One has to feel sorry for the MIYAKO ISLANDS. Centred around Miyako-jima (宮古島), this small cluster boasts some of the best beaches in all Japan, but these are graced by precious few international visitors. Long overshadowed by Zamami-jima and the Yaeyama group, its appeal took another knock with the closure of ferry services to Naha and Ishigaki, making Miyako an expensive add-on to an Okinawan tour. However, it remains a time-out favourite with mainland Japanese, some of whom stay for weeks or months on end, chalking off beach after beach and dive after dive.
The flat, triangular-shaped island of Miyako-jima is roughly 35km from tip to tip – its most immediately notable aspect is field after field of sugar cane. HIRARA (平良), the main town, lies on the island’s northwest coast, from where roads fan out through the fields.