Stars not in the sky but also on the beach. That's how I would define the beauty of beaches on the remote islands off Ishigaki.
Unique to the southwest islands of Japan, star-sand beaches are attractions in their own right where the sand contains star-shaped shells produced by organisms called protists. Though commonly called sand, they are actually the exoskeletons of protists washed ashore once they die. I love combing the beach to collect shells, but sifting through the beach for star-sand is on a totally different dimension. Challenging due to their tiny size, collecting star-sand is nonetheless is a thrilling activity.
The star-sand beaches can’t be found just anywhere in Ishigaki and require you to go a little out of the way by ferry to some of the more remote islands nearby. Checking on Google I hit upon Kaiji Beach on Taketomi Island and I was not disappointed. Taketomi Island is located about 30 kilometers away from the main Ishigaki island and I arrived early morning via a 15-minute ferry from Ishigaki Island. Taketomi island is small and does not allow cars. Rental bicycles or walking are the only ways to reach Kaiji Beach.
While tourists tend to take home star-sand souvenirs sold at the lone shop on the beach, my daughter and I decided to sift through the sand and search for star-shaped grains. It's not particularly efficient but the experience provides for a lot of fun and memories. We started our search by dunking our hands into the sand so that the grains stick, and then picked out the star-shaped ones. The feeling of achievement when you discover even one grain of star-sand is beyond words and can only be experienced. Physically sorting out and collecting the star-sand with the serene, blue water in the background is my personal recommendation.
We collected sand in a water bottle to sift through back at our hotel. An hour of effort will land you around 60-70 grains of star-sand and a lifetime of memories. Along with its star-sand, Kaiji Beach is also a great place to relax and appreciate the beauty of the water; the tree swing at the beach is a treasure.
If I have to mention one word of caution, I would recommend not to eat at the beach. The crows and cats will follow you everywhere. If you have no food items in hand, you are all set for a great experience.
Much more than a typical beachside vacation, Ishigaki-Jima is an island full of surprises, where the more you explore, the more you experience.
The Ishigaki to Taketomi ferry operates daily with a scheduled sailing duration of about 15 minutes.