The joys of fatbiking around Okinawa’s remote Taketomi Island

No other way will get you around the island so smoothly and quickly!

When it comes to beautiful ocean scenery, there’s nowhere better in Japan than the Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa, and if you want that and a look at the Okinawa of olden days, then you’ll certainly want to visit Taketomi Island. With a population of 323 and very little in the way of municipal development, visiting this remote island is like taking a step into the past, and since Taketomi is close to Ishigaki Island, the main travel hub of the Yaeyama chain, it’s an easy excursion for curious travelers to make.

Our Japanese-language reporter Kouhey, who’s been eating and drinking his way around nearby Ishigaki Island, recently made his fifth trip to Taketomi Island, and discovered the perfect way to get around. But first, he had to get there. A 15-minute ferry from the Euglena Ishigaki Port Remote Island Terminal connects Ishigaki Island with Taketomi, the “gateway to the Yaeyama.”

Unlike the other islands, Taketomi has something of an entry fee, which is 300 yen (US$2.15) per person. However, this fee is mostly dedicated to the environmental preservation of the island, and it’s actually voluntary. If you’re amenable, you can pay it either at the terminal or when you arrive at Taketomi Port.

▼ Naturally, Kouhey paid his dues. He loves Taketomi Island.

Once he paid his fee, he headed for the pier.

After a rocky, 15-minute ferry ride, he arrived at Taketomi Island. While alighting from the boat, Kouhey was surprised to see someone who looked like an Uber Eats delivery person. Could someone have ordered delivery all the way from Ishigaki…?!

Taketomi Island is famous for its water buffalo-drawn carts, which tourists can ride on a lazy circuit around the island while listening to the sanshin, an Okinawan string instrument. These carts are a unique part of Yaeyama Island culture, so just about everyone who visits takes a ride on one.

But Kouhey has another recommendation: renting a bicycle, and not just any bicycle, but a fatbike. Kouhey rented his from a fatbike rental store called Fatbike Rental Taketomi Island, located in the center of the island.

If you’ve never heard of a fatbike before, it’s a type of mountain bike with extremely thick tires.

Their thick treads make peddling on difficult roads easy and smooth, even those covered with sand and snow. The fatbike that Kouhey rented also had gears, which he hoped would make it easier to ride on the island’s hilly terrain.

The cost was 1,200 yen for the first two hours, and 600 yen for every hour after that. Rental bikes on Taketomi generally go for 400 to 500 yen per hour, so the fatbikes are a little expensive by comparison, but the island is full of sandy soil roads and hills. If you think about the convenience afforded by their wide tires and gears, that extra 100 to 200 yen per hour is worth it.

After several days of bad weather, the sun was out bright and brilliant, making it the perfect day for sightseeing, so Kouhey was eager to get on his fatbike and get going. With the rental process complete, he headed out on a tour of the island.

After the torrential rain of the day before, the dirt roads were in pretty terrible condition, but thanks to the fatbike Kouhey was able to quickly pass through the town and onto the island’s perimeter road without incident.

His progress was quick as he roared down the road.

His first stop was Kondoi Beach, the most famous swimming spot on Taketomi, which is also known for its superb beauty.

The water was amazingly crystal clear!

When Kouhey had his fill of its beauty, he headed back out on the perimeter road.

Ten minutes to the east, he came upon his second spot: Kaiji Beach, known for its star-shaped sand.

Here, too, the water was beautifully clear, making this a spot to compete with Kondoi Beach.

The sand was packed with tourists trying to find some star-shaped grains, but they aren’t so easy to find. Kouhey thought it would be easier to just buy them from souvenir shops.

Kouhey rode another kilometer (a little more than a half mile) east before he came upon a street called “Chocho no Michi”, or “Butterfly Road.” This dirt road was muddy and filled with puddles, but the fatbike had no trouble navigating it.

This took Kouhey to his third spot, Aiyaru Beach.

Since it’s relatively far from the main town, there were far fewer tourists there. Kouhey considers this a great hidden gem on Taketomi Island.

Back on the road for another kilometer, this time to the west. His destination: the West Bridge (Nishi Sankyo).

The very end of the bridge affords a gorgeous view of the sparkling blue waters surrounding the Yaeyama Islands.

The ride back to the perimeter road from the West Bridge is all uphill, and that is when the gears on the fatbike really came in handy. By the time he made it to the top, Kouhey was grateful his bike was equipped with them.

The West Bridge was the last stop on his fatbike tour. The island itself has a perimeter of only 3.4 kilometers (about 2.1 miles), so, even if you take your time at each spot, you can easily enjoy all of Taketomi in about an hour with a fatbike.

His tour finished, Kouhey headed back to town…

And returned the fatbike to the rental shop.

So there you have it–a tour of Taketomi Island by fatbike! Taketomi has plenty of bicycle rental shops that offer street bike rentals, but if you have the chance, Kouhey absolutely recommends renting a fatbike to help navigate the dirt roads and hills of the island.

But whether you decide to go with a fatbike or a street bike, make sure you follow the rules, including parking only in designated bicycle parking spots and not riding on the beaches themselves. Of course, you probably also shouldn’t get drunk on awamori jelly before you get on a bike, either.

As long as you ride safely and respectfully, though, a fatbike lets you fully enjoy the beautiful sights of Taketomi Island without a hitch!

Images © SoraNews24
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