Japan – the name is usually followed with a list of cities including Tokyo and Kyoto. The country is a popular tourist destination for those who want to experience advanced toilets, futuristic arcades, action packed anime, colorful fashion and a sense of having submerged into a completely different world. But how many people actually head to Japan for a tropical, white beach, or clear water vacation? -Not enough.

It’s surprising that the lower, smaller tropical islands aren’t more popular amongst tourists. Sure, some people are aware of Okinawa – the Hawaii of Japan. But very few know of the tiny and even more breath-taking island so far south it’s not that far from Taiwan – Ishigaki.

 

This small paradise boasts several gorgeous lighthouses, crystal clear water, and sandy white beaches. It’s a utopia for marine life, making snorkeling and scuba diving an impeccable experience. You can even swim with the golden retriever of the ocean – dolphins – or go diving with mantas!

For those who aren’t as interested in taking a dip, sunset and stargazing kayak tours are also offered. Want a leisurely ride or a gallop along the beach? Ishigaki has it. Fresh fruit stands on the roadside? Ishigaki boasts it. Want to feed and be covered from head to toe with the most adorable monkeys? Ishigaki is there for you. Are you addicted to coffee? Have no fear, coffee shops are near!

And if all the excitement makes you want to withdraw and recharge, you can stay in a variety of resorts with private beaches, swimming pools, and their own programs that will keep you and your kids entertained. If you prefer to save money on lodgings, there’re several cheaper hotels only five minutes from the closest beach.

Basically, anything one would want on a tropical vacation is right here on this little island unknown to most of the world.

The best part about this small paradise? Because it’s not as well known, there are no overcrowded beaches. If you’re there off season you may even get entire beaches to yourself! Don’t want to spend the day simply tanning and swimming? Banana boats, boat cruises, waterskiing and jet skiing are all available for the more adventurous person.

Here are a few tips from one Ishigaki traveler to potentially others.

Unless you’re staying in a resort with shuttles, rent a car. The island is small, but without a vehicle, it is going to be difficult to get around. Trains do not exist, taxis are few and expensive. A car will give you unlimited freedom to get anywhere at any time. You can easily beach hop, visiting multiple sandy shores within a day.

It is an island, so expect island prices for food as well as activities; plan accordingly. If you’re eating downtown, there’s plenty of options: gyoza, ramen, seafood, sashimi, pancakes, and yakiniku, but the more popular restaurants can get crowded, as they are hangout spots for the Islanders. If you haven’t budgeted for activities, then tanning at a beach and renting a snorkeling mask will not only relax you but also barely affect the weight of your wallet.

Be flexible! Weather can be unpredictable. If you booked a sunset tour, but it looks like it will be rainy, the company may contact you asking if they can reschedule to another day for you to get the best experience possible. That goes for any other activity which weather may impair. Not overbooking yourself will help immensely if you need to reschedule.

Don’t speak Japanese? Don’t sweat it. English speaking staff are available at many hotels. Double check with tours to see if they have an English option. In the event where a language barrier occurs, the ever-popular method of pointing and making hand gestures will get you around. Who knows, you might even pick up some Japanese while you’re there!

Though this island is beautiful, avoid going during typhoon season, which spans from August to October. Ishigaki may be a paradise when it’s sunny, but once that typhoon hits, you’ll be faced with a very ugly side of paradise. The storms are so strong even the islanders warn people away.

So, I’ve convinced you to visit this small paradise and you’re ready to go! But how to get to this magical destination?

I recommend flights from within Japan. There are direct routes from Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. Domestic flights can be as cheap as $150 or as expensive as $1000 depending on when and where you book them. Off-season tickets, or one’s purchases in advance, are usually the cheaper option.

How long should you go for? That depends on how long it takes for you to unwind and relax. Four days were enough to explore most of the island and knock out several activities, while having more than enough time to simply lounge on the beach and watch the sunset.

So, what are you waiting for? Next time you visit Japan, take a break and go to Japan’s tropical islands to recharge. Other than relaxing and having the time of your life, you can take home that sun-kissed tan given by the courtesy of a quiet paradise tucked away in the vast ocean.