Miyako-jima is situated a short trip down from the Okinawan mainland and as with most of this prefecture, is home to fantastic beaches, great snorkeling, diving and above all things drinking – being home to the infamous Otori “communication” drinking.
Miyako does support its own airport and therefore is easily accessible, a 45-minute flight from Naha (~\11500 single), or a 25-minute flight from Ishigaki (~\7000 single) with flights going regularly throughout the day. It is also served by two ferries a week connecting Naha and Ishigaki (around \5000). Both the airport and the ferry port are situated very close to the main town of Hirara.
Beaches of Miyako
This beach, also close to the city of Hirara, is an excellent spot for doing some underwater sightseeing with snorkel and fins. Sunayama is also a white sand beach with its trademark natural arch that has found its way into many travel guidebooks. Sunayama beach is located northeast of Hirara and is most easily reached by car or take in the scenery of the Miyakan landscape which makes beautiful backdrop for a quiet bike ride.
Painagama beach is located in the heart of Hirara City. It’s a beautiful, white sand beach that overlooks the harbor, where ships leaving Hirara Port are a common site.
Yoshino is the one of the best places in Miyako for snorkeling. Please enjoy the beautiful fish. When you visit Yoshino, be sure to say hello to Ojisan, a pleasant old man who spends his days talking with tourists and showing them how to make keitai straps using nothing more than some string and seashells. Yoshino is located in the southeast part of Miyako.
Maehama is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Japan, and it’s claim to fame is that it’s the longest white sand beach in Japan. This is a popular beach among the ALT’s here in Miyako. It’s a great spot for fun in the sun including things like: beach volleyball, soccer, and frisbee.
Miyako is probably best known as the host of the annual All-Japan Strongman Triathlon. This competition, going in to its 20th year now, is held every April and is a very significant event for the island. Japanese and international triathletes compete, are surely insane for voluntarily putting themselves through this torture – 3km swim, 155km bike and then a 42.195km marathon no less! The atmosphere in Miyako in the weeks leading up to the triathlon is great – there is a definite air of excitement as the banners of support are erected around the course and all the international pro-athletes are sighted around the island (easy to spot- they’re not Japanese and they’re not ALTs). Many Miyakans are involved in the triathlon, whether in a volunteering or supporting capacity or as an actual competitor, which brings a real sense of community to this international event. Even the snack girls are involved, handing out drinks at the aid stations! And as the competitors finish the race at the Hirara sports ground, the drinking parties commence. Sports island Miyako may be, but that never gets in the way of a good piss-up! If you do plan to visit Miyako for the triathlon, be warned, you do need to book your travel arrangements way in advance.
“Miyako Matsuri” (Miyako Festival) is held in the latter half of July each year. There is a carnival style parade through Hirara City, giving the spectators the chance to see traditional Miyakan costumes and dances, and of course the newly crowned “Miss Miyako” -a special day indeed for one lucky lady, who no doubt wants world peace and to work with under privileged children. (I digress.) The parade ends and the drinking begins at Kamamine Park. The date of the festival varies but is either the 3rd or 4th weekend in July. This is closely followed by the Orion Beer festival, one or two weeks later. No prizes for guessing what happens there.
In late May, early June, the Maehama Beach Volleyball Tournament attracts some of the best teams in Asia. JET representation will be in need of some support, so please come!
Feed me Miyako, feed me now!
If hunger pains happen to hit you while walking on the streets of Miyako-jima on a Friday night at around 10:30 pm, the best stop to make would be at PIZZA DORAKU. Every week, the Miyako JETs meet up for “special sets” of pizza, chicken wings and draft beer, all for ï¿¥1000. Be sure to stick around late enough for Kouchi-san to finish up the evening chores and to bring out the awamori for several rounds of free otori! From this point on, some Miyako JETs may be sober enough to recommend some good digs around town (see Mike`s guide to snacking).
To head directly for some more unusual dishes, go to NANRAKU on Nishizato-dori for grilled horse meat, squid-ink soup, or grilled rice balls with an array of colourful toppings. Down the street, BEEMA BEEMA probably has the most delicious all-round menu (although slightly limited), and most Miyako JETs order their rich pastas and salads when they crave non-Japanese food. Their menu is also in English, and the staff is incredibly welcoming to foreigners. CHUZAN, situated on Matida-dori close to the ferry port, is a destination for fresh shrimp spring rolls, Korean bibinba, and deep-fried ‘shira’ fish. Although it is situated out of town (near Best Denki) and the menu listing may not look unusual, BUNCHAN is very popular with the locals because of the robust and satisfying food. My favourite are the nigiri with a 5 cm long sashimi laid on top of a dollop of rice (the perfect proportion, I think!). The potato fries are unusually tasty too, but if you opt for something healthier, try the nigana salad (spinach-like leavesï½¤tofu miso)
If you crave traditional Japanese dishes like tempura, sashimi, and miso soup, SHIKISHIMA and SAKURATE are popular restaurants, although they are reserved for more formal and expensive parties. SHIKISHIMA is famous for their eel dishes, and only a few locals know about the cheaper lunch set at SAKURATE for ï¿¥1000 (compare to ï¿¥3000 for dinner).
For those going on a date or with a small group of friends, I recommend JAKARANDA. It’s a bit out of the main town, but worth the time to visit Honda-san, who lived in New York for 16 years, who specializes in health foods, and practices for triathlons – this consequently showing in his well-prepared, healthy dishes. The menu constantly changes but is essentially Western-infused Japanese tapas. Be prepared to pay a bit more for the experience, though!
Finally, sitting among all the snack bars and drinking holes is KOJYA SOBA. They serve enormous portions of Miyako, curry, and tempura soba, not to mention the other 20 different varieties of this well-loved noodle. Great for hangovers! Well, that does it! If you are still a bit reluctant about walking in these places, I won’t say no to a free meal in exchange for a personal restaurant guide! Happy feeding!