Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Top Historical and Cultural Spots in Miyako-jima Island

The main reason to visit Miyako Island for many is most likely its stunning beaches. After all, the island often managed to fill in more than half of the spots of Japan’s top 10 beaches to visit. But, Miyako-jima is around 290km away from Okinawa‘s main island, so it also has its own unique culture and history for you to discover when you need a break from the water! Plus, they are the best places to head to when it rains!

So here is a list of cultural and/or historical attractions you can stop by to balance out your itinerary (^_-)-☆.

Miyakojima Taiken Craft Village (宮古島市 体験工芸村)

If you are the type of person who learns about a place’s culture through handicraft-making, Miyakojima Taiken Craft Village is the attraction that you have to visit. In this village, you can make up to nine different local crafts, including Miyako textile (宮古織物) and straw sandals (島ぞうり). Many of these can only be experienced at Miyakojima Taiken Craft Village!

The village actually shares the same ground as Miyakojima Botanical Garden. So before you take a stroll to discover the tropical plants and flowers, how about changing into Ryūkyū kingdom’s traditional clothing, Ryūsō (琉装) first?

You can refer to the official website HERE for a list of activities you can do at Miyakojima Taiken Craft Village. If you don’t read Japanese, translate it with Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

Important: Please keep in mind that craftwork such as pottery generally can’t be brought home on the same day. You will need a Japanese address for them to post the final product to you.

Miyakojima Taiken Craft Village’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Miyakojima Taiken Craft Village is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
    • Many workshops’ last admission is at 4 pm.
  • The village is around a 5-minute drive from Miyako Airport and around a 15-minute drive from the town center.
  • The closest bus stop, Don Quixote-mae (ドンキホーテ前), is around a 25-minute walk away from Miyakojima Taiken Craft Village. Except for the Shinzato Miyaguni Line (新里宮国線), all buses depart from the town center and Miyako Airport stops at Don Quixote-mae. Of course, you have to know the direction of travel.

Miyakojima Tropical Botanical Garden (宮古島市熱帯植物園)

As we mentioned previously, Myakojima Taiken Craft Village is located in Miyakojima Tropical Botanical Garden. So after completing your traditional craft masterpiece, how about taking a stroll in the extremely spacious garden? It even has a little designer garden with water features near the entrance!

Miyakojima City Tropical Botanical Garden has around 4,000 trees of which are about 1,600 different species. Many of them were brought from Hawai, Taiwan, and Southeast Asian countries, making the garden a living museum for tropical plants! The butterflies and hummingbirds will make your visit extra pleasant!

You might not be aware of this fact, but Miyako-jima Island has an extremely low forest coverage rate, at only 16%. So in the Ryūkyū Dynasty, many Ryūkyū pines were planted. Unfortunately, the Japanese army logged most of the trees during World War Two. So in 1966, a garden was constructed on the land that was once covered by pines.

Miyakojima Tropical Botanical Garden is now Okinawa’s largest tropical botanical garden. You will also find a couple of air raid shelters and the battle site remains in the garden.

If you don’t know which part of the garden to start your exploration with, the staff at the entrance can introduce you to the garden’s four courses. Each of them is between one to four kilometers in length, so choose the one that best suits your time constraints and interest.

Tips:
☛ The Erythrina Variegata’s bright red flowers in the garden usually bloom from late March to April. There is a café in the garden too.
☛ The Garden’s map is available at the information center at the entrance.

Important: Remember to apply insect repellent.

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Miyakojima Tropical Botanical Garden’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Miyakojima Tropical Botanical Garden is open 24/7.
  • The garden is free to enter.
  • The access information is the same as Miyakojima Taiken Craft Village.

Miyakojima City Museum (宮古島市総合博物館)

Miyakojima City Museum, located around 1km away from Miyakojima Tropical Botanical Garden, is where the island’s important historical materials and daily utensils are stored and exhibited. Miyako Island’s culture and tradition are introduced in a simple way that can be easily understood. Although all notations in the museum are in Japanese, there is an English pamphlet you can refer to.

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The museum is divided into four themes. Many of the customs and cultures are shown by dioramas and realistic figures.

  • History and archeology: Exhibits range from when people settled on Miyako Island to World War Two.
  • Customs and culture: Introducing traditional customs, lifestyles, and annual events.
  • Nature: Miyako Island’s nature, animals, and ecological system.
  • Traditional artifacts: Introducing Miyako Island’s distinctive textiles and pottery.

