Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Complete Guide to the Stunning Spots on Shimoji Island

Shimoji-Shima Island (下地島) is one of the eight islands in Miyakojima City. Having one of the only two airports located on the island and with the completion of the 3,540-meter-long Irabu Bridge, Shimoji-Shima is the next most accessible island in the city after Miyako Island. Although its size isn’t the biggest in the region, Shimoji Island has a few natural attractions you won’t want to miss out on when you visit this part of Okinawa!

Read on and discover the hidden gems in Miyakojima City!

How to Get to Shimoji-shima

There are a few ways to access Shimoji Island, including flying into the island. You can also cross the Irabu Bridge by bus or drive a car from Miyako Island.

Miyako Shimojishima Airport (みやこ下地島空港)

Ⓒ 宮古島観光協会

Originally a training airfield for commercial pilots, Miyako Shimojishima Airport was transformed into a tropical-resort-style airport in 2019.

As soon as you land, you can already feel the holiday vibe as you walk inside the cedar wood building. And if this is the last stop of your journey, waiting for boarding at the hotel reception-like lobby would probably be the best way to enjoy every last minute of your trip (^_-)-☆.

If you need more of Miyakojima’s delicious tropical fruits, the cafes at Miyako Shimojishima Airport have got you covered! The local specialties are sold at the airport, allowing you to complete some last-minute shopping.

Tip: The seafront view from Shimojishima Airport is best around noon.

If you don’t plan on driving during your time in Miyakojima City, you can take Miyako Kyōei Bus’ (宮古協栄バス) Shimoji Airport Resort Line (下地島空港リゾート線) to get to Irabu Island and Miyako Island.

Refer to HERE for the service’s timetable. You can translate it into English using Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

17END (ワンセブンエンド)

The best photogenic beach on Shimoji Island has to be 17END, which spreads under the road surrounding the runway of Shimojishima Airport. At low tide, the sandy beach appears, and the stunning shallow blue sea spreads!

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

The name 17END is derived from the runway number of Shimojishima Airport. All runways of airports around the world are numbered from 01 to 36 to indicate the approaching direction of the aircraft. The runway at Shimojishima Airport is designated as RW17 (runway one seven) due to the airplane from the seaward side landing in direction no. 17 (170 degrees).

In addition, in aviation terms, the end of the runway is called “Runway End”. So the beach at the end of the runway was eventually labelled as “17END”.

Unlike most beaches in Miyakojima City, 17END is man-made. The white sandy shore wasn’t there when the airport was completed. Thanks to the tidal activity, the sand accumulated around the airport formed the nice shore we would walk comfortably on at low tides!

Ever since the photos of 17END went viral on social media, many tourists have visited Shimoji-Shima for the breathtaking view. The gradation of the water’s blue is just amazing! The heaven-like scenery starts from the white sand to the emerald green seawater. The further away from the shore, the deeper the blue becomes.

The only con of 17END is the lack of coral reefs. And because of this, the beach is more like a swimming pool with crystal-clear water.

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

Nakanoshima Beach (中の島ビーチ), where much tropical fish resides, is more suitable for snorkeling.
☛ Don’t give up on 17END if the weather isn’t good. The weather in Miyakojima can change quite rapidly. So if you can, wait a moment, and the sun might just come back out!
☛ The closest toilet facility is at Tōriike Pond.
☛ The closest shower facility is at Toguchi no Hama Beach (渡口の浜) on Irabu Island across the bridge.

☛ There are no lifeguards stationed at 17END.
☛ Use all your limbs as you climb down the tetrapods to the beach’s shore, as spider webs may be attached to them.
☛ There are no vending machines or shops. Bring enough fluids with you before heading to 17END.

A Mecca for Aviation Enthusiasts (航空マニアの聖地)

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17END is also known as the mecca for aviation enthusiasts. Located just at the end of the 3,000-meter runway, you can enjoy the scene where airplanes land and take off from the beach if you come at the right time.

What is good to keep in mind is that the direction the airplane will land from is affected by the direction of the wind.

In summer, aircraft usually land from the 17END side, whereas in winter, they usually come from the opposite direction.

Tip: Research the flight schedule in advance so you can get a photo of the airplane flying above you!

The Best Time to Visit 17END

  • Before noon as you can only get backlight in the afternoon.
  • In the late afternoon, for the sunset scenery
  • From late June to early July for stable weather

Important: The sandy shore only appears during low tide. Refer to the tidal table HERE before you go. You can translate the webpage using Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

How to Get to 17END

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To get to 17END, there are two routes, one from Tōriike Pond (通り池) and the other one from Sawada no Hama Beach (佐和田の浜).

