48 Hours In Ishigaki, Japan
2:00pm—Check into Hotel Cucule
A one-minute walk from the bus terminal, five-minute walk from the main ferry terminal and steps away from the historical 730 crossing (which commemorates the day that Okinawa switched back from driving on the right-hand side of the road to the left), Hotel Cucule is one of the best-located hotels in Ishigaki, especially if you don't plan on renting a car.
Bright, comfortable and cosy, the rooms are spacious and minimally decorated—we especially loved the eco-friendly initiative for guests to opt-out of daily housekeeping in exchange for a free gift upon checkout. With a restaurant located on the ground floor, spa on the second floor offering lymphatic and hot stone massage, and a panoramic rooftop garden where you can enjoy the sunrise and sunset, Hotel Cucule offers much more than a hotel room.
7:00pm—Dinner at Hitoshi
You’ll be lucky to walk into Hitoshi and get a seat without making a reservation, as it’s ranked number one for sushi on Ishigaki island. Packed on most nights, local Okinawan specialities include a bitter melon stir-fry, peanut tofu with soy sauce, Mozuku seaweed (a slipper, stringy form of local seaweed best served in tempura form) and “intertwined noodles served in uni source” (translation: noodles in a creamy, uni soup base).
9:30pm—Drinks at Cafe Taniwha
Come to Cafe Taniwha as a stranger, leave as a local. This unpretentious bar in Ishigaki is a cafe/pub/bar/live music venue all rolled into one where locals and travellers alike can come together and trade stories, either with one another or with the two adorable owners who also happen to be a couple, Kuri-san and Fusa-san.
Grab a beer, wine, awamori cocktail, dessert or coffee, and while away the hours getting to know the other interesting personalities at Cafe Taniwha. Hungry? The cafe also serves comfort food from a menu featuring doodles by the owner’s daughter—choose from Japanese spaghetti, curries and homemade desserts.
8:00am—Diving with Prime Scuba Ishigaki
Get up bright and early for a day of diving with Prime Scuba Ishigaki, one of the top-rated dive operators on Ishigaki island. Operating since 2013, they offer full-day dive cruises on their 60-foot cruiser, the Blue Swan, taking divers to the famed manta points of Kabira Bay but also to other Yaeyama islands including Taketomi and Iriomote.
Diving is available year-round in Ishigaki and you can choose from two or three dives a day—be sure to opt for the latter to increase your chances of seeing manta rays (especially from spring through autumn). Not sure what to expect? The Prime Scuba Ishigaki crew keep a dive log on their website, posting daily highlights of the underwater life they’ve spotted. The Blue Swan can also be chartered for private dive trips for up to 16 people.
6:00pm—Massage at Hammock Tonoshiro
A full day of diving can be exhausting, so recharge with a pampering foot and body massage at Hammock Tonoshiro. Located near the main post office of Ishigaki, this Japanese spa offers facials, foot and body massage for both men and women in a clean and calming environment. Relax to the sound of birdsong while the masseuses knead away all your knots, and finish with a cup of hot tea before stepping back out into Ishigaki city.
8:00pm—Dinner at Usagiya
Arrive hungry at Usagiya, one of the liveliest places for dinner in Ishigaki. The restaurant champions traditional Okinawan cooking (must-tries include the sweet potato 'pick-up sticks', bitter gourd (goya) juice with pineapple and local tofu salad) but the real draw here is the entertainment, with live performances every night at 7 and 9pm.
Performing local Okinawan songs with 'Saishin' (aka. snakeskin) guitars, the entertainers incorporate easy-to-repeat phrases into their numbers to get everyone involved—clapping, singing and eventually on their feet. Complemented by the live dancers and drummers jumping around in traditional uniform, it's a rambunctious scene that makes for an unforgettable night out in Ishigaki.
11:00am—Brunch at Re:Hellow Beach
Wake up and head seaside for Re:Hellow Beach Island Vegetable Cafe, a vibrant restaurant serving colourful plates of Japanese curries, taco rice and fresh-off-the-grill waffles with fruit and tofu ice cream. Not only is this place extremely Instagrammable (popular spots include the wiry wooden arch out back and the paint splat signage), they also have a giant-sized (working) Gameboy at the entrance with plenty of interesting items for sale at their shop.
1:30pm—Shopping at the public market
After lunch, it's time to pick up some Ishigaki souvenirs at the local public market. We recommend anything with purple yam in it, and if you're a fan of bitter gourd, look for the bitter gourd sour cream puffs (similar to cheese puffs but without the cheese). Other great buys include Awamori liquor, Ishigaki coarse salt, Chinsuko shortbread crackers and Sata andagi, a type of Japanese donut.
4:00pm—Purple yam ice cream
You can't leave Ishigaki without trying the local purple yam ice cream, and one of the best spots to do so is at this nondescript corner shop near Ishigaki City Hall. Creamy, sweet and full of purple yam chunks, this is a treat you won't easily find elsewhere.
For those less into the violet vegetable, choose from different fruits to mix into your soft-serve (mango, banana, etc.) or opt for the local Okinawan brown sugar option. Either way, a visit to this adorable cat-themed soft-serve ice cream shop will make sure your Ishigaki trip ends on a sweet note.
See also: A Food Lover's Guide To Ishigaki