Miyakojima (Miyako Island) is a scenic Japanese island located about 186 miles south of Okinawa Island. Famous for its breathtaking beaches, many tourists visit Miyakojima to snorkel and dive around its coral reefs. The island possesses a rich culture and many unique traditions worth experiencing.
Cycling the island, in particular, is a fantastic experience thanks to the flat terrain and beautiful sights.
The Beaches of Miyakojima
Miyako Island is home to some of Japan’s most beautiful and tranquil beaches. Visitors worldwide (especially from China) flock to Miyakojima to snorkel, and scuba dive along the scenic coast.
And thanks to the island’s mild climate, tourists can enjoy these locations year-round. In 2019 alone, it averaged around 1 million visitors annually.
Below, we cover some of the most popular beaches on the island in detail:
Yoshino Beach is the premiere snorkeling destination on Miyakojima.
This stretch of sand is pretty tiny at only about 1640 feet long. However, the abundance of flora and fauna below the water makes up for the small size.
Thanks to the abundant coral reefs, waves at the beach rarely get rough. So, snorkeling is especially easy and peaceful. Visitors can expect to see all sorts of vibrant tropical fish swimming among the seaweed and coral. Occasionally, sea turtles will also glide through the crystal clear waters.
Yoshino Beach is an excellent location for families to visit. Groups can rent kayaks and paddle over the colorful reefs and sea creatures together.
Tourists can reach the beach by car in around 30 minutes from Miyako Airport.
Yonaha Maehama Beach
Yonaha Maehama Beach is one of the world’s most stunning white-sand beaches. Many visitors even claim that the ground looks like snow.
Since the coast faces West, tourists can kick back and relax in the fine powdery sand while watching the sun descend behind an endless horizon. Those who experience the Yonaha in the afternoon often consider it among the best places to watch a sunset in the world.
The beach also boasts clear turquoise water that’s perfect for snorkeling.
In addition to the natural beauty, tourists can enjoy the culture of Miyakojima at Yonaha. The island hosts an annual “Strongman” triathlon that visitors may watch or join.
Tourists can reach the beach via car or taxi from Miyako Airport in 10 to 15 minutes.
Sightseers can find the peaceful Sunayama Beach in the Northwest of Miyakojima Island.
Sunayama’s most iconic feature is a rock arch located at the end of the beach. This formation is the result of the ocean eroding exposed coral reefs over the course of centuries.
The walk to the beach takes visitors through an ethereal subtropical forest. There are plenty of opportunities to photograph interesting plants and wildlife on this path.
Once visitors reach the beach, white sand and deep blue waters will greet them. The coral reefs make for excellent snorkeling and diving, much like Miyakojima’s other beaches.
From Miyako Airport, Sunayama Beach is only around 15 minutes away by car or taxi.
History of Miyakojima
The early history of Miyako Island was full of strife. Around the 1300s, numerous powerful clans began forming on the island and warring for dominance.
However, the Ryukyu kingdom eventually absorbed the island. And by 1637, the new Ryukyu government imposed a capital tax on the islanders.
A now-famous stone pillar known as Nintôzei-Seki was how officials decided who got taxed on the island. Citizens would have to stand next to this stone, and only those who were shorter than it was exempt from paying the taxes.
Today you can still visit this pillar on the island, but the veracity of its use for taxing is disputed.
The Ryukyu Kingdom was annexed by the Empire of Japan in 1879, officially making Miyakojima part of Okinawa Prefecture.
Despite the island’s idyllic appearance, it’s prone to natural disasters. Throughout its history, the Miyakoan people survived numerous severe droughts and strong tropical typhoons.
A History of Hospitality
The people of Miyako Island are renowned for their hospitality due to a famous shipwreck that occurred near the island.
In 1873, the German schooner R. J. Robertson ran aground off the coast of Ueno Village on Miyako Island. The sailors, marooned far from home, were in desperate need of help.
