There are some images that – at first sight – just don’t seem to match our pre-conceived notion of country. An idyllic island life that has near-perfect mediterranean weather in… Japan? Well, the beauty of travel (with a big help from the internet) is to see sights from around the world through which we learn to appreciate all corners of the globe. All travel destinations whether they make sense to our minds or not. Just like Japan, it’s not about the bright neon-lights of downtown Tokyo, or hi tech gadgets and bullet trains, or serene Temples with Mount Fuji as a backdrop. Miyako Island, is one such unique place that goes against the grain of everything you thought Japan was supposed to be.
Roughly 300 km southwest of Okinawa, a low plateau sits above the translucent, turquoise sea. This is Miyako, centrepiece of a small archipelago of the same name, and of the coral reefs, raised from the seabed thousands of years ago. Miyako’s fame in Japan’s main islands is based on its gorgeous white sand beaches, its golf courses and its reef dive sites. Two long bridges unit Miyako with its seven satellite islands, making their coral reefs and wildlife easily accessible. The islanders are proud of their status as a mainstream tourist destination.
Most visitors remain oblivious to Miyako’s indigenous culture, a variant developed from ancient Ryukyu kingdom centred in Okinawa. Over 15,000 islanders speak Miyako, a Ryukyu language and four of its settlements have their own dialect, even though they are so close. Photo by: * Yumi *
They are 15 surviving Gusuku sites scattered round Miyako, shrines sacred to a history and way of life veiled to beach holidaymakers. During the years, each district conducts its own sacred rite. Shimajiri district’s Pantu rite consists of three local men daubed in grass and mud, and carrying sticks and a grotesque face-mask. They represent gods and chase people to smear them with mud. Being caught and muddied -up guarantees a year of protection by the deities. The Karimata district has its Uyagan rite, a form of harvest festival.In the sugarcane fields not yet claimed for new tourist facilities, these rites are the public face of Miyako’s cultural soul, and like the island itself, they have a rare and profound beauty.
When to go: Year-round.
How to get there: By air from Naha (Okinawa), Haneda or Kansai, to Miyako.