Just before six o’clock each evening, the tiny island of Taketomi-jima (竹富島) undergoes a profound, magical transformation. This is the time of the last ferry back to Ishigaki-jima – after that, you’re marooned, but there are few better places to be stuck. Just over 1km wide and home to fewer than three hundred people, the island’s population swells during the day with folk eager to see its traditional houses, ride on buffalo-drawn carts and search lovely sandy beaches for the famous minuscule star-shaped shells. When the day-trippers are safely back in Ishigaki, those who have chosen to stay on will have Taketomi almost to themselves – it’s possible to walk its dirt paths at night for hours on end without seeing a single soul.
There’s only one village on Taketomi – also called TAKETOMI (竹富) – and it’s a beauty. Practically all its houses are built in traditional bungalow style with low-slung terracotta-tiled roofs, crowned with bug-eyed shiisā. Surrounding them are rocky walls, draped with hibiscus and bougainvillea: these are the ishigaki that gave a certain neighbouring island its name, yet these days they’re far more prevalent on Taketomi.