Cruising Japan’s Southwestern Island Chain

We spent our first three months in Japan island-hopping at a leisurely pace between Ishigaki (our port of entry) and the mainland island of Kyushu, where we are now.

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Our route from Ishigaki to Fukuoka

Ishigaki, as you can see on the map above, is much closer to Taiwan than it is to mainland Japan. Our route continues on the red line in a northeasterly direction to the city of Fukuoka on Kyushu. The group of islands in the south, which includes Okinawa, are called the Ryukyu Islands, and they have their own distinct history, ethnicity, and culture.

The vast majority of the 16 stops we made were spent with Buffalo Nickel tied to walls in small fishing ports. In fact, I am preparing a short blog post to be published in the next several days just on wall tying, why as a rule anchoring is not done in Japan at all, and recommended gear if you are contemplating cruising Japan (which we hope you are!)

It’s pretty tropical, especially in the more southern islands, and there’s reportedly good scuba diving, though we did not partake. We were often reminded of Hawaii.

Inviting beach on Amami Island
Coast of Okinoerabujima

While on Okinoerabu Island, Izumi-San and his buddy, some friends of Kirk (our friend/fellow cruiser/agent/guru, MUCH more about Kirk-san later on, you’ll read the expression “friends of Kirk” frequently on this blog!) Anyway, some friends of Kirk invited us on a driving tour of the island. They spoke no English, but the free app Google Translate has saved our asses countless times in Japan, and this was one of them.

They took us to a spectacular cave (which we would never have known to visit on our own) of 3,500 meters in length(!!) We’ve never seen anything like it, full stop. It’s like something Disneyland created, only not. Because if it were Disneyland, you’d be able to stand up full height, walk without some kind of strange insects or shell-covered worms or whatever crunching underfoot, or under your ass if you’re not careful and slip; you would not get dripped on and have to wonder if a bat was peeing on you, and especially, you would NOT have to duck-walk or crawl on your hands and knees in the mud to get under the stalactites on the trail. After you’re already exhausted from the hike. After you’ve already decided that WAS a bat peeing on you, and you WILL contract rabies from the exposure… but then you WILL rabidly bite Stan and infect him for taking that humiliating pic of you duckwalking in the muck, so it’s all good! And having not gotten rabies or fallen in any slime, I truly did enjoy the hike.


The Japanese seem to take fishing more seriously than anywhere we have cruised. All hours of the day or night, people of all ages and backgrounds can be seen on breakwaters, fishing port walls, and docks trying to catch fish. This woman, on Fukue in the Goto Island group, looks like she’s on her lunch break from the office.

Woman fishing near our boat, Fukue

While on the island of Shimo Koshiki, another of Kirk’s friends, Sagara-San, treated us to dinner at his work-in-progress bachelor pad. His retirement career is commercial fishing and diving, and he’s also an excellent chef.

Sagara-San serves us fish cakes, sushi and sashimi
Fresh-caught local lobster grilling at the table

He had caught our dinner: delectable sushi and sashimi, including some fine octopus, and then lobster grilled in the fire pit that forms the center of his ‘dining table.’ All of that goodness, at a leisurely pace, washed down with beer and shochu (a Japanese spirit distilled from various sources depending on the locale, in our case sweet potatoes.) What a rare treat, as was the dinner conversation with Sagara-San and his friends, who spoke English to varying degrees. (And Google Translate to the rescue, in a pinch!)

This was not our first encounter with Shochu. We began tasting it on Okinawa. This pic shows the chef’s wife at our local Izakaya dipping some of the local brew up for us. It’s served either on the rocks, or mixed with either cold or hot water. I like it!

Serving shochu, Okinawa

On Iki Island, we visited a Shinto shrine that is only accessible at low tide. Shinto shrines are found in a lot of natural environments, but we found this one especially charming.

Shinto shrine at low tide, Iki Island
Torii, gateway to the shrine

On Tsushima, we rented a car for a day and drove all over the island, some of it through gorgeous forests of Japanese maple.


We saw Monkey Rock…

Monkey Rock, Tsushima

… and also visited a Shinto shrine with five gates (called Torii,) the first two of which are in the water.


At the end of that long day touring, we had dinner in a Yakiniku restaurant. You grill your own food over a fire set in the middle of your table. Yummy.

Yakiniku for dinner

I’ve set aside some photos of Yakushima Island and Hirado for a separate post, in the interest of brevity here. But next up will be all about how we are handling the peculiar logistics of mooring here in Japan.

5 thoughts on “Cruising Japan’s Southwestern Island Chain

  1. Part A: (ring,ring) moshi, moshi — flying c-141 + c-5 usaf cargo-planes out of travis afb … (located halfway between sacramento and san francisco) … from ’72-’77, my body will be 73 in december), … our pacific-routing typically went sf–honolulu–wake island–guam– manila–vietnam or thailand–manila–okinawa–tokyo–anchorage–sf. So,y’all’s posts are “the turtle’s treats that the rabbit totally missed as he flew-by”. Your storytelling completes my travels — you-two had me at “64 fpb” — lol and sincerely.

    Part B: we must have a karmic-connection — again, to “just happened to” check for posts the very day you post — remarkable.

    Thank you both so very much for “all you go thru” to have this wonderful travelogue/guidebook available for us to read — “grateful” always happens for me when i come here. Much appreciated : )

    1. Subscribe! It’s on the menu someplace… maybe on the right side? Anyway then you don’t have to remember to check for posts. And we’re glad you’re enjoying it!

  2. Hi from Germany ! We visited already 2 fpb 64 in the Med and planning our next adventure, currently sailing the Med. Lived in Taiwan some years so planning to visit together with japan in the future. Like to learn about your experience in japan mooring esp you mentioned that anchoring is not that popular , any reason ?

    stay safe !!!! Carsten

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