Ie Island is just a 30-minute ferry ride from the main island of Okinawa and a perfect place to spend a day or weekend exploring and relaxing. You can discover the island by car, bicycle, on foot, or horseback. There are plenty of things to do and great souvenirs to buy to remember your latest mini adventure.
Motobu Town on the main island of Okinawa is home to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and Expo Park, and its port is the northern gateway to many of the outer islands. The closest of these is Ie Island, known locally as Iejima. The earliest ferry from Motobu is at 9AM and the last ferry back departs Ie at 4PM, so it is possible to explore the island as a day trip. To really enjoy the tranquility and sunsets, then opt for staying a night or two. One possibility is to take your own vehicle on the ferry, but you can also rent bicycles, scooters, or a small car once you get to the island.
As you approach Ie Island on the ferry, you will see the jagged peak of Mt. Gusuku, which the island’s residents call Iejima Tacchu. With its summit just 172 meters above sea level, it only takes about 15 minutes to reach the top from where you can admire a spectacular 360-degree view.
On the south coast, a little more than a kilometer west of the port, is the Nya-tiya Cave. So many people sought shelter in the cave during the aerial bombardments in the Second World War, they named it “Senjin-do,” a “Thousand-man Cave.” The cave’s history goes back even further as a local power spot. The locals believed that if a woman could hold up the cave’s heavy vigil stone, she would be blessed with a child.
The Iejima Beachside Horse Park offers 60- or 90-minute horse rides along the beautiful beaches and through the island’s countryside. The rides are available for riders of all levels of skill, but complete beginners need to take a 20-minute beginner lesson for an additional fee before the ride. During the summer months, when the East China Sea is warm, you can select the “Swim-with-Horse” option to ride and then swim with the horse as it plays in the ocean.
At the end of April, the Iejima Island Lily Festival takes place at the Lily Field Park. Elegant snow-white Easter lilies cover the park, along with colorful varieties from around the world. During the festival, there are fireworks, sky lanterns, and evening illuminations.
The Ie Hibiscus Garden is open all year round. It allows visitors to learn about one of Okinawa’s iconic flowers as more than 1,000 different varieties of hibiscuses grow in the garden. Worth checking out is the giant Hawaiian hibiscus measuring 30 cm across and the hybrid varieties the facility creates on the island.
If you’re looking for local snacks or souvenirs, then a visit to the Ie-Jima Product Center at the port terminal is in order. Ie Island is famous for producing peanuts called “jimami” in the Okinawan language They are the main ingredient of “jimami tofu,” an Okinawan traditional specialty. Unlike soy-based tofu, jimami tofu is made from peanuts and sweet potato starch. It has a smooth texture, a delicious taste, and is packed with vitamins. “kekkun” chips are a popular new snack with a crispy, light texture made of Ie Island wheat.
Ie Soda is a local beverage made of spring water and brown sugar from the island’s sugarcane plantations. Various flavors that include local ingredients such as red dragon fruit, shekwasha, and sea salt are available.
Ie Island’s most celebrated souvenir is Ie Rum Santa Maria, an award-winning spirit made from the island’s sugarcane. The drink’s fine taste and reputation are the result of using fresh sugarcane juice rather than molasses. The rum’s name comes from the island’s white Easter Lilies, which are associated with Saint Mary.
Although small at only 23 square kilometers, Ie Island is well worth a visit. With fantastic ocean views, floral celebrations, and unique local crafts, it’s the perfect place for a mini-adventure just 30 minutes from the main island of Okinawa.
Posted on March 5th, 2020
Text by Chris Willson
Chris Willson is a British photographer, videographer, and travel writer based in Okinawa for over 20 years.