Just note that if you go from Sawada no Hama Beach, a lot of walking is involved, so please be careful! The car navigation system can show you the Sawada no Hama Beach route if you go from the Shimojishima Airport.

  • If you plan on driving, several parking spaces are in front of the road closure signs on the Shimojishima side. From there, it is just around a 10-minute walk to 17END.
  • There is no bus stop close to 17END. The closest bus stop, Dakiya (ダキヤー) on Irabu Island, is around a 50-minute walk away.
    • You can refer to Irabu Island’s transportation information in our Irabu Island article.

Tip: The easiest way to get to 17END is probably by renting a bicycle or electric kickboard from the Shimojishima Airport.

35END (サンゴエンド)

While 17END isn’t a hidden gem anymore, its counterpart, 35END, remains unknown by many. Like 17END, the number 35 is an aviation term indicating 350 degrees. But this time, the south is zero degrees. 35END is thus the spot on the south end of the Shimojishima Airport’s runway.

Unlike 17END, a vast beach, 35END is more of a cove with a small sandy shore. Because 35 can be pronounced as “Sango (珊瑚)” in Japanese, which can mean coral reef, the cove is nicknamed Coral Reef End (珊瑚エンド).

In fact, there are coral reefs at 35END, making it not just a pun but worthy of its nickname, thus a spot more suitable for diving and snorkeling.

Tip: In winter or during the north wind, airplanes would land from this part of the runway.

Tōriike Pond (通り池)

Ⓒ 098free.com

On Shimoji-Shima Island, there are two round ponds with colors changing by the tidal conditions.

The ponds were formed by seawater erosion of the limestone layer. Because they are connected with the sea, don’t be surprised if you see people popping out of the pond. They are definitely not mermaids (´▽`*).

The rare topography has won the pond the fame of a designated National Place of Scenic Beauty and a natural monument.

As the two ponds are connected with each other and with the outer ocean underneath, they are together known as Tōriike Pond.

In addition to the unique underwater terrain, what the divers are after is the thermocline, created by the differences in the water temperature in the sea. The color of the water is clearly divided into two colors, blue and green. And when you rise to the surface, you can see the color changing gradually, resulting from the different angles that the sun shines on the water. The experience of diving at Tōriike Pond is just indescribable and incomparable.

But be aware that diving through this underwater route is the most difficult in Miyako Islands. Don’t accept the challenge unless you have the appropriate level of experience and knowledge of the sea condition in the area.

The Simple Facts about Tōriike Pond and the Available Facilities

It was initially believed that Tōriike Pond was a limestone cave. The structure was weakened by sea erosion, and eventually, the ceiling fell with two hallows left.

  • The larger pond has a diameter of 75 meters and a depth of 45 meters.
  • The smaller pond has a diameter of 55 meters and a depth of 25 meters.

There is a car park around the pond where shops and toilets are located.

The promenade around the ponds is well-maintained. If you need to rest, there are benches to sit on.

The average time to spend at Tōriike Pond is around 30 minutes.

Tōriike Pond’s Folktales

Tōriike Pond also has a few myths and legends, from which the ponds are also known as the Dragon’s Eye (龍の目). The two main folktales are related to a mermaid and a story between a mother and her stepchild.

  • The Story of a Mermaid:
    • Once upon a time, a fisherman caught a mermaid and took half of its body for his neighbor.
    • At night, he heard a voice from across the sea. “Come back”, it says. Then he heard a reply: “Half of my body was eaten, so I can’t go back”.
    • Then, the voice from across the sea responded: “In that case, I will send a big wave to you. Ride that wave and come home”.
    • Hearing the conversation, the fisherman panicked and escaped to Irabu Island.
    • Shimoji-Shima was then attacked by Tsunami three times, and the village was engulfed. What was left where the two houses were located were two big holes, which are today’s Tōriike Pond.
    • It is said that the mermaid was the sea spirit.
  • The Story of a Stepchild:
    • In the past, a fisherman lost his wife and later re-married. After his second son was born, the stepchild became a nuisance to the stepwife.
    • So she brought both the stepchild and her own child to Tōriike Pond and made the stepchild sleep on a smooth and slippery surface at the pond’s edge. As for her own child, she asked him to sleep on a rocky surface.
    • In the middle of the night, the second wife pushed the boy who slept on the slippery surface into the pond and carried the other child home.
    • But on the way, the boy on her back asked, “Where is my younger brother?”
    • What happened was the older brother swapped places with his younger brother so that he could sleep well.
    • Ashamed of her wrongdoing, the stepmother jumped into Tōriike Pond to her death.

Based on the story of a stepchild, a stone monument called Mamako (継子台) at Tōriike Pond was made.

