities are in Hirara, but especially the Southern part of Miyakojima is also quite populated. Accommodation is available near the beaches and on all islands. So far, the Miyakojima Islands tend to be somewhat more exclusive and expensive than other areas of Okinawa.

Note: We paid all expenses ourselves and we did not get any sponsoring for our trip to Miyakojima Island.

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5 Comments

  1. Beautiful place. It looks like the end of the world, tourist free..and yes.. I would like to visit it. The sea looks amazing :-).

  2. You are certainly showing us why we need to get back to Japan and spend some time wandering to the smaller spots like Mijakojima Island. The lack of tourists would definitely be a draw for us. The beaches would be a dare. But how funny to see a German castle on the island. Good to know this visit would require a flight and a few days on the islands to enjoy.

  3. Take me to the beach now please! Japan is my dream place and Miyakojima and Kurima Island look amazing. I never heard of them before or of the history, so it’s fascinating to learn more about it.

  4. I would normally not go looking for beaches when in Japan but Miyakojima Island looks gorgeous. The terquoise blue waters I see in your photos really surprises me but makes me want to visit Southern Japan the next time I am able to make it to the country!

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