Head south beyond Okinawa until you can only see sparkling white beaches and shining sapphire waters. Welcome to Kumejima.
Kumejima is located south of Okinawa Honto, about 30 minutes flying from Naha. The chain’s islands are considered to be the most beautiful of the Okinawan Islands.
Arriving at the small airport on Kume Island after a short 30-minute flight from Naha, Okinawa’s capital city, you’re welcomed by smiling Shīsā, the traditional lion dog from local legends. You’ll soon realize that this destination is small and easy to navigate. There are only four bus lines—and they take you everywhere you want to go. The island itself is less than 60 km2, and is roughly the size of Waterloo, Ontario. Kume Island is only one of several in Kumejima, which is a chain of volcanic islands; the others are only accessible by bridge or private tours. The largest and most populated islands are Kume and Oujima, while the others are uninhabited. The famous sandbar Hatenohama is part of this chain, boasting a seven-kilometre-long, pristine white sand beach completely surrounded by water.
This island chain has a rich history: it was originally ruled by local lords reigning from five castles until they were conquered in the 1500s by the Okinawan Ryukyu Kingdom. The castles were left to ruin, but their remains still attract many people today. The most famous of these are Uegusuku Castle on Mount Uegusuku and Gushikawa Castle on the north-western coast of Kume Island. From the summit at Mount Uegusuku, visitors have a unique vantage point to see not only the entire island, but several other islands as well. Built during the 15th century, Gushikawa Castle is a National Cultural Treasure, with many of the walls and ruins featuring interesting carvings. Visitors are permitted to explore the ruins and see the grand history of the island up close. And not all of Kumejima’s history is in ruins; Uezu House was built in 1750 to be the home of the Ryukyuan Governor, and it contains gardens, a main house as well as several outlying buildings.
Most people visit Kumejima for the beaches, which line virtually every coastline of Kume. The most popular of these is Eef Beach running along the south-east. Protected by natural coral barriers, the beach is one of the longest on the island, and like the rest of the island it has exquisite white sands that kiss the clear cerulean sea. Explorers also seek out the unreal Tatami-ishi on Oujima. This uniquely shaped rock formation is only visible at low tide and resembles tatami mats, common in many Japanese homes and inns. Along the north shore of Kume Island sits the Hiyajo Banta Cliff, which offers some of the most spectacular views of forested mountains, sugarcane farms and the rich blues of the ocean. Not far from the cliff lie tropical fish pools, inviting snorkellers to swim alongside sea turtles and tropical fish native to the area. At low tide, the water recedes, allowing travellers to walk alongside the tropical fish pools to see the wildlife swimming inside.
The people of Kumejima have always relied on the sea for their survival. These islands are known throughout Japan for their deep-sea products such as sea salt, sea grapes (a type of seaweed) and prawns, as well as the rich harvest that accompanies their tropical climate: rice, sweet purple yams, sake, miso and fluffy tofu (both made from soybeans), and tropical fruits.
Few people have a chance to visit these remote islands south of the main Okinawan Islands. But with sun, sand, sea and starry skies, Kumejima is the perfect vacation destination.