Star-sand beaches to pad along, waterfalls tumbling down emerald mountains, and not a soldier in sight…it’s no wonder that even Okinawans go misty-eyed when talking about the YAEYAMA ISLANDS (八重山諸島). Japan finally fizzles out at this far-flung spray of semi-tropical islets, 430km south of Okinawa-Hontō and almost 3000km from northern Hokkaidō, and those lucky enough to make it this far are in for quite a finale. The bad news is that the Yaeyamas are no longer accessible by ferry, meaning that you’ll have to take a flight from Naha or the mainland – but it’s worth it, especially if you’re into diving, hiking, kayaking or meeting “alternative” Japanese.
Most flights arrive at Ishigaki-jima, the most populous Yaeyama island by far. Travellers tend to base themselves here for convenience, but while Ishigaki has its charms, you’d be mad to come this far and not go that little bit further – a fifteen-minute ferry-ride away is tiny Taketomi-jima, essentially a freeze-frame of traditional Ryūkyū life, while a little further away is Iriomote-jima, almost entirely cloaked with jungle and about as wild as Japan gets. Even more remote are Hateruma-jima, to the south, and Yonaguni-jima, stuck out on its own between Ishigaki and Taiwan.