I can safely refer to the tiny islands of Tokashiki – thirty minutes off the coast from Nara – and Zamami as my two happy places in Japan. When I say “tiny”, I mean really tiny. In Tokashiki, you can walk between the main two happening areas, Aharen Beach and Tokashiki Ferry Terminal, in less than an hour.
Tokashiki and Zamami: my first encounter
My first encounter with Tokashiki and Zamami Islands dates back to September 2018. I was traveling in Southeast Asia with no definite plans and was soon running out of my visa time in Thailand. I found a cheap air ticket to Naha, Okinawa from Bangkok (overnight flight for USD 150 with Japanese low-cost airline Peach Air) and decided to make the island my entry point to Japan for a three-month long trip.
September is still the typhoon season in Japan, and the ferry and flight cancellations are common occurrences. If I did not have three months in the country, Okinawa would be a risky detination choice. If your schedule is not as flexible and you already have an international ticket out of Japan, keep in mind that August and September visits to Okinawa may be stressful with the high risk of cancelation of various transportation options.
So you probably saw this coming. The day I arrived in Naha, most of the ferries out to the nearby islands including Tokashiki were cancelled due to the high winds. There was only one ferry in operation connecting Naha with Zamami Island.
Mandatory trip to Zamami Island
I already had a booking with Kerama Backpackers Hostel at Tokashiki that I had to cancel. But instead of staying in Naha, I decided to hop on the ferry to Zamami Island with no accommodation reservation. There is only one international hostel on the island, Zamami International Guesthouse (which I honestly did not really like, not as nicely kept as most other hostels in Japan) where I stayed and handful of minshuku style (Japanese bed and breakfast) accommodation. There is also a camping ground right by a beautiful beach – Ama Beach, which is highly popular among stand-up paddle (SUP) enthusiasts. Zamami, despite its size, has a good range of eateries including food cart-style ones, which pop up near the beach right before sunset. Furuzamami Beach – that I had all to myself – is another popular beach in Zamami, which can get crowded during typhoon-free periods.
During my first visit, I got to experience the best of both islands. I made it to the Kerama Islands with the last boat out of Naha (for at least three days). By that time, most of the island visitors were already back to the mainland Okinawa due to the approaching typhoon. The wind did not directly affect the islands but made the travel on the sea challenging and dangerous (I got to experience it firsthand during the short (and small) boat trip from Zamami to Okinawa). The typhoon emptied the beaches, but the ocean was still calm enough for a safe swim.
Tokashiki Island: swimming beaches
The most popular beach at Tokashiki is Aharen Beach where you can find many low key eateries and sports centers offering various water activities. You can do banana rides or kayak to the nearby uninhabited islands for snorkeling. Aharen Beach is, however, not my favorite beach in Tokashiki. The beach gets often very crowded and does not have the secluded and the cove like feeling that Tokashiku Beach has. The view point which is at the end of Aharen Beach is worth checking out though.
When in Tokashiki, I almost exclusively go to Tokashiku Beach, which is about 40 minutes walking distance from where I stay – Kerama Backpackers Hotel. The beach is usually very quiet especially early in the morning. You are almost guaranteed to swim alone (with the occasional company of a rainbow) if you go right after the sunrise. The eating options here are considerably more limited than Aharen Beach. So packing your own food may be the ideal option. There is also a marine shop on the left side of the beach where you can rent canoes or SUPs.
Tokashiki Island: dining options
Since I always stay at Tokashiki Port side, my dining options are limited compared to Aharen Beach. During my first visit to the island, I ate at a nameless outdoor yakitori place almost every night. The yakitori joint had everything you would wish out of island life, the same locals visiting the place every night, bar-like sitting, yakitori sticks at 100 Yen each, and cheap beer (in addition to local Okinawan drink awamori, which is too strong for my taste). The place was not open during my last visit in 2020, but make sure to ask it as the owner is a local, and he is known to have opened and re-closed its shop many times in the past. Another alternative is the Riverside Izakaya run by a fisherman and his very friendly wife.
