Things to do in Ikei-Jima, Okinawa

As I mentioned in my previous post, Ikei Island (or Jima, as ‘island’ is called in Japanese) is quite remote, and once upon a time used to be even more remote, long before it was ever connected to the main island of Okinawa, or the nearby islands of Miyagi Jima, Henza Jima, or Hamahiga, and, more importantly, long before it was even part of Japan.

Now, a series of bridges connects them all, but these tiny islands are still rural, quiet, peaceful, and seem to be mostly untouched.

The iconic bridge connecting the chain of islands, with shisa protecting them
More beautiful coastline

Because of Ikei Jima’s remoteness, the coastline is absolutely pristine, development seems to be at a minimal, and there are even a few indigenous sites that you can visit to see how people used to live, once upon a time.

Farmland right behind the hotel

First up, and a stone’s throw from AJ Resort, is the Nakabaru Village, which dates back almost 2500 years, revealing a lifestyle dependent on fishing and agriculture. The huts at Nakabaru really look like little Hobbit Houses, and no doubt the residents 2500 years ago were small people, because there was no way my big modern meat-eating healthy body was getting through that tiny earthen doorway.

Entrance to Nakabaru
Good luck squeezing in — I couldn’t!

Also nearby is Innaga, an area where a series of steep stone steps lead you down a steep cliff to what was once a natural well, and where the residents of the island collected fresh drinking water. The water is still flowing, but today of course this hard work has been replaced by modern conveniences. I can’t imagine how people used to go down those tiny stone steps to tote buckets of water back to their villages. There’s a beautiful beach below, but the Japanese government has done a great job of dumping as many pieces of giant concrete structures along the waterfront as they possibly can. (Goddammit does the Japanese government love excessive infrastructure projects.)

View from Innaga with lots and lots of concrete

There is a tiny lighthouse, and just behind the lighthouse is a tiny shrine, which my husband found very fascinating because the stone tablets by the little shrine seemed to say something along the lines of ‘the boys get sperm from the gods, and the girls get eggs from the gods, and together they make magic babies’. It also had another inscription which apparently said that if you pray there you can get forgiveness/peace for abortions.

The lighthouse
The shrine

After leaving Ikei-jima and crossing over to ‘the mainland’, we bought some bento box lunch and had a little picnic at a beautiful spot facing Yabuchi-jima. Again, if only we had been there in the heat of summer, I would have stripped off my clothes and jumped into that beautiful water in a heartbeat. I dipped my toes in but it was freezing. I’ll have to go back in July for sure.

“Ah yes this shall be mine one day”
Say ‘bento’!

And the last touristy thing to do was visiti Katsuren Castle, or Katsuren-Jo, located up on a big hill which has great views overlooking both the east and west coasts of the peninsula. There was a lot of construction going on at the castle (as I mentioned, the Japanese love construction projects), so it was hard to get a clear picture of the castle ruins without orange tape and pilons. But, I managed to get a few.

Katsuren-Jo is one of the nine World Heritage Sites in Okinawa, and part of the collection of castles of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which ruled over the islands of Okinawa from the 15th to the 19th century, prior to the islands of Okinawa being annexed by Japan. The most famous castle on Okinawa is of course Shuri Castle, located in Naha.

Katsuren-Jo is cool to visit if you happen to be staying in Uruma or Ikei-jima, though it isn’t something that I’d drive an hour to see, to be honest. There are castles all over Okinawa so wherever you are staying you can find a castle nearby to visit, if that kind of thing floats your boat.

Exterior of the castle grounds

The iconic Katsuren limestone
Tiny (and slippery) stone steps

 

All in all, I’d say Ikei-jima is a great place to stay, and in case you haven’t read my previous post, you must stay in the beautiful, amazing AJ Resort on Ikei-jima.  I can’t tell you how depressed I was to leave Okinawa and return to Hong Kong. I can’t seem to stop sighing. But, being only a two-hour flight away, I’m sure we’ll be back again soon.

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