While we are currently experiencing the coldest time of the year in most parts of Japan, you might feel drawn to traveling to the southern islands of Okinawa which are known for its pristine white sand beaches, snorkelling, rich biodiversity and fresh fruit.
Ishigaki is one of Okinawa’s most beautiful islands and being closer to Taiwan than to Okinawa main island, it almost feels like a trip abroad. (Check out our article on the best things to do in Ishigaki during summer.) But what to do when your tropical island holiday in Ishigaki turns out to be time away in the cold and rain? We were faced with this dilemma last time we visited this island in December, when it rained most days with a slightly uncomfortable 18 degrees outside. Which is warm compared to northern European winter weather, but just not the weather suitable to snorkelling and sunbathing.
We turned Ishigaki island upside down to find a diversity of off-season activities and compiled this list, hoping that it may be helpful to others who find themselves in this situation.
1 – Bike ride around Kuroshima Island
On a dry chilly day, we took a short ferry over from Ishigaki port to Kuroshima island. At the ferry ticket counter you can get a good deal on a combined ferry ticket with bike rental. Kuroshima feels like a local little farm island with lots of agriculture, cows and also a few scenic beaches. Exploring the island by bike allows you to see everything at leisurely pace within 2-3 hours. Don’t miss out on the Kuroshima Research Station to learn about rescued turtles and try out lunch shack ‘undoya’ for a meal straight from the sea!
2 – Kayaking through mangroves
As soon as the monsoon-like rain stopped, we were off on a kayaking tour through the mangroves on Ishigaki’s northern area. This activity was fun and doesn’t require any experience. Our kayaking guide led us through a shallow area where we got out and he explained to us how old the trees are (very!) and what kind animals live in this habitat. Being inside the mangrove area certainly felt like being in a mystical untouched jungle.
3 – Visit the monkeys at Yaima Village
This cute little village is like an outdoor museum with traditional Yaeyama-style houses, live performances and little monkeys! Rain or shine, this makes for a great half day trip in Ishigaki for the whole family.
4 – Yonekoyaki Sculpture Park
This weird and wonderful outdoor sculpture park showcasing cool creatures made by local pottery artists is a great spot for photography. We visited on a rainy day with mist covering the mountains which brought out the colours of the sculptures well and makes the photos look like from another planet! You can also buy small pottery goods in two shops near the park.
Would you like to try making your own Okinawan ‘shisa’ lions? Head over to Rinka Pottery Studio to learn how to craft a traditional guardian lion – no skill required!
5 – Markets & Glass Crafts in Ishigaki City
A great activity for rainy days is to explore Ishigaki’s small town centre. Start by walking through the main market street, buy some fresh produce at JA Farmers Market and if you have more time to spare why not make your own glass jewellery? One of the shops offering this is called Isa-na studio and with the help of the patient owner you can learn how glass pendants are made. Not feeling crafty? You can also buy one of her handmade glass crafts, of course, but I think once you’ve seen how labour intensive it is to make each item, it really makes you understand the price for handmade glassware. Still in Ishigaki City for dinner? Try our favourite restaurant on the whole island called Vagabundo, offering organic Mexican food with vegan options!
6 – Hiking at Banna Park
You could easily spend the whole day at Ishigaki’s Banna Park, doing lots of different easy hikes or just driving around to enjoy the view from the different scenic points offering views onto the nearby islands!
7 – Explore Ishigaki’s rich biodiversity
Even if the weather isn’t great, some diving clubs are still offering to take you for a dive (depending on wind conditions) and some places also rent out mountain bikes and offer hiking tours to further explore the island. If you’re into photography, you can just about go anywhere on the island – along the beach, mountains or just your guesthouse garden – to capture the beauty of tropical plants, driftwood, tiny sea creatures and other cool natural encounters. Last time, knowing that the weather won’t be good, I also brought my watercolours along to draw these red puffy flowers on the sheltered terrace while there was torrential rain outside.
8 – Taketomi Island Visit
Arguably, it is much nicer to visit Taketomi on a warm sunny day when you can immerse yourself in the crystal clear water on one of the serene beaches… that being said, Taketomi is just a 10 minute ferry ride away from Ishigaki and with its outstanding architecture and landscapes this island deserves a visit every time we come to Ishigaki!
I hope that you found this article helpful while planning your off-season trip to Ishigaki or perhaps even being on Ishigaki while reading it and planning what to do on a rainy day. Please leave us a comment to let us know how you got on!