As for breakfast or lunch, my favorite daytime hang-out in Tokashiki is the Sunny Coral, a cafe serving delicious breakfast/lunch sandwiches. The owner – who is heavily involved in the community work – is also very friendly. If you tell him in advance, he may open this stop for dinner as long as his community teaching schedule permits.
Kerama Islands hikes
Tokashiki Island is not very rich in terms of hikes even though you will come across breathtaking views almost everywhere. There is one nature trail, which starts near Aharen Beach and takes you to the southern end of the island. It is a nice hike but requires you, in certain sections, to follow the car road.
On the alternative, you can hike up to the mass suicide memorial near Tokashiki Port, a site devoted to one of the most tragic historical events in the history of Okinawa. It is reported that – during the World War II, the residents of Tokashiki Island were asked to take their own lives by the Japanese officers during the American occupation to avoid being captured by the enemy. While the official history of the country challenges the accuracy of this story, there are many sources claiming its authenticity. The site, which is located up in the hills chills you to the bones, especially when you are the only visitor there. But well worth the hike.
In terms of the hiking options, Zamami Islands is the richer one with several viewpoints you can hike up to. While the hikes are normally not too demanding, even the gentle climb can still be challenging under the summer heat – but remember that you can always jump into the ocean when you return from your hike! Takatsukiyama hike is among the trails where you can experience the tropical island feeling with the ocean views and the lush scenery.
How to get to Zamami and Tokashiki Islands
The quickest way to get to any of the Kerama Islands is to fly to Naha. You can then get to Tomari Port within 25 minutes by public bus. For both the Zamami and Tokashiki Islands, you have the slower and cheaper ferry option in addition to the fast ferry. You can check out the schedule for High-Speed Queen Zamami and Ferry Zamami at the website of Zamami Village and can even make online bookings. If the high-speed ferry Queen Zamami stops at Aka, the trip will take 70 minutes, if not 50 minutes. The regular ferry to Zamami will take you to the island in two hours. The high-speed option costs 3100 Yen, and the regular ferry costs 2100 Yen.
As for Tokashiki, there are, again, two options. The high-speed option Marine Liner Tokashiki takes 35 minutes and costs 2580 Yen whereas the slower option – Ferry Tokashiki takes 70 minutes and costs 1690 Yen. You can check the operation info and make an online booking at the website of Tokashiki Village.
You can also travel between Zamami Island and Tokashiki. I usually take a day trip to Zamami from Tokashiki every summer. The boat leaves from the wharf near Aharen Beach, and you need to call one day ahead to make a booking. The ferry or boat Mitsushima leaves near Aharen Beach at 9:05 am and arrives at Zamami at 9:40 am after a brief stop at Aka Island. There is only one boat a day, and the return trip from Zamami is at 3:30 pm and gets you back to Aharen at 4:05 pm. If you stay at Kerama Backpackers, the hostel shuttle will give you a ride to the boat in the morning and pick you up in the afternoon. You can check out this English site on Zamami for schedule updates.
Quick notes on the Kerama Islands
Sunny Coral in Tokashiki is the best place to pick up a breakfast or a lunch sandwich. Due to the popularity of the shop with the islanders, they run out of both breakfast and lunch packs quite early. Upon request, they can also arrange a dinner for you. Nice music, nice chat , nice food + wine or beer.
In Tokashiki, I always stay at Kerama Backpackers Hostel, not a modern one but has well-maintained facilities and experienced owners. They also offer free shuttle service to the beaches. You can get a dorm bed for around 2500 Yen a night. They have a nice kitchen if you want to cook your own food. There is a well-stocked grocery store near the hostel.
Tokashiku Beach in Tokashiki Island for better swimming and less crowds. Ama Beach at Zamami for a very laid-back atmosphere, camping, and SUP. Next time I visit the islands, I want to try the campsite at Ama Beach, which looked very appealing, especially on a sunny day.