One thing I loved about our stay in Ishigaki was that we could easily hop a ferry to visit one of the other nearby islands for a day or afternoon. On our third day, we took a day trip to Taketomi Island, a small island southwest of Ishigaki. It’s the location of a traditional Ryukyu village that has been beautifully preserved. Just a 20 minute ferry ride from Ishigaki, it’s well worth a day trip to explore the village and enjoy the beautiful scenery and beaches.
Breakfast at Fusaki Resort Village
Before heading out for the day, we took advantage of the resort’s breakfast buffet. It included all kinds of breakfast items from normal Japanese breakfast fare of fish and soup to continental style eggs, ham and breads. They also had one section of Okinawan items that changed daily. I tried a little bit of a lot of different items and often didn’t have any idea what I was actually putting on my plate. But that’s part of the adventure, right?! For this morning’s breakfast, I had a bit of a white fish, a side with cauliflower and ham, some steamed carrots and Okinawan yams (delicious!), and another side that consisted of tofu and goya. (I later found out that another name for goya is bitter melon and it really deserves the name…just, wow, so bitter! >_<) I also had a mixed vegetable side in a sweet tomato sauce and some fruit salad for dessert. Oh, and that was green tea to help wash down that bitter melon.
Just as an aside, the word for buffet in Japanese is バイキング, pronounced “baikingu” or basically, “Viking.” The first time I heard this I thought I had to have gotten it wrong but, nope. That’s just their word for buffet. If you’re interested, I found an interesting explanation behind this choice of names here.
After a short 20 minute ferry ride from Ishigaki, we arrived at Taketomi Island ready for adventure. You can simply walk into the village from the ferry terminal but we’d already decided on taking a tour so we just hopped on a small bus waiting to give complimentary rides to the village center where the tours began. And what kind of tour were we taking? A water buffalo tour!
Water Buffalo Tour
I know, it’s such a touristy thing to do but we were definitely feeling the relaxed, vacation vibe and decided to give the tour a go. And I’m so glad we did! Our guide was awesome and really made the tour a lot of fun. She explained a lot about the village that I didn’t know from the travel websites I’d seen while planning our activities. The village is still lived in so it’s not just a few preserved buildings. Any new construction done on the island has to be done in the traditional Ryukyu style so all the dwellings you see are traditional small, clay-tiled buildings. The streets are all white sand and the stone walls surrounding the houses made for a very picturesque scene, especially when covered with flowers. The people who live here form a tight-knit community and she said neighbors often gather in the evenings to share dinner and sing Okinawan songs.
It was a very hot day and several times our water buffalo, named Kaiji-kun, needed a little encouragement from the guide to leave a shady spot and continue down the road. She encouraged and patted him very much like someone would a pet dog who’d decided he’d had enough of an afternoon walk. And she told us all about him, too. Though generally very friendly and easy-going, apparently he had a rivalry with one of the other buffalo and had gotten into a scuffle with him before. It was much easier to see the easy-going side of him as he slowly strolled along the paths and napped in the shade. I’ll admit, by the end of the ride, I’d gained a slight affection for our easy-going Kaiji-kun. ^_^
Toward the end of the ride, our guide pulled out a shamisen, a three-stringed Japanese instrument, and played while she sang an Okinawan song.
We were all invited to follow along since the words had been provided for us and taped to the top of our cart but I was happy to just sit back and listen.
We were also shown where the water buffalo relax when they’re not carting tourists around. They each have their own shade umbrella and sprinkler to keep them watered down and cool. They looked very relaxed chilling under the palm trees.
After saying goodbye to our guide and Kaiji-kun, we headed over to Nagomi Tower in the center of the village. Even though it’s only about 4.5 meters high, you can get a view of pretty much the entire island from the top of the tower. The steps to climb up to the tower (not visible in the photo) are really steep so I felt a little ridiculous slowly making my way to the top but the view was worth the short climb.
Here is a photo I took from the top of the tower. It was a bit overcast and hazy so it’s hard to tell from the photo just how small the island is. But at least you can get a feel for the design of the dwellings. And if you look closely, you can see shisa sitting on top of the buildings for good luck!
