HOW IS THIS JAPAN?
Sure, Tokyo and Osaka can be dazzling, flashing electronic signs a constant backdrop. But here in the Yaeyama Islands, kaleidoscopic views are natural and disappear each day following heart-melting syrupy sunsets into thick, silent black.
We land with a gentle bump on a tiny airport. This is Ishigaki, the first port of call for those exploring the Yaeyama Islands and a proud tropical getaway in its own right. The archipelago contains Japan’s southernmost and westernmost inhabited islands. This is as far as you can get from Japan’s main islands and the difference is palpable. Once out of the airport’s pocket office-sized arrivals hall, we wind our way through narrow roads divided by tall sugarcane, just one of Ishigaki’s many cultural treasures. The brown sugar it produces is prized for its high mineral content and during our stay we would find it packaged and portable as candy, syrup, cubes, jagged crystals, in cookies and desserts and ice cream.
There’s not a Hello Kitty insight. Instead, you’re more likely to spot Shisa, mythical half lion half dogs employed, despite their wide-eyed cuteness, to ward off evil spirits.They stand to attention in pairs at gateways and porches, and two bronzed creatures welcomed us at the entrace of the InterContinental-Ana Ishigaki Resort Hotel, our home for the next four nights.
Now accessible via frequent flights from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and 60 minutes from Okinawa’s Naha airport, foreigners are beginning to sample this hidden gem that the Japanese have quietly savoured for years. The sprawling hotel rises like a white pyramid from the fields of cane and has everything anyone would need to unwind and enjoy a slice of island life.
WELCOME TO WELLNESS
From the lobby, multi-level glass windows afford views over manicured grounds, dotted here and there with hammocks and cushions. Each stylish room overlooks the same soothing views and is an immediate cushion of comfort. Daytime action takes place mostly around an indoor and outdoor pool with slide, and beyond that, Maesato beach, where wispy sea foam brushes the sandy stretch of coastline and the sea is as clear as glass. You can take snorkel trips out over the coral, or a take an underwater sea walk from this point too.
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September - October 2019