Vegan Island Hopping in Okinawa - Taketomi & Iriomote
With a big international community in "Naha", there is no shortage of delicious Vegan food on Okinawa's main island. But how are your chances of a decent plantbased meal when visiting one of the smaller, more remote islands?
Part Two - Taketomi and Iriomote islands
➤ Read Part One - Ishigaki island HERE
Tip: Similar to the Japan Rail Pass system, you can purchase a multi-day all-you-can-ride pass for the ferries connecting the islands. Depending on how many of them you'd like to visit, this is great value and allows you to see many different places!
Quick Getaway at Taketomi
Taketomi is a small island just off the coast of Ishigaki island. It is therefore ideal for a one-day trip, or a quick stop on your way to another island - so this is exactly what we did!
Unfortunately, the main tourist attraction is to ride on carriages drawn by water buffalo... which we of course skipped. Instead we rented a bike and biked to one of the breathtaking beaches: "Hoshizuna" Star Sand Beach, where you can find sand shaped like little stars!!
As we only went for a ride, we did not explore any food options on the island. And there probably aren't too many - so come prepared! We had some onigiri and snacks from the terminal at Ishigaki island for breakfast. On the way to the beach we found a small shop selling Vegan friendly Popsicles in fruit and "kokuto" (Okinawa's famous brown sugar) flavors, and this Okinawa limited edition "shiikwaasa" lime flavored Fanta. The traditional Okinawa "Ryukyu" culture remained on Taketomi in its culture and architecture, and exploring it feels like you're traveled through time!
After Taketomi, we went back to our hostel in Ishigaki. The next morning we took another ferry in the morning to our favorite island of the trip: Iriomote Island!
One with Nature on Iriomote
Iriomote island is Okinawa's second largest island, next to the main island. But the two couldn't be more different! Iriomote island is one of the wildest places in Japan, existing for 90%(!!) of jungle and mangrove forests! It is the home of some unique, endangered animals, including the Iriomote wildcat" and plenty of things that are trying to kill you (I'm looking at you, habu! (Okinawan deadly, poisonous snake)). So what better thing to do than to take a hike with the snakes and spiders, and swim with deadly, aggressive fish and sharks! Fun times!
Luckily we were in the hands of Iriomote's own "Tarzan" - Mr. KEN! from Kenguide.
This big, cheerful, and super fast SUP-ing (Stand Up Paddleboard red.) tour guide is all you need to get through Iriomote's coolest spots, relatively safely. "Everyone, there are two habu snakes inside the holes on that narrow pathway, so walk fast and stick to the left, OK? ikimashoooo!" - You got it, Mr. Ken.
KEN's tour included a bento box, and I got a small discount for leaving it out and getting my own lunch instead. I brought from snacks from starting island Ishigaki, and found some mochi rice, onigiri and hot drinks (mind you, there was NOTHING else at this part of the island).
The second part of the tour included something even more exciting: snorkeling! They always advertise these activities with happy people swimming alongside sea turtles and beautiful coral. And guess what!! I actually did get to swim on 2m away from a beautiful, adorably munching sea turtle!! But also... just as close to an aggressive sea snake and deadly poisonous fish!! Making this one of the most beautiful, but also terrifying experiences in my life.
The small guesthouse we had booked on Iriomote island had advertised as "all-you-can-eat fruit breakfast". All-you-can-eat FRUIT. In JAPAN. Right.... Or so we thought!
As we arrived in the evening, we inquired about the dinner options. There was only a tiny supermarket a 10-minute walk away, in the tiniest little community I have ever seen (mind you, I'm a city girl from Amsterdam...); But we were welcome to eat "in" and the owner-, and also chef of the guesthouse, would do his best to accommodate.
And accommodate he did! Whereas on the mainland, I often experience rejection when I ask chefs to make changes to their menu, this man made no fuss about anything. No dashi? No problem. No chicken, no stock, no egg, no meats? Sure thing!
"How about this shimadoufu (Okinawa style, thick tofu), without katsuo?"
"Oh, and I can still make you our Goya Chanpuru Teishoku?"
Goya is a famous Okinawa food: green bitter melon - either loved or hated! Teishoku means set menu, usually indicating the dish comes with rice, miso soup, pickles and sometimes even dessert!
The Goya chanpuru set was completely veganized for me: no chicken or egg in the Goya - only tofu! The miso soup came without katsuo (bonito) dashi. The veggies were flavored with vinegar or soy sauce. And the dessert was a kanten (plantbased/agar fruit jelly). OH YESSS!
The kitchen does close very early, so make sure to eat enough and either bring some drinks and snacks when coming to the island, or at the small super market if you want to enjoy some in the evening.
OR, you can already start to look forward to breakfast!
Because remember that all-you-can-eat-fruits story?? Here it is!!
No limitations, no catch! Just a fridge full of the sweetest, most fresh island fruits you can hope for. The stars of the show were the extremely juicy mango, and the super sweet island bananas that grow in the back yard!
All the fruits were delicious - and the owner came by me to tell me to eat as much as I'd like, as I wasn't having any of the other breakfast options. Drinks were included as well.
For non-veggies, the value is even better, with sandwiches, homemade breakfast pastries, yogurts and bread toppings.
We stayed at this lovely guest house for two days - all meals were amazing and the tatami rooms were very comfortable. The owner was willing to think of another meal the second night, but I loved the goya so much - I got the teishoku again, and he just made some different side dishes to change things up.
On the second night, we also had the amazing opportunity to join the owner's "Iriomote Island Night Tour", in which he drives you around in his car to experience the island's night life: one of the best experiences of the stay! Being a local, the owner has amazing observational skills and will stop the car to point at local turtles crossing the road, different types of owl, and the island's well-known, gigantic "fruit bats"! Iriomote is also known for its gorgeous view of the night sky. Not only do you get a great view of the stars as is - But, because the island is mostly uninhabited, there are absolutely NO lights once you drive for a little while. No traffic lights, street lights, lights from buildings or even airplanes... The owner took us for a little walk, away from the car, into the jungle (hi, habu! ), turned off the very last beam of light from his flashlight, and said:
Now, we're going to walk back to the car! Follow my voice!
Some of the "friends" we met during both tours:
Note: the last, more fluffy friend, we met at a part of Ishigaki island that was advertised as "Cat island". It was essentially just a large area close by the water where locals come together to look out- and leave food for the cats. Some of the cats are friendly and will enjoy your pets and attention, if you have time to kill!
Left: Okinawan flavored salt. Fun souvenir (Ishigaki). Right: Beni Imo Genmai, purple potato brown rice drink from the supermarket (Iriomote)
Ken Guide Island Tours 西表島 KENGUIDE
Address: Iriomote Island
Food: Bento included with some tours, might be flexible in providing an alternative, or discount, if arranged ahead. (we were very last minute)
Price: Depending on tour
Service: Extremely knowledgeable and fun. According to other reviews, it seems the tour can be taken in English too - (I was the only foreigner in the group and never bothered to ask!)
Iriomotejima Guest House Shimajikan 西表島ゲストハウス島時間
Address: 201-146 Haemi, Taketomi, Yaeyama District, Okinawa 907-1434
Food: Very flexible and able to veganize a delicious menu. Go-ya teishoku ￥1700 Menu
Price: ￥6000-7000 incl. facilities and all-you-can-eat breakfast
Service: Incredible. Warm, knowledgeable, willing to help and introduce. Flexible with regards to food, kind in recommending activities, and an amazing tour guide!
Did you read Part One, where I shared my trip to Ishigaki island?