There were several spots near the tower to sit down and grab something to eat so we took a lunch break to keep our energy up and, probably more importantly, down some water! Since we’d both had a big breakfast, we decided to share a hamburger, kushiyaki (grilled meat on a skewer) and a mango drink. The hamburger was made from Ishigaki beef and was really tasty.
Strolling Through the Village
After lunch, we decided to just walk through the village and around the island a bit. We were considering renting bicycles but then decided we’d probably see more taking a stroll. Plus it’s easier to stop and smell the flowers when on foot. You know me and flowers! ^_~
After exploring the village, we decided to check out some of the beaches on the island. There were a couple outlined on the map we were given during our tour so we picked one and began our walk. We kept a lookout for snakes as we went since Okinawa has the Habu snake, a venomous viper. Supposedly the paths are all white sand so residents can see, and thus avoid, Habu snakes when walking around at night. We didn’t see any snakes during our stroll but we saw many butterflies.
And do you see the stick insect in this picture? It was easily as long as my hand, the biggest I’ve ever seen.
After a long walk on such a hot day, we immediately jumped in the water once we reached Kondoi Beach. It was getting close to low tide so we couldn’t do a lot of swimming but we could still float around and cool down. It felt so good to relax in the ocean after so much walking!
Once we were sufficiently cool and relaxed, we began walking south along the beach until we came to another beach called Kaiji Beach. It’s famous for the star-shaped sand you can find there. Star sand isn’t actually sand at all, but the exoskeletons of tiny marine protozoa that lived on the ocean floor. The best way to find them is to wet your hand and then touch your hand to the sand so you can see individual pieces stuck to it once you lift it up again. On my first try, I got a few small star sand pieces. They’re small but you can see them if you look hard enough!
Once we’d walked back to the village, we decided it was time to head back to Ishigaki. While we waited on our complimentary ride back to the ferry terminal, we enjoyed some shaved ice to cool back down again. The one on the left had Blue Hawaiian syrup while the one on the right was awamori umeshu.
Ishigaki Port Surprises
As I stepped off the ferry back on Ishigaki, I noticed a statue by the building and went to investigate. It was a bronze statue of former world boxing champion Yoko Gushiken. According to the plaque, he grew up in Ishigaki and held the title of WBA Light Flyweight champion for four years, defending the title thirteen times. I know nothing about boxing but I can just imagine the small town pride that must have erupted when Gushiken became a champion (and thus giving rise to a statue).
While we waited on our bus to take us back to the resort, we sampled some donuts sold in a little food stand by the port. Though sold as a donut, it’s really an Okinawan bread that to me most closely resembled a sweet hush puppy. Yum!
Dinner at Fusaki Resort Village
When we finally made it back to our resort, we just relaxed for a while and then strolled through the gardens on our way to dinner, enjoyed the tropical atmosphere.
For dinner, we decided to try the resort’s Japanese Restaurant Yuntaku. I had liked the Seifuku awamori-based umeshu so much the previous night that I decided to have it again while my husband tried a sample of three awamori selections.
We also ordered a sampler of Okinawan leeks prepared in various ways. They were all good but the tempura leeks really stole the show. They quickly disappeared from the plate. So good!
Our main course consisted of several types of sushi and miso soup. On the left you can see some tuna sushi with sea grapes. I really wasn’t sure what to expect when we ordered it but it was really good. It had a very light and refreshing flavor and the texture of crunching on the tiny grapes created a burst of flavor with each bite. Oh and the beef sushi! You can see it on the right in the photo. It was lightly seared Ishigaki beef on rice and it was so much better than I could ever have imagined. When my husband suggested it, I thought, “Yeah…that’s going to be weird…cold, icky raw beef.” But it really was so good! Just one bite with a little soy sauce was so flavorful and delicious. It was so good we had to order another round. ^_~
Everything we had there was delicious and we just enjoyed being together and enjoying such a fabulous meal while looking over the gardens. It was a very satisfying meal and day overall.