The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Okinawa Part III: Ishigaki Island and Little Inn Ai

We were in Naha for only one day, but we managed to sample quite a few Okinawan dishes, before we headed south to Ishigaki Island, the main hub of the Yaeyama Islands group. Why did I choose Ishigaki? To be honest, the wilderness of Iriomote (also part of the Yaeyama group) is a lot more appealing to me, but unfortunately, hiking through the jungle and canoeing down the river are not very baby-friendly, so I chose the nearby Ishigaki instead. Even though we couldn't have the adventure vacation, we had a really nice time in Ishigaki, better than our stay in Naha.

A pretty tropical fish in the aquarium tank at Ishigaki Airport

We were in Ishigaki for two days. The first night we stayed in a hotel close to the centre so that we could explore the 'downtown' area. We arrived in Ishigaki in the late afternoon, and although it was only an hour flight from Naha, we were quite exhausted from our visit to Shuri Castle in Naha that we just wanted to chill out and freshen up in the hotel room for a couple of hours before going out in search for dinner. The baby needed some relaxation on the bed after being held in the baby carrier for most of the day. We had some island noodles and other specialties for dinner. We didn't check out until 11am the next morning (everything takes longer with a baby), which didn't give us much time to do more than looking for lunch and taking a walk around town before getting picked up to our next destination. Ishigaki is home to a variety of the well-marbled wagyu beef, and we took the opportunity to eat some Ishigaki beef for lunch. After lunch, we took a nice walk around town, had some unusual but delicious gelato flavours, and walked down the main "mall" of the town and bought some island specialty foodstuff.

Ayapani Mall:

For the second night, we were booked to stay at this gorgeous house about 30 minutes drive from downtown called 小さなペンション藍 (Chiisana Pension Ai or Little Inn Ai) which I reserved via this website. The special thing about this inn is that there are no other guests, so you get the full attention of the owners, and they really took care of us. Their service to us began a couple of weeks before our reserved date when Satomi emailed me to arrange our arrival to the house. She was kind enough to offer to pick us up from our hotel downtown and to drop us off at the airport after checking out. And we were very happy with everything in between. When Satomi found out that we didn't manage to do any sightseeing outside of town, she drove the scenic route to the house and stopped at several scenic points for photo op. Apparently, Kabira Bay offers the nicest scenic views of the island, and with clear emerald water that sparkled even on this unusually (so we were told) overcast day, it was very pretty.

Walking through the lush green promenade of Kabira Park to the viewing pavillion:

The view of the bay from the viewing pavillion (click on image for larger view):

Black pearls are cultivated in this bay, and here's a display of the growth of an oyster (shell) over three years (my dSLR lens cap is to the top right for size comparison):

After the scenic drive, we arrived at the house where we were welcomed graciously by Satomi's husband, who is the chef (he used to own a small izakaya before venturing into the inn business). The accommodation itself is not anything fancy, but it was very comfortable, had everything we need and was very private. The room joins the rest of the house via the dining area where we had our dinner and breakfast. I loved the layout of the room and the huge glass window.

Where's baby (in the first shot)?:

After settling in to and enjoying a cup of welcome tea with locally made Okinawan biscuits called chinsuko, we took a walk with the owners' three dogs (all were strays that they took in) to see the surrounding area. We saw lots of beautiful flowers, sugar cane fields and even a vending machine in this quiet part of the island. It really is a gorgeous place with beautiful views of the violet ocean (I'm not used to seeing the ocean in this deep yet brilliant colour, which was difficult to capture on camera so I gave up after awhile).

Down the main road in front of the house; and a gorgeous view of several rice paddy fields, finished with the ocean in the background:

Gorgeous hibiscus and bougainvillae, flowers I grew up with when I lived in Malaysia. Hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia, and my mum had several bougainvilla bushes in the garden. I like to call bougainvillae "paper flowers":

Some calves bound for the dinner table, perhaps of the prized wagyu breed? Sugar cane fields are in the backdrop. Along the road, we encountered a lonely jido-hanbaiki (vending machine) which is ubiquitous in Japan:

Then we headed back to the house to relax, freshen up and wait for our dinner to be served. Dinner was excellent, and we sampled plenty of local seasonal produce, things that we would not easily get to eat in Tokyo and review of the dinner and breakfast will be posted up soon. The bed was very comfortable and I slept my first 8-hour long uninterrupted sleep in five months since Zak was born (it helped that Zak did not get much daytime naps during our trip that he was exhausted by night time). Then it was off to the airport in the morning to catch our flight to Tokyo, but not without stopping by a beach for some photo op. We even saw an endangered eagle species, the Serpent Crested Eagle of which there are only 100 left on Ishigaki Island, and another 100 elsewhere in the world.

The endangered eagle:

I think it is a shame that this inn does not receive many foreign guests because it really is quite a nice experience. And Satomi speaks excellent English (especially in this countryside town) due to having spent some time living in London. I was actually quite surprised at her fluency because I'd assumed that we would have to utilise our (not-so-good) Japanese skills - we certainly had to when getting around downtown where not much English is spoken. This little inn comes highly recommended from the three of us!

Family photo!


  1. A pretty tropical fish in the aquarium tank at Ishigaki Airport
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that a lionfish, which could cause great pain and anguish if you get on the wrong side of its spines?!?

  2. You could be right, but I'm not a marine biologist (hehe, we should ask your sis).