Note the taxidermy placed in the museum may make animal lovers uncomfortable.

Miyako Island’s Oldest Human Remains

Some exciting things you will find in Miyakojima City Museum include the oldest human remains on Miyako Island. Apparently, the bones belonged to humans from more than 26,000 years ago! This means the remains are the second oldest human remains in Japan.

The most surprising fact is probably that those remains were deemed to belong to people from Southeast Asia, around where Malaysia is located. This means the Southeast Asians managed to travel all the way up to Okinawa hundreds of thousands of years ago!

Miyako Island and Paantu

At Miyakojima City Museum’s entrance, the Paantu mask might give you a shock. Paantu is the god that descends to Miyako-jima to chase the evil spirits away. The ritual occurs three times a year, with the dates not announced in advance. So if you are lucky to be on Miyako-jima when the ritual is held, don’t be afraid to get muddy. Paantu put mud on people as a way to bring them good fortune.

Historically, Paantu rituals take place during the below period of the year. The dates are in the lunar calendar year.

  • From the end of March to the beginning of April
  • From the end of May to the beginning of June
  • September

Tip: The wooden Paantu masks hung on the wall at the entrance area are for your photography sessions.

Tattoos Were a Part of the Islanders’ Custom?

Another surprising fact is about the tattoo. While most Japanese still hold a negative image of tattoos, the tattoo was a part of Miyako Island’s customs. This custom was only lost in the Meiji period when the government banned the practice.

Miyakojima City Musem’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Miyakojima City Museum is open daily from 9 am to 4:30 pm except for Mondays.
    • The last admission is at 4 pm.
  • If Monday is a public holiday, the museum will close on the following Tuesday as well.
  • The museum is closed on public holidays.
  • The admission fee is
    • 300 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for university and senior high school students
    • 100 yen for elementary and junior high school students
  • The closest bus stop, Don Quixote-mae (ドンキホーテ前), is around a 30-minute walk away from Miyakojima City Museum.

Tip: School students can enter Miyakojima City Museum for free on weekends and during school breaks. This might only apply if you attend a Japanese school.

Miyakojima City Traditional Crafts Center (宮古島市伝統工芸品センター)

If you are interested in textiles made in the traditional way, Miyakojima City Traditional Crafts center is the place for you. The exhibits in the center are mainly about the locally produced textile called Miyako Jōfu (宮古上布), which has more than 600 years of history.

You can see the materials and tools used during textile production. In addition to a video introducing the production process, you might also be able to see the textile being made in front of you.

While Miyako Jōfu is made from hemp, it has a silky luster. Nice patterns are also intricately woven when the textile is made. Because of the amount of work required, it will take a year for six Miyako Jōfu makers to make a roll of the textile! Although all in Japanese, after you have seen the production process video, you will have no doubt about the quality of Miyako Jōfu.

As you can imagine, Miyako Jōfu is extremely expensive. Back in the Ryūkyū Dynasty, the textile was used as a tribute to the royal family.

On weekends and public holidays, workshops might be held where you can learn how to make thread from hemp. And if you want to experience weaving or dyeing the textile, head to Miyakojima Taiken Craft Village!

If you have been amazed by Miyako Jōfu, clothing or other small items can be purchased from the souvenir shop. It will surely be one of the most cherished souvenirs by the receiving hands!

Miyakojima City Traditional Crafts Center’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Miyakojima City Traditional Crafts Center is open from 9 am to 6 pm.
    • The last admission is at 5 pm.
    • The center is closed from the end of December to the beginning of January.
  • The center is around a 10-minute walk from Miyako Kyōei Bus’s (宮古協栄バス) Nobarugoshi (野原越) stop. You can take either the Aragasuku Boraga Line (新城保良線) or the Tomori Line (友利線).

Miyakojima Underground Dam Museum (宮古島市 地下ダム資料館)

We are all familiar with the idea of a dam. But, have you heard of an underground dam? If you think the idea is unreal, you must stop by Miyakojima Underground Dam Museum!

The idea of an underground dam is simple. Instead of damming up rainwater, it is the underground water that the dam holds. In the museum, dioramas, short films, and other exhibits are used to give you a good idea of the dam’s construction and underground water.