Thankfully, the kind and brave islanders rowed out to the ship and saved the entire crew. Upon reaching land, the people of Miyakojima took care of the Germans until they could safely leave a month later.
The Emperor of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm I, was deeply touched by the generosity of the islanders. So moved was the emperor that he ordered the creation of a monument in thanks to Miyakojima.
This stone tribute has stood on Miyako Island since 1876 and is a local tourist attraction in Hirara.
The islanders of Miyakojima later built an additional monument in 1936 to symbolize friendship between Japan and Germany. And in 1987, the Ueno German Culture Village was constructed near this second site.
Points of Interest on Miyakojima
While many revere Miyakojima for its beaches, there is much more to the island than its coast. Tourists can visit its numerous sites to get a better idea of the island’s history and culture:
- Ueno German Culture Village – Built near the R. J. Robertson shipwreck site, this park features a replica of Marksburg Castle in Germany. The replica castle is also a museum filled with German artifacts.
- Ikema Bridge – This nearly mile-long (4675 foot) bridge connects Miyako Island to Ikema Island. Cyclists and motorists can see emerald and turquoise waters shimmering below as they enjoy the tranquil journey across.
- Tomb of Tuyumya – Nakasone Tuyumya is a local legend on the island credited with saving thousands of lives through his diplomacy. Tourists can visit the tomb of him and his family in Hirara for a modest admission fee.
There are numerous other attractions scattered across Miyako Island that are open to visitors. And thanks to the island’s isolated location, these sites rarely get crowded.
Culture and Traditions of Miyakojima
Miyakojima enjoys a unique blend of Ryukyu, Japanese, and local island culture. Additionally, the island has some German influences and monuments owing to the shipwreck of the R. J. Roberston.
Perhaps the most famous and intriguing custom on Miyako Island is an annual festival called Panntu.
The moniker of the event comes from the name of supernatural beings that spread good luck and ward against evil. During the ninth month of the lunisolar calendar, participants dress as Paantu by wearing mossy-appearing costumes and giant wooden masks.
Then, the costumed “Paantu” spread sacred mud on children and newly built homes to protect them. In some of the island’s communities, an Animist Noro (priestess) leads the ceremony.
Miyako Island is also home to a celebratory drinking tradition called Otōri.
A designated Oya, or master of ceremonies, leads the ritual. The Oya gives a speech marking the occasion and then fills a glass with alcohol.
Typically the drink used for the ceremony is an Okinawan spirit known as awamori.
After downing their drink, the Oya then refills the glass for every other person to pass around and partake. After one round, the Oya designates a new master of ceremonies to lead the next round.
Climate of Miyakojima
Miyakojima enjoys mild weather year-round, thanks to its subtropical island climate. Compared to the other Okinawan islands and especially mainland Japan, Miyakojima is very warm and humid.
Even in its coldest season, the island rarely dips below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
The island’s splendid weather is a major reason why Miyakojima is a popular tourist destination. Many consider the beaches to be among the most pleasant in the world.
The downside of their otherwise ideal climate is natural disasters. Miyako Island regularly experiences storms and typhoons. And the damage from them is exacerbated by the island’s flat topography.
Still, the island’s pleasant temperature, kind locals, and idyllic beaches help it stay popular despite the sometimes inclement weather and occasional typhoon.
How to Reach Miyakojima
To directly reach Miyako Island, you’ll have to travel by plane. There are no direct, regular boat trips to Miyakojima for tourists.
Planes fly to Miyako Airport from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Okinawa’s Naha Airport.
The flight from Tokyo takes about 3.5 hours and costs anywhere from ¥35,000 to ¥65,000 ($300 to $570).
Meanwhile, flights from Okinawa take only 50 minutes and cost around ¥8,000 to ¥10,000 ($70 to $90).
The airport is centrally located on a small island, meaning all of Miyakojima’s major destinations are nearby.