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Only 75 miles off the coast of Taiwan, is the island of Ishigaki and few visitors to Japan make it this far out, despite a direct flight from Tokyo. The water around the island is so clear that, flying over it, you can see a ring of coral circling the coast.
A ten minute ferry ride from Ishigaki brings you to the tiny islet of Taketomi. There are no fast-food restaurants or T-shirt sellers here. The residents, in a strong vote of civic pride, have banded together to preserve the culture of their island. You’ll find a cluster of houses with red-kawara (tile) roofs surrounded by hand-packed stone walls and tropical flowers and intersected by narrow sandy roads.
Kondoi Beach is a bleached-white stretch of sand leading into warm, calm water. Aside from a small changing room and a few blue and white parasols, it’s undisturbed. The sea here is shallow enough to swim safely right out to the sandbanks, where the ocean turns a rich emerald green. Travel further around the coast and you might find some hoshizuna (star sand), made from millions of tiny star-shaped fossils.
A lack of motorised transport adds to the laid-back feel on Kondoi Beach. You can hire bicycles or join the local people in a traditional taxi – a cart pulled by water buffalo – to explore the island. It makes an ideal day trip, but choose to stay on the island and you’ll have the beaches to yourself. With evening, the island pace slows to a standstill and the lights switch off one by one, leaving the island in an inky darkness. Venture to the beach and you’ll find it lit by starlight – the streak of the Milky Way is a common sight.
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