While you might think your home country should have a few underground dams so land above the ground can be used for something else, this unconventional dam isn’t suitable anywhere else in the world. Miyako Island is entirely covered with limestone, so water can easily penetrate the ground surface into the limestone layer. The island’s underground thus accumulates ample water in the limestone layer so a dam can be built!

The limestone layer is also why Miyako Island is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Because the water’s penetration rate is too fast, no rivers can form on the island. This means nothing can bring the soil from the mountain to the ocean. The seawater at the beaches is thus highly transparent.

But without a river, the islanders had a hard time sourcing underground water in the past without modern technology.

Underneath the limestone layer is another layer consisting of mudstone and sandstone before water can penetrate any further. Thanks to this layer, water that leaks through the limestone layer accumulates. It is this characteristic that enabled an underground dam to be completed successfully.

You Can’t See the Underground Dam

Before you get too excited, we have to break it to you. You can’t see this unique dam, unfortunately. It is underground, after all. But, there is a water level observation facility close to the museum. It is an essential part of the dam for the staff to know when a discharge is necessary.

The facility also enabled water sampling and the ability to measure water temperature.

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Since the dam was completed, Miyako Island’s farmers have largely benefited from it. Not only do they not need to worry about drought, but their crops have also got a boost of nutrition from the mineral-rich water accumulated by the limestone layer!

Tip: As usual, you can get a “Dam Card (ダムカード)” from the staff. Although all in Japanese, this card has the dam’s key facts written and an image of the dam printed.

Miyakojima Underground Dam Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Miyakojima Underground Dam Museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm except on Mondays.
    • The museum is closed from the 29th of December to the 3rd of January.
  • The admission fee is
    • 300 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for university and senior high school students
    • 50 yen for elementary and junior high school students
  • Miyakojima Underground Dam is a less than a 10-minute walk from Miyako Kyōei Bus’s (宮古協栄バス) Aragasuku Boraga Line (新城保良線) bus stop, Ōhara (大原).

Miyakojima Sea Shells Museum (宮古島海宝館)

If you love collecting shells when you visit a beach, you will be amazed by more than 10,000 shells at Miyakojima Sea Shells Museum. What is on display was collected by the curator, and apparently, the variety of shells in his lifetime collection is the no. 1 in Asia!

At the museum, you can also make shell accessories and just about anything you can make with the shells available. So since you have come this far to Okinawa, how about making an Okinawan lion statue, Shisa?

The observatory restaurant on the second floor doesn’t just have a spectacular ocean view; many dishes served here use shells as containers!

In the museum’s garden, there is a small shrine for the water god. A small ritual you can do here is washing your feet with the Hora River’s (保良川) water flowing under the shrine to pray for your health.

Miyakojima Sea Shells Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Miyakojima Sea Shells Museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm..
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm.
  • The admission fee is
    • 500 yen for adults
    • 300 yen for elementary and junior high school students
  • Miyakojima Underground Dam is around a 20-minute walk from Miyako Kyōei Bus’s (宮古協栄バス) Aragasuku Boraga Line (新城保良線) bus stop, Hora (保良).

Harimizu Utaki (漲水御嶽)

Miyako-jima’s most sacred spot is located in the Hirara (平良) area. Harimizu Utaki is where the island’s guardian gods, Koitsuno (古意角) and Koitama (姑依玉), are enshrined. The spot is where many of Miyako Island’s myths and legends took place.

Apparently, the locals worshiped the place even before the island became a part of the Ryūkyū kingdom. But surprisingly, this Miyako-jima’s most sacred place can be entered by you and me! In fact, it is the only Utaki on the island that commoners can explore.

How to Worship at Harimizu Utaki

  1. Bow in front of the torii gate.
  2. Bow again in front of the worship hall, Uganju (拝所).
  3. Greet the gods in your heart properly and pray for a safe trip on Miyako Island.
  4. When you return to the torii gate, turn around and bow again.

Important: Utaki is not the usual shrine in Japan. So you don’t clap before praying.

How to Get to Harimizu Utaki

  • It is around a 15-minute drive from Miyako Airport (宮古空港) and less than a 10-minute walk from Hirara Port (平良港).
  • If you plan to take a bus, get off at the bus stop, Kitashō-mae (北小前). Harimizu Utaki is then a less than 5-minute walk away.

