Three amazing things about Yonaguni Island, the westernmost point of Japan
Written by tokyoclub on November 24, 2021
There are a lot of surprises in store for our city-dwelling, Honshu-native Japanese reporter.
Japan is a nation of islands, and that includes remote ones like Yonaguni, which is the westernmost inhabited part of Japan, 2,000 kilometers to the southeast of Tokyo. Traveling there first requires you to get to Okinawa, and then to the even further island of Ishigaki. Then, one must embark on either a plane or the infamous “Vomit Ferry” in order to get to Yonaguni, which is actually closer to Taiwan than it is to the main islands of Japan.
Our Japanese-language reporter Kouhey recently arrived in Yonaguni for the first time in his life. Kouhey has been to multiple remote Japanese islands, so he’s no stranger to their charms. Yet still, somehow Yonaguni managed to surprise him. In fact, he’d like to share three amazing things about Yonaguni that you might never find on mainland Japan.
Surprise #1: There are a lot of incredible rock formations
The first thing Kouhey did when he arrived in Yonaguni was rent a moped and do a circuit around the island’s cliff-lined shores, where he noticed they were full of majestic, beautiful rock structures.
Kouhey has been to Ogami, the Okinawan Island of the Gods, so he’s seen some pretty amazing formations that look almost mythical, but Yonaguni was different in that its amazing rock formations appear in the midst of sheer, rocky cliffs that descend into the ocean. Yonaguni’s stunning rock cliffs are a testament to the amazing power of nature, which incited both awe and a little bit of fear in Kouhey.
One of the most amazing formations is the Tachigami-iwa, which is often regarded as the symbol of Yonaguni Island. It looks like a figure standing in the ocean proudly looking out across the distance at something. Just the sight of it makes you feel as if you can gain powerful energy from it.
That very same rock formation looks entirely different when viewed from a different angle, but it’s still an incredible sight. Kouhey was so inspired by it that he wished he could climb to the top of it. (Thankfully, he did not try.)
While Yonaguni is also famous for Gunkan-iwa, a rock that looks like a battleship, Kouhey is most glad that he got to see a place called Kuburabari.
This was the site of a very sad custom from the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom when a poll tax was levied on localities based on population. Legend says that Yonaguni at the time sought to lower their taxes by keeping their population low, so they forced pregnant women to leap across the three to five-meter (9.8 to 16.4-foot) chasm between the rocks, chancing a tumble to their death or miscarriage from the strain.
As Kouhey approached the strange formation, he couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to go through such a custom. He even climbed to the top of one of the rocks and approached the edge of the chasm between them, but he couldn’t stay close to it for long. It truly felt like it could suck you in at any time, so he quickly backed away from it.
Kouhey’s impression of this and many of Yonaguni’s formations was, “If I fall from atop that, I’d probably die.” Suffice it to say that Yonaguni’s rock formations are both awe-inspiring and terrifying.
Surprise #2: The cemeteries are archeological treasures
Unlike graves on the mainland, the historic gravesites of the remote islands of Okinawa are not just decorated with rectangular stones, but with huge stone monuments that are about the size of a small Tokyo apartment. Many of them even have roofs, like crypts. For many visitors, this might be a surprising discovery. Kouhey was certainly surprised the first time he saw them.
He’s now been to the remote Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa more than 10 times, so he’s quite used to these cemeteries now. But seeing the ones at Yonaguni were extra surprising, because some of the graves were dug straight into cliffs, which was something Kouhey had not seen on any of the other islands. They’re basically archeological and historical treasures.
Of course, whether you find that amazing or not is up to your perspective, but to Kouhey, since it was something he’d never seen before, he thought it was incredible.
Surprise #3: There are horses just walking around everywhere
Yonaguni has four roads known as “Texas Roads”, and in a sense, these were the most surprising part of the island for Kouhey. Although they were highways, they were full of not cars, but horses!
As Kouhey was riding on his rented moped, cruising around the island, he came upon a place where he merged onto one of the Texas Roads. Imagine his surprise when what he spotted coming down the road in his direction was not cars, but a whole herd of horses!!!
They were just walking around like they owned the place. Which, Kouhey supposed, they probably did.
It’s so common for horses to walk along the roads of Yonaguni, in fact, that Kohey spotted a nearly continuous line of horse poop left in their wake.
It really was a sight to see. In fact, the whole island of Yonaguni was a surprise to Kouhey, who’s a city dweller through and through. But with a beautiful ocean…
Delicious Awamori liquor…
And all of the amazing sights of Yonaguni, Kouhey could honestly say he was glad to be able to visit the island, even if he would have to ride the “Vomit Ferry” again to get back home. It’s so remote that it’s not exactly the kind of place you can visit on a whim, but if you have the chance, Kouhey definitely recommends it!