The KERAMA ISLANDS (慶良間諸島) are the closest group to Naha, lying some 30km offshore. A knot of three large, inhabited islands and numerous pinpricks of sand and coral, the Keramas offer some of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches in Okinawa and superb diving among the offshore reefs. Zamami-jima (座間味島) is a sleepy place home to mere hundreds of people, yet has recently become hugely popular with international tourists thanks to the recent boom in winter whale-watching, as well as the demise of ferries heading from Naha to Miyako and the Yaeyamas – many travellers are now choosing the Keramas over costly flights south.
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Dogs and dolphins
Dogs and dolphins
Zamami-jima has sourced much of its fame from the animal kingdom. The millions of fish enjoyed by divers (and diners at local restaurants) are an obvious draw, but dogs and whales have also made their mark. Historically, whaling was an important part of the local economy, but in the 1960s the whales disappeared and the industry died. Then, towards the end of the last century, the humpbacks started coming back to their winter breeding grounds – which the locals have been quick to exploit, though this time for tourism rather than hunting (see Whale-watching). In addition, most young Japanese associate the Keramas with the cutesy 1988 film I Want to See Marilyn. Based on a true story, it tells of a romance between two dogs on neighbouring islands: Shiro on Aka-jima, and Marilyn some 3km away on Zamami. They met when Shiro travelled to Zamami in his owner’s boat, but the passion was such that he started swimming over every day to rendezvous with Marilyn on Zamami’s Ama beach – or so the story goes. So enduring is this story that the pup’s supposed route is often featured on local maps.