Muikaga Well (盛加ガー)

Another Utaki on Miyako-jima is the Muika Utaki (盛加御嶽). It is the place to worship a brave and majestic god, Muika (盛加神), who serves Koitsuno and Koitama and protects the islanders from evil spirits.

Next to Muika Utaki, there is a naturally formed underground well called Muikaga. Gā (ガー) means a spring source in Miyako-jima’s language. The underground well located just outside of Hirara’s town center is an unmaintained historical spot for adventurers to explore.

As previously mentioned, because a limestone layer covers the island, no rivers can be formed naturally. So the islanders in the past relied on natural springs flowing out of the ground. Many of them are located deep underground, and Muikaga is one of them.

Miyako-jima’s Unique Well Structure, Uriga (降り井)

Because of Miyako-jima’s unique geographical features, the concept of a well on the island largely differs from elsewhere. Many of them were formed when the limestone layer collapsed. Water sources were then discovered in the sunken doline. Muikaga is one of them.

For women and children to get to the spring source, 103 staircases were constructed at Muikaga. Because it isn’t a maintained historical spot, vegetation grows freely and covers the limestone cave’s exterior, creating a primitive atmosphere.

As you head further down, the lighting becomes dimmer. And at the end of the stairs, you will find clear water filling the cave.

Tomori Amaga Well (友利あまガー)

Another underground well worth checking out is Tomori Amaga in the Tomori area. The limestone cave is a lot bigger than Muikaga and has traces of more modern pumping tools being left around.

You are looking at a 20-meter height difference from the surface to the spring source. Before proper waterworks were completed in 1965, drawing water from Amaga was a daily routine for women and children. Most of them spent half the day just drawing water for their families. The hardships that they had to endure can be easily imagined.

Yamatuga Well (大和ガー)

The magnificent Yamatuga is a National Historic Site. It was determined the well was completed in 1720.

The underground well was used by the officials sent by Ryūkyū imperial family and the Satsuma Domain. If you look down the structure, the well looks like an ancient sanctuary with a solemn atmosphere. No wonder those who had higher social status made it exclusively for their own use.

Compared to the Amaga Well, the path down the Yamatuga Well is much easier to walk on. Instead of a naturally formed structure, the well was beautifully made with thousands of stones and rocks.

Close to Yamatuga Well, there is another underground well for the commoners. The well located under the hanging aerial roots of the Banyan tree is known as Buturaga (ブトゥラガー).

The big contrast between Yamatuga and Buturaga is significant, with the entrance of Buturaga being only just big enough for a person to go in and come out.

The same as Amaga, the stairs at Buturaga are severely worn, indicating people in the past walked on these stairs all the time.

Tax Stone (人頭税石)

Close to the Nikawadori Port (荷川取漁港) in the Hirara (平良) area, there is a 143cm tall stone pillar. Although it is just another random stone to us, the islanders in the past probably loathed it.

Why? Because everyone who reached the stone pillar’s height needed to start paying a poll tax. The tax burden was so heavy that it was said to be the heaviest tax in the world. Because of this poll tax, many islanders struggled to survive.

The tax that was payable for all between the age of 15 to 50 didn’t take each individual’s ability and circumstances into account. Those with physical disabilities and sick were also taxed the same way.

The poll tax payable from 1637 wasn’t in the form of money. Instead, a large amount of grain is required from each man. As for women, it was the textile they weaved.

Thanks to many’s efforts, the people of Miyako-jima were finally free from the poll tax in 1903.

Nakasone Toyumiya’s Tomb (仲宗根豊見親の墓 (なかそねとぅゆみゃのはか))

For the Japanese history buffs out there, remember to stop by Nakasone Toyumiya’s Tomb when you visit Painagama Beach. The tomb dated back from the late 15th to the beginning of the 16th century and belonged to Miyako Island’s ruler at the time. The spot demonstrated how much power the Nakasone had and the high level of masonry construction skills the locals possessed back then.

Nakasone Toyumiya was the guy who revived Harimizu Utaki at the beginning of the 16th century.

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It is said that the idea of having the 13 stone staircases was taken from the ancient Inca Empire. At the mausoleum’s north, you will find a well that is still filled with water!

