Iriomote is an island of untouched natural beauty that can be seen by swimming, biking, kayaking, driving, and hiking. Iriomote Island is often refrred to as to “Galapagos of Japan”, because of its rich mangrove woods. In fact, the 130km circumference island is a national park and environmentally protected. The population is living along the coast line from the nort-west to the south. In the north you will find a fantastic beach, hoshisuna (star sand), but just like on Taketomi Island, star sand is hard to find. Take a boat tour on the rivers into the island up to stunning waterfalls and listen to the voices of nature. It takes just 40 minutes on the boat from Ishigaki port.
Iriomote Island which floats on the sea 25km from Ishigaki Island with a periphery of 75km, has the second largest area next to mainland Okinawa. 90%of that land is a mountainous region covered with sublropical primeval forests and several animals and plants including the “Iriomote Wildcat”, a special national treasure, have been identified as valuable treasury by the national park. With such vast nature as a background the “Iriomote School” has been opened in the eastern and western regions.
The eastern region is where you can enjoy visiting the Nakama River which proudly has the largest mangrove forest in Japan and the Yubu Island Tropical Nature Botanical Garden where the water buffalo wagons cross the shallow part of the ocean. In the western region, the largest river in Okinawa, the “Urauchi River”, 17.5km long, and beyond this the Mariyudo Waterfall and the Kanpire Waterfall can be seen. Each school, which is surrounded by its distinct natural environment and lifestyle, provides a variety of programs including the “Nature Experience”, the “Cultural Experience”, and (the “Agricultural Experience”.
After paddling on the canoe for a time, a magnificent Mangrove and a subtropical forest along with the scent of deep forest will draw near with an overpowering force. Promoting a healthy life-style, the Iriomote School, gives you an opportunity to develop such a state of well being, with the surrounding vast nature.
The Nature Experience – Canoe & Trekking/ Night Tour/ Diving / Snorkeling /Fishing
The Nakama River, which harbors the biggest mangrove forest in Japan, and the Urauchi River, which is the longest river in Okinawa, flow through the island. The programs in which you can enjoy canoeing across the river at the entrance to the deep forest and trekking through the virgin forests have become very popular. In addition, diving and snorkeling programs where you can see colorful fish and the night tours where you can enjoy observing fireflies under the stars, are also available.
The Agricultural Experience – The Sugarcane Harvesting Experience/ The Tropical Fruit Harvesting Experience
The harvesting of sugarcane, which is one of the main staples of the island, begins around November. Tropical fruit such as Mangos and Passion Fruits are harvested in the summer. Experience the daily life of the island through this agricultural experience.
The Cultural Experience – The Pottery Experience/ The Weaving Experience / The Glass Making Experience
The plants on the island are used as dye material for colorfully dyeing cloth and the soil of the island turns into very good quality clay that can be used for making pottery. The textiles and pottery that are made from natural ingredients and traditional handcrafted glass. Try using your hands while enjoying talking to the people of the island.
Located right next to the Nirakanai Sanctuary Resort and is in Urauchi Bay. It is said that the beach talks as you walk on it. This is due to the fact that the sand “squeaks” as they rub against each other.
Iriomote Onsen / Underwoter Tour Boat (Umieru)/ Yubu Island Tour / Nakama River Tour / Iriomote Wild Animal Protection Center/ Tool Making:
Take a canoe ride down this river and experience the largest mangrove forest in all of Japan. See: Nakama river nature conservation district, Nakama first shell mound, Nakama second shell mound
Mariyudo Waterfall/ Kanpire Waterfall
Both waterfalls are located upriver on the Urauchi River. Kanpire falls is located about 250 meters downriver from the Mariyudo waterfall. Details: Maryudo (Mayudo or Mariyudo) and Kanpiree (Kanpire) Waterfall
Look at Corals on an Underwater Tour Boat
In the area around Ishigaki and Iriomote Islands, there are 356 types of beautiful corals living in the sea. Look at some Table Corals aboard the underwater tour boat.
Learn about the endangered species
If you go to the Iriomote Wild Animal Protection Center, you can take your time in learning about the nature and daily lives of the people of Iriomote, as well as the ecology of such endangered species as the Iriomote Wildcat.
Build toys at an old traditional home
Try building some hand made toys, learning from some local people at an old, traditional residence. Such things as snakes, horses and insect cages made of Kuba and Adan leaves make great souvenirs.
Yubu Island Paradise
Yubu Island is located about 400m from Iriomote Island. Daily tours feature an ox-cart ride to the island. In addition to the many flowering plants on the island, you will also have the chance to see a tropical plant garden, a butterfly garden, and a fruit garden. This island is worth the small trip. You can get to Yubu Island, which floats on the sea about 400 meters west of Iriometo Island, aboard a wagon that takes you across the shallow waters, towed by a water buffalo. The island is full of tropical flowers year round and there is a tropical plant garden that contains a butterfly garden and a fruit garden. Also see: Yubu Island tropical plant paradise and Tideland of Yubu Island
Iriomote Onsen – Take a bath in the Forest
In the middle of the subtropical forest surrounded by “Hego” trees is Japan’s southern most hot spring, “Iriomote Onsen” and indoor and outdoor bath, sauna, and pool, are provided. More: Iriomote Onsen (Hot spring Spa)
For athletes out there, you may also be interested in running the Iriomote Yamaneko Marathon. It is called the Yamaneko Marathon because “Yamaneko” is an indigenous type of cat which lives on the island. It looks like a mix between a lynx, a leopard, and a domestic cat. The race usually takes place sometime in February. The race has a 23km course as well as a 10km course. The race course scenery is beautiful. The race after party features two huge boats of “sashimi” or raw fish which are brought in to the room. It is then a free-for-all as everyone grabs whatever they can hold. The after party lineup features great performers as well as a last song in which everyone gets up and dances on the stage. It is quite an experience.
Shitsu matsuri (Festival)
An interesting festival to see is the Shitsumatsuri which takes place on beaches throughout the island. It takes places in November and has been named as a Nationally Designated Immaterial Cultural Asset. It is a ritual for the arriving god called Mayunganas. The festival starts with a parade from town and makes its way to the beach area. After getting down to the beach, you may have to wait a short time while speeches are made. After these speeches are finished, the festival will start to get interesting. Groups from different areas of town will perform dances and songs. Exciting one-on-one staged fighting is an exciting part of this festival. Last, boaters will get into canoes and row out into the harbor while singing. After finishing one circle around the harbor they will come back to the beach. The next time out will be a race. The villagers will all gather on the beach and start dancing and yelling. The race starts and yelling continues until the winner is announced. Shitsumatsuri is an interesting and colorful festival to watch. The festival is unique to Yaeyama because it is held on the beach.
River Kayaking and “Sagaribana Viewing”
The Sagaribana tree (Botanical name: Barringtonia racemosa) thrives in the areas surrounding Iriomote’s rivers. It’s blooming flowers give off a unique sweet scent which fills the air. This scent is used to attract pollinating insects. The flowers begin to slowly bloom at night and then fall off in the morning.
If you can wake up early enough (4am departure), you can see these flowers falling before the tide takes them away. You will need to ride sea-kayaks or canoes to get to the area where the blossoms can be seen. There are two different types of sagaribana that can be seen on Ishigaki. There are pink and white types which can be seen on Iriomote.
There are numerous companies on Iriomote that offer guided eco-tours to see this beautiful plant. Sagaribana can best be seen during the months of June and July.