Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park in Okinawa
Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park consists of Iriomote Island, Ishigaki Island, other islands that punctuate the space in between these islands, and the sea. In addition to subtropical forests, the park is home to mangrove trees growing in the estuary of the Nakama River, the Nagura Anparu wetlands, and elsewhere. The Iriomote wildcat and many other rare wild animals found nowhere else call Iriomote Island home. The largest coral reef in Japan lies in the seas between Taketomi Island and Ishigaki Island.
<Where to see>
A remote island located approximately 31 kilometers (40 minutes by regular ferry) from Ishigakijima, Iriomotejima is the second-largest island in Okinawa Prefecture after the main island of Okinawa. About 90% of the island is covered with subtropical, highly primeval forests that exude an atmosphere of unspoiled wilderness. Endemic species of animals, including the Iriomote wildcat and crested serpent eagle, inhabit this island.
Visitors are invited to participate in one of many eco-tours that are organized here in order to savor the natural environment of Iriomotejima. Traffic accidents are one of the main factors behind the threat posed to the survival of the Iriomote wildcat and other examples of valuable wildlife on the island. Please observe posted speed limits and drive carefully in consideration of the welfare of wild animals on Iriomotejima.
The region in which the headwaters of the Urauchi River, the largest river in Okinawa Prefecture, is located remains one of the finest unspoiled, subtropical, broad-leaved evergreen forests in Japan and the views to be obtained here are some of the best that Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park has to offer. The forest zone largely consists of Castanopsis sieboldii trees. Quercus miyagii Koidz trees grow along low-lying river valley areas while Ficus bengutensis and Machilus japonica trees inhabit river valley areas further upstream. As this region is one in which wild animals and plants endemic to the Yaeyama Islands live and breed, it is also very valuable in an academic sense. Persons wishing to pass through the headwaters region to traverse Iriomotejima will need to submit a notification of forest entry in advance to the forestry office and to the police. In recent years, there have been a number of cases involving mishaps attributed to rashly formulated and executed mountaineering plans. Ensure that your plan allows for a sufficient margin of safety and make sure that you are properly equipped.
There is a mangrove forest by the mouth of the river that can be explored from a pleasure boat or canoe. Navigate your way up to Gunkan-iwa Rock by pleasure boat or canoe and trek for about 1 hour to reach Mariyudu Falls, the only waterfall in Okinawa Prefecture to be selected one of the 100 finest waterfalls in Japan. Walk for a further 5 minutes to come to Kanpire Falls, a sacred site on the island. This course will allow you to survey the fauna and flora inhabiting the various environments extending from the mangrove forest to the mountain streams upriver with ease.
In the upstream sections of the Nakama River, the source of which can be traced back to Mt. Goza-dake, visitors can see a subtropical broad-leaved evergreen forest as well as groves of Ubundoru Yaeyama palm trees, which have been collectively designated a protected natural monument by the national government. Japan's largest mangrove forest, consisting primarily of black mangroves and Yaeyama mangroves, extends along the riverbank from the mouth to the middle reaches of the river and can be explored from a pleasure boat or canoe. Travel up to a disembarkation point upstream to see Japan's largest Heritiera littoralis Dryand tree, said to be four centuries old. Of particular interest is the fact that plate-like buttress roots have been produced to support the trunk of this tree. The Nakamagawa Observatory has been built along a walking trail to afford a fantastic panoramic view of the meandering flow of the Nakama River and the mangrove forest that grows here.
Situated along the upper reaches of the Hinai River, the Pinaisara Falls is the largest waterfall in Okinawa Prefecture. The growing popularity of canoeing and trekking in recent years has led to concerns over the impact that such use will have on the natural environment. Visitors are encouraged to conduct themselves appropriately in this area, such as by being accompanied by a tour guide.
Haemida Beach is a sandy beach situated on the south coast of Iriomotejima. The seacoast here commands a view of Haterumajima, the southernmost island of Japan, and Nakanokamishima, an island that is famous as a seabird rookery.