The pyramid-like tomb was initially ordered to be constructed for Nakasone’s father. While most of Miyako Island’s tombs were built in the local Myaka style (ミャーカ式), Nakasone Toyumiya’s Tomb was constructed by combining the Myaka style and Okinawa’s horizontal stone chamber style (横穴式). It is perfect proof that the island had some sort of connection with Okinawa.

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Toyumiya (豊見親) is a title of honor used to address the head of the island.

Miyakojima Antoma Tomb (宮古島アトンマ墓)

South of Nakasone Toyumiya’s Tomb, there is another tomb. But this time, it is for the concubines, which is what Atonma means. Because Nakasone’s concubines couldn’t be buried in Nakasone Toyumiya’s Tomb, a separate mausoleum was constructed for them.

The tomb also known as Antoma Tomb, is quite a gorgeous place for the concubines to sleep forever in that some also call it Beautiful Ruins (美しい遺跡).

Antoma Tomb’s rock arched entrance structure is unique to the mausoleum that can’t be found elsewhere in Japan.

Chirimara Toyumiya’s Tomb (知利真良豊見親の墓 (ちりまらとぅゆみゃのはか))

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Then north of Nakasone Toyumiya’s Tomb, there is the grave of Toyumiya’s 3rd son. The mausoleum was built in the mid-18th century by Chirimara’s descendants.

This tomb is probably, however, less maintained and you might find it covered in overgrown weeds.

How to Get to Nakasone Toyumiya’s Tomb

  • It is around a 20-minute drive from Miyako Airport (宮古空港) and less than a 5-minute walk from Hirara Port (平良港).
  • If you plan to take a bus, get off at the bus stop, Kitashō-mae (北小前).

Miyako Shrine (宮古神社)

Miyako Shrine is the southernmost shrine in Japan and the only shrine located outside of Okinawa’s main island. In addition, it is the place that enshrines the Toyumiyas that we talked about before!

Being a shrine in Okinawa, Miyako Shrine’s architecture looks quite unique compared to the regular Japanese shrines on the main island. So instead of the normal Komainu (狛犬) lion dogs that guard the shrine, four Shisha lions stand in front of Miyako Shrine’s worship hall.

Another unique thing about Miyako Shrine is the purification fountain. It is the first shrine in Japan we encountered where water comes out of a tab. The fountain was modernized so that the water is always clean. The ladles are still there, however, it is quite large in size that you can almost use them to cook a pot of soup (´▽`*).

Miyako Shrine’s History

The shrine was erected in 1590 by ceremonially transferring a part of Kumano Sansho Gongen’s (熊野三所権現) spirit from Naminoue Shrine (波上宮) in Okinawa’s capital, Naha. But why?

At the time, a guy called Hirara was returning to Miyako Island from the Shuri Castle after he delivered Miyako-jima’s tribute to the imperial court. Unfortunately, he was drifted to the Korean peninsula. But luckily, he found his way home after eight years. Believing that it was the god who guided him home, he established the shrine. The three Toyumiyas were enshrined in 1925 when the shrine was renamed Miyako Shrine.

The shrine is now a popular place to pray for money and business’s prosperity. From Miyako Shrine’s precinct, you can admire Okinawa’s longest bridge, Irabu Ōhashi (伊良部大橋), and Hirara Port (平良港) from above.

How to Get to Miyako Shrine

  • Miyako Shrine is a 10-minute drive from Miyako Airport (宮古空港).
  • If you plan to take a bus, get off at Hirara-kō (平良港). The shrine is then a 5-minute walk away.

Mamuya’s Tomb (マムヤの墓)

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When you are on your way to the stunning Cape Higashi-Hennazaki (東平安名岬), you will walk past a cave-like tomb. It is the spot on Miyako Island that links to a tragic story.

Mamuya was the name of a young lady who was so beautiful that people said she was just like someone who walks out of a painting. But as we all know, having extremely charming looks isn’t always a good thing. Her beauty attracted many suitors, which led to tragedy.

If you are interested in what happened to Mamuya, please refer to our article on Cape Higashi-Hennazaki.

How to Get to Mamuya’s Tomb

  • Mamuya’s Tomb is a 40-minute drive from Miyako Airport (宮古空港).
  • If you plan to take a bus, get off at Aragasuku Boraga Line’s (新城保良線) bus stop, Yoshino (吉野).

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