Most of us will have preconceptions of various travel destinations, with Japan you often associate cherry blossom trees, sushi and geishas as things you will see or do, but would you count tropical islands? It is, until recently, a hidden part that many people outside of Asia have yet to discover.
Having travelled in Japan on a two-week trip all the way from Sapporo to Tokyo then Kyoto, Nagasaki and eventually ending up in Okinawa I really am amazed that the country functions so well, (I guess they are used to it) but for me I haven’t been delayed once so punctuality enabled me to plan pretty much everything I wanted to see. Thankfully this included taking a ferry/boat, as I was staying in Naha; and quite frankly couldn’t wait to leave, I opted to take the ferry to one of the closer smaller islands called Zamami to see a different side of the country.
Personally, I felt like I was in the South Pacific as it was so beautiful without even trying! However, this isn’t somewhere I’d personally go for one week as there wouldn’t be enough to do, but that’s just my personal preference and as there’s limited resources on Zamami I think I would struggle in terms of food but thankfully there are a few hotel options for you to stay overnight and island hop.
Ferry to Zamami Islands
There’s thankfully a high-speed and regular passenger ferry that operate daily, even in winter, however their operating times change every month so this is why I’ve chosen not to publish the one I went on. Typically, the high-speed catamaran will leave Naha twice a day, whereas the regular ferry will only do one round-trip.
You can either reserve your tickets in advance or buy on the day, but either way you will still have to visit the ticket office on the day to collect/purchase. The counter opens from 8am sharp, there’s usually quite a queue so try to get there early and fill in the form that’s just to the left of the counter.
The high-speed ferry was fast, clean and arrives in 50 minutes whilst the regular ferry has much more space to move around and takes 1.5 hours but is quite a nice crossing and you’ll see far more so maybe try to do it one way and the other the way back. Please note that if you do this you’ll need to buy your ticket as soon as you arrive at Zamami Island.
What to see?
Well, this isn’t Disneyland, you will however pretty much have the pick of several beaches that will likely be completely empty and a few of these will have diving or snorkelling options but be aware of some of various creatures of the deep.
When we arrived in Zamami, we hopped straight off the boat and ventured towards Furuzamami Beach. It doesn’t take very long, maybe 20 minutes or so, but there’s an initial steep hill out of the village and then a turn off down towards a dive centre. If you go beyond this it ends up being a dirt track road, follow this and thankfully before you get to the beach you’ll encounter some incredible wildlife including butterflies, many birds and even a deer if you’re lucky. It’s only a few more minutes walk but you’ll begin to hear the relaxing sound of the waves swooshing against the shore and then before you know it you’ll see those beautiful turquoise waters that Japan has been hiding.
There’s several places, including the point in which you cannot swim as either the current is too strong or there’s too many rocks making it dangerous to get in the water. I even dipped my toe in but before I knew it the patrol boat was shouting at me “no swim, no swim”! Aye, alright, I thought.
After relaxing for about an hour, with almost the entire beach to ourselves, my partner and I decided it was time to explore some more of this relatively small island, so we took ourselves back to the village where we stopped off at the local cafe/fishmongers and had ourselves a local ice-cream. This was definitely needed, the sun is incredibly strong here so make sure you hydrate.
The village here is very small, but has plenty of history to tell. This was one of the first sovereign Japanese places to be invaded by the Americans during World War 2 before previously being used by the Chinese as a safe place to dock if the sea was rough between Japan and China. There is a strong fishing community here, but thankfully many of its residents are turning to tourism including whale watching, sea kayaking and wildlife watching as the islands boast an array of rare birds, Kerama deer and even sea turtles.
Before we had to headed back to Naha we thought we’d see what Ama Beach was like, sadly it’s much more sport-orientated and is much busier but that’s likely because it is safe to swim in the sea here.
There’s plenty of other islands to explore in Japan, many of which have good flight connections from either Tokyo, Osaka or Naha. I can’t wait to get back and explore some more.
If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. I also visited Fukushima’s Exclusion Zone whilst visiting Japan, be sure to check out my blog article here. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.
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