Located approximately 6 kilometers and 10 minutes removed by regular ferry service from Ishigakijima, Taketomijima is a typical small raised coral island with a circumference of about 9 kilometers. Visitors can savor first-hand an island cultural landscape cultivated against the backdrop of a distinctive natural environment. The community here has been designated a preservation district of important historic buildings by the national government.
-Taketomi Yugafu-kan (Taketomijima Visitor Center)-
A facility established to introduce the natural environment and traditional culture of Taketomijima, the Taketomijima Visitor Center presents pertinent, up-to-date information on Taketomijima to visitors to the island. Follow a nature study trail starting at the Visitor Center to gain a better appreciation for the culture and natural heritage of the island as you walk past explanatory signs that describe on, which are sacred sites scattered throughout the island, and various other points of interest.
A beach of pure white sand stretches along the east coast of Taketomijima. Since the water is shallow to a considerable distance from the shore, this is an ideal place for enjoying the pleasures of the sea with the whole family.
Nagomi Tower is an observation facility set up in the center of the island. Climb up a steep flight of concrete steps to obtain a panoramic view of the entire island clad in rows of red-tiled houses and lush greenery.
Situated approximately 18 kilometers from Ishigakijima, Kuroshima is a heart-shaped island measuring 13 kilometers around its circumference. The island is inhabited by about 230 people. In contrast, there are about 3,000 heads of cattle--more than 10 times the number of human beings--grazing on pastureland, which accounts for over half of the land area of the island.
-Kuroshima Visitor Center-
Built on the former site of a lookout (a location that has been designated a cultural asset by Taketomi Town), the Kuroshima Visitor Center presents exhibits on the beautiful coral reefs and other aspects of the natural environment found on and around the island as well as on the traditional culture of Kuroshima. Try your hand at playing a sanshin stringed instrument or at making a traditional yubihabu toy. The center is equipped with shower facilities.
At low tide, an offshore outreef breaks through the surface of the water to allow a natural pool to emerge between it and the shore. As this pool is minimally affected by the waves of the open sea, visitors can engage in snorkeling and easily explore tropical fish and reef-building corals.
Ufudaki is a hill rising 99 meters above sea level. Standing on its summit, you can see beautiful coral reefs in the Sekisei Lagoon as well as - on clear days - survey at a glance the islands of Ishigakijima, Taketomijima, Kuroshima, Aragusukujima, Iriomotejima, Hatomajima, Kaymajima, and Haterumajima.
Ishigakijima is an island located 411 kilometers from Naha and measuring 229 square kilometers in area. The island is the site of Mt. Omoto-dake, the highest peak in the prefecture, as well as home to subtropical broad-leaved forests in mountainous areas of the island and a mangrove forest around the mouth of the river. Reefs extend for over a kilometer in length in some places offshore.
Rising 525.8 meters above sea level, Mt. Omoto-dake is the highest peak in Okinawa Prefecture. On clear days, visitors can admire a landscape that weaves together the Omoto Mountain Range with Ishigakijima's offshore reefs. The island's geological profile is based on a granite foundation. Forests of Castanopsis sieboldii, Distylium racemosum, and other subtropical trees grow between low-lying areas and the upper slopes of mountainous areas. The upper slopes of mountainous areas are home to groves of Pleioblastus linearis Nakai (bamboo) and constitute the shared habitat and breeding ground of a number of valuable (for academic and other reasons) plants and animals, including Ochlodes asahinai Shirozu, a species of butterfly that is endemic to the Yaeyama Islands.
Rising 282 meters above sea level, Mt. Nosoko-dake is a craggy landmark peak capped by a giant cylindrical, tower-shaped rock. Due to its association with a tragic legend involving a young woman named Mapee, this peak is also called Mt. Nosoko-Mapee. Mapee, who was exiled here from Kuroshima in 1732, could not forget the man she loved and left back on Kuroshima. Thinking that she could at least attempt to make out the vague outline of that distant island to console her lonely heart, she climbed Mt. Nosoko-dake but found her view blocked by Mt. Omoto-dake. Filled with despair, she turned into a stone figure rooted to the summit of this peak. Mt. Nosoko-dake can be climbed in less than an hour from its foot or in about 15 minutes from Nosoko Forest Road.
