Taketomi - where time seems to magically slow down
Japan's most southern islands, the Yaeyama islands, are a popular travel destination for vacation hungry locals, as well as international visitors. And their popularity is easily explained: seemingly endless sandy beaches, crystal clear water, sunshine, lush flowers and subtropical climate.
One of these 32 islands, some uninhabited, that make up the archipelago is Taketomi. With just about 5.5 square kilometers, Taketomi is a rather small island, sitting atop a raised circular coral atoll.
You can reach the island, which is just 4 kilometers away from the coast of Ishigaki island, by ferry, which runs every half an hour and only takes between 10-15 minutes, depending on the weather.
Once you arrive on the island, I urge you to ditch your usual schedule routine that you might have when visiting other parts of Japan. Taketomi is an island that slows you down, that makes you feel the island spirit, so let it take you with the flow.
Time not only seems to slow down here, it also feels as if modern life and all of its hustle has not reached Taketomi yet.
The paths through the little village in the center of the island, also called Taketomi, are sandy and bordered with hand-packed coral walls that surround the traditional houses with the red tiled-roofs.
The whole island is a lush, colorful flower paradise, with sea hibiscus and bougainvillea covering the coral walls, creating a gorgeous contrast to the white sandy streets. What will certainly also catch your eye are the ubiquitous shisa; spirits that guard the houses and ward off evil.
To get around the island, I would recommend to rent a bike, which is easily done since the local bike rentals will already await you at the port to offer their services. You can also walk around the island if you are up to it, but be aware that it gets very hot and humid during the summer, so you might not want to spend an excessive amount of time under direct sunlight. Of course you can also take one of the famous ox-carts but I found it more enjoyable to explore the island on a bicycle in my own time.
Taketomi's beaches are one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen and they are not only famous for their crystal clear water, but one in particular, Kaiji Beach, is famous for its star-shaped sand. Swimming is prohibited as the current is too strong and dangerous.
Another famous sight is the West Jetty, a famous spot for scenic sunsets. Which brings me to another point: if you can, stay the night. Taketomi might not boast with an exciting night life, but if you want to enjoy some of the most gorgeous sunsets and starry skies, then you should book yourself a room in one of the island's minshukus.
These small traditional guesthouses have a very unique charm in their simplicity and allow you to experience the probably most quiet night you will ever have. The island goes silent after nightfall, with only the cicada singing their songs and the stars sparkling above your head. Due to the fact that there is practically no light pollution at all, you can see the star constellations clear and sharp!
Before you pack your bags and rush off to this gorgeous paradise island, here are a few things you should know:
Shrines, temples and any places that are considered holy are completely off-limits! Do not enter them, or you might be expelled from the island! Please take this seriously!
There are no convenience stores or vending machines. The island's local shop is tiny and only opens for a few hours, so either get your supplies before you come to Taketomi or make sure you stock up before the shop closes.
There is no bank and no money exchange. Make sure you get enough cash before heading to Taketomi.
It gets extremely hot and humid during summer, so make sure you stay hydrated and rest in the shade during the hottest hours of the day!
Be aware that Taketomi and all the surrounding islands do experience typhoons, so please make sure in advance if a typhoon is heading your way and take precautions!