Kerama Blue: Tokashiki and Zamami Islands in Okinawa

I can safely call the tiny island of Tokashiki – thirty minutes off the coast from Nara – as my happy place in Japan. When I say “tiny”, I mean really tiny. You can walk between its main two centers, namely Aharen Beach and Tokashiki Beach in an hour. Despite the short distance, it can however still be a challenging task if you are in the island during summer heat and more importantly humidity.

Tokashiki and Zamami: First Encounter

My first encounter with Tokashiki dates back to September 2018. I was traveling in Southeast Asia with no definite plans but soon running out of my visa time in Thailand. I found a cheap ticket to Naha, Okinawa from Bangkok (overnight flight for USD 150) and decided to make the island my entry point to Japan for a three months long trip. September is still the typhoon season in Japan and Okinawa would be a quite risky choice if I did not have a whole three months ahead of me allowing me to take the risk of ferry and flight cancelations.  However, if your schedule is not as flexible and you already have an international ticket out of Japan, August or September visit to Okinawa may really be stressful with high risk of cancelation of various transportation options.

So you probably saw this coming. The day I arrived in Naha, all the ferries out to the nearby islands including Tokashiki were cancelled due to the high winds except for one ferry to the neighbouring island of Tokashiki – Zamami. Even though my booking was with Kerama Backpackers Hostel at Tokashiki, I decided to take the ferry to Zamami Island instead of staying at Naha, which is not a bad town but just a town like many others in Japan where you need to try very hard to catch the island vibe. Zamami is even smaller than Tokashiki but at least as beautiful. There is one international hostel in the island called Zamami International Guesthouse (which I did not like much, not as nicely kept as most other hostels in Japan) in addition to minshuku style accommodation. The island also has a camping ground available 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 nearby the beach right before sunset. Furuzamami Beach is another popular beach in Zamami, which can get very crowded during typhoon free periods.

During my first visit, I got to experience best of both islands. I made it to Kerama Islands with the last boat out of Naha (for at least three days) and most of the island visitors were already back to the mainland Okinawa due to the approaching weather hazard. The wind did not directly effect the islands but made the travel on the sea challenging and dangerous (got to experience it first hand during the short small boat trip from Zamami to Okinawa). This resulted in empty but perfectly swimmable beaches on both islands.

Tokashiki: Swimming Beaches

The most popular beach at Tokashiki is Aharen Beach where you can find many low key eateries as well as sports centers offering water sports including kayaking to nearby deserted islands for snorkeling. Aharen Beach is however not my favorite, it is usually quite busy and does not have the more secluded and the cove like feeling that Tokashiki Beach has.  The view point that you can get to on foot within five minutes from Aharen Beach is definitely worth checking out though. 

When in Tokashiki, I almost exclusively go to Tokashiku Beach – it is about 40mn walk from where I stay – Kerama Backpackers Hotel and is usually very quite especially early in the morning. You are almost guaranteed to swim alone (with the occasional company of a rainbow) if you go right after sunrise. The eating options here are considerably more limited then Aharen Beach so I highly recommend that you pack your own food. There is also a marine shop here where you can rent canoes or SUPs.

Tokashiki: Dining Options

Since I always stay at Tokashiki Port side, my dining options are limited compared to Aharen Beach where all the action seems to be happening. During my first visit to the island, I ate at a nameless outdoor yakitori place almost very night. The place had everything you would wish out of an island life, same locals visiting the place very night, bar like sitting, yakitori sticks at 100Yen 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 recent visit in the summer of 2019 but make sure to ask it around as it can re-open at anytime. Another alternative is the riverside bar/izakaya with its wonderful and very friendly owners. My favorite day time hang out in Tokashiki is Sunny Coral with its stylish decoration, delicious breakfast/lunch sandwiches and its owner, who is heavily involved in community work in the island. If you tell him in advance, he will also prepare dinner for you as long as his community teaching schedule permits.

Kerama Island Hikes

Tokashiki Island is not very rich in terms of hikes even though you will come across breathtaking views almost everywhere. There is the nature trail which takes you to the southern end of the island.  It is a nice hike but some of the time you follow the not so busy but paved 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 commonly 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 is located up in the hills chills you to the bones, especially when it is left alone with you being the only visitor. 

Zamami Island is slighter richer in terms of the hiking options and there are number of view points that you can hike up to. It may be a little challenging with summer heat but remember that you can always jump into the sea when you get back! Takatsukiyama hike is among the ones where you can really experience the tropical island feeling both with the sea color and the surrounding very lush scenery. 

 

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Accommodation

I always stay at Kerama Backpackers Hostel, not new but 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 fairly well equipped grocery store nearby.

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Food

Sunny Coral is a good place to pick up a breakfast or a lunch sandwich. They run out quite early though. Upon request, they can also arrange a dinner for you. Nice music, nice chat + wine and beer. 

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Beach

Tokashiku Beach at Tokashiku for better swimming and less crowds. Ama Beach at Zamami for very laid back atmosphere, camping and SUP. Next time I visit the islands, I really want to try the campsite at Ama Beach, which looked very appealing especially on a sunny day.