The Kabira Bay area offers the finest scenic views on Ishigakijima, the elements of which include cerulean waters that vary slightly in hue in accordance with the rhythm of the tides and weather conditions, a white sandy beach derived from coral reefs and limestone, a seashore formed as a result of the erosion of coral reefs and limestone and covered by lush subtropical coastal flora, and a scattering of islets and rocky islands at the entrance to the bay.
One of the most superbly preserved mangrove forests on Ishigakijima covers approximately 500 square meters of the Fukido River. Eco-tours involving kayaks and other means of transportation are offered to visitors.
Nagaru-Anparu is a tideland area covering an expanse measuring 1.5 kilometers from east to west and 2.0 kilometers from north to south at the mouth of the Nagaru River. This area is used for nature exploration, eco-tours, fishing, crab fishing, and various other pursuits. Given its international importance as a relay point for migrating birds and as a habitat for forest-dwelling birds, Nagaru-Anparu was registered as a Ramsar Site under the Ramsar Convention in November 2005.
-Groves of Yaeyama Palm Trees in Yonehara-
Yaeyama palm trees are endemic to the Yaeyama Islands and are found growing only on the islands of Ishigakijima and Iriomotejima. Groves of Yaeyama palm trees in Yonehara have been collectively designated a National Natural Monument. Platypleura albivannata M. Hayashi cicadas, seen only on Ishigakijima, also live in certain groves of Yaeyama palm trees. These groves have been designated as Natural Habitat Conservation Area for this insect.
Tamatorizaki Observatory is an observatory with a beautiful sweeping view of the landscape around the northeast coast consisting of a range of hilly peaks, pastureland, a white sandy beach extending in a large arc by the water's edge, overhanging reef slopes seen offshore, and an emerald-green lagoon.
-Akaishi Para-World Take-Off Area-
The Akaishi Para-World Take-Off Area affords a spectacular integrated view of Mt. Kuura-dake, gently contoured pastureland extending away from this peak, and emerald-green reefs. Visitors will be treated to magnificent scenery of the sort that can only be experienced in a national park of this caliber. As this vantage point is situated on a ranch, you are asked to close the gate behind you when you pass through it.
This spot affords a view of a majestic landscape comprising a tempestuous shore reef zone and the waves of the sea crashing ashore below. Situated on the west end of Ishigakijima, this vantage point is also great for watching the setting sun. In springtime, this area is famous for its fields of Easter lilies in bloom.
◆Marine Park Zones
-Hirakubo Marine Park Zone-
Found in Hirakubo Marine Park Zone are high-coverage coral communities composed mainly of branched Acropora coral as well as an abundance of tropical fish. With relatively little interference from human activities conducted on land, this location boasts of coral communities that are in relatively excellent condition, even when compared to other areas around Ishigakijima.
-Kabira Marine Park Zone-
A diving spot known as the Manta Scramble can be found in Kabira Marine Park Zone, which is popular among divers thanks to the strong likelihood that they can spot a manta ray here. There is high coverage by Acropora coral and other species of reef-building coral in this area.
-Yonehara Marine Park Zone-
The lagoon in Yonehara Marine Park Zone is high in coral coverage with excellent mixed, coral diversity comprising colonies of Acropora, Pavona decussata, and Porites coral. Exceptional accessibility to this zone allows visitors to snorkel and explore the underwater natural environment here with ease. Campgrounds in Ishigaki City have also been developed and are equipped with washroom and shower facilities.
-Shiraho Marine Park Zone-
Shiraho Marine Park Zone is home to the largest colony of blue coral in the northern hemisphere. Many micro-atolls consisting of vast communities of Porites and blue coral can also be seen here. Glass-bottom boat tours and snorkeling activities are popular among visitors to this zone.
- Iriomote, Ishigaki and surrounded islands and sea.