Nabezoko Pond (鍋底池)

Beyond Tōriike Pond, there is a smaller but mysterious pond called Nabezoko Pond. The entrance to the pond looks like the doorway to the underground kingdom. But you won’t be able to get to Nabiduku because every time the promenade was restored, it was soon destroyed by typhoons. The promenade was thus shortened.

When the waves are rough, the foams are formed into what resemble those formed at the bottom of a boiling pot, hence the pond’s name. The name also came from the sound of the waves echoing off the stalactites, similar to a pot’s boiling sound.

From the legend, the rock of Nabezoko Pond is said to be a place of reincarnation, as a dragon god, the god of fire, the god of wind, and the god of water residing there. Rituals were thus performed by the locals here.

How to Get to Tōriike Pond

  • It is around a 10-minute drive from Shimojishima Airport and a 30-minute drive from Miyako Airport.
  • Tōriike Pond is a 2-minute drive from 17END.

Shimoji Island Monolith (下地島巨石)

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

As you travel south from Tōriike Pond, you will encounter one of the largest rocks washed up by a tsunami!

The gigantic 12.5-meter tall rock known as Shimoji-Shima Obi Stone (帯石) was brought onshore from the sea by the Great Tsunami of Meiwa (明和の大津波) caused by the Yaeyama Great Earthquake (八重山地震) in 1771. More than 12,000 people perished or were washed away. The Shimoji Island Monolith is there as a reminder to all of us of how powerful nature can be.

The cliff behind Obi-iwa is at least 15 meters tall. So the tsunami would have to reach a height taller than the cliff to bring Obi-iwa to where it is now. Knowing this, it isn’t hard to imagine why there were no traces left of the village prior to the earthquake. According to Tōriike Pond’s mermaid folktale, it was said that the earthquake was brought by the anger of the spiritual creatures to save their fellow.

This type of rock is called Tsunami-ishi (津波石) or Tsunami-iwa (津波岩) in Japanese because they are a product of the tsunami. Shimoji Island Monolith is larger than the Tsunami-iwa Rock at Miyako Island’s Cape Higashi-Hennazaki. In fact, it is the largest Tsunami-ishi in Japan!

Since it was washed up, the rock has been treated as an object of worship. The locals would pray to the rock for a good fish catch, a safe sail, and the well-being of their family members.

So why did the locals name it Obi? If you look at one side of the rock and then look at someone who is in a kimono, you will notice that the middle part of the rock looks like a kimono obi belt (^_-)-☆.

Nakanoshima Beach (中の島ビーチ)

Amongst all the beaches on Shimoji-Shima and Irabu Island, Nakanoshima Beach is the representative spot for snorkeling and diving. With many coral reefs spreading across Nakanoshima Beach, a variety of species of tropical fish reside there, known as the natural aquarium.

The beach that is also known as Kayaffa Beach (カヤッファビーチ) is usually unaffected by the sea concision in the open sea. So even snorkeling beginners can enjoy the underwater world in the bay up to four-meter in depth! And if you are relatively experienced, hop onto a boat to the offshore area where you can dive as deep as 10 meters.

Even if you choose to stay on shore, the cobalt-blue sea is so clear that you can still enjoy the scenery without getting wet. Occasionally, there might even be airplanes flying over your head (^_-)-☆.

Furthermore, you can have a little adventure exploring the rocky area on the beach’s right. See if you can find a penetrative cave leading to the bay next door!

☛ If you want to snorkel, it is best to come fully prepared. While there are usually mobile rental shops around Nakanoshima Beach, there aren’t permanently stationed there.
☛ There is no toilet or shower facility around. However, you can fill several water bottles with tap water beforehand to quickly wash off the sand and salt after coming up from the beach.
☛ Instead of sandals, marine shoes are recommended to protect your feet from the occasionally sharp rocky surface.
☛ The beach’s depth can get a lot deeper as you swim away from the shore. Also, the current’s speed is generally a lot faster around high tides.

Tip: You can ask the hotel reception to reserve one of the diving or snorkeling tours for you.

How to Get to Nakanoshima Beach

  • It is around a 7-minute drive from Shimojishima Airport and a 30-minute drive from Miyako Airport.
  • The parking space across the road from Nakanoshima Beach has a capacity of around 20 cars, which can be pretty packed between July to September by noon.

Discover the Astonishing Places to Visit on Irabu Island

Click the photo for more amazing spots close by!

One of the other islands amongst the eight Miyako Islands that goes hand in hand with Shimoji Island is Irabu Island. It is much larger and has many more stunning beaches and natural spots that you might want to visit.

Refer to our Irabu Island article to find out what they are!

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