Kudaka-Shima, Okinawa’s Sacred Island

Ishiki Beach in Kudaka Island

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Since the early 16th century, the Ryukyu Islands, better known as Okinawa, have been an integral part of Japan. In practice though, the archipelago prides itself as a culturally distinct entity with its own customs, cuisine and religion. For visitors who wish to experience the Ryukyuan culture at its fullest glory, a day trip to Kudaka-Shima is a must-do. Despite its tiny size, the sunbaked Island boasts multiple pristine beaches, unspoiled nature and most importantly, some of the Okinawa’s holiest sites.

Even though the Ryukyu archipelago is vastly dominated by its main island of Okinawa Hontō, there are in fact more than 100 islands across Japan’s southernmost prefecture. One of which, Kudaka-Shima, is the place where according to the Okinawan mythology, Amamikyu, the Ryukyuan creator deity, descended from the sky and formed the entire chain of islands known today as Okinawa.

 

For that reason alone, Kudaka-Shima is regarded as the archipelago’s most sacred island, making it home to myriads of shrines (locally known as Utaki), including two of Okinawa’s holiest sites, Fubo Utaki and Cape Kaberu (Habyan).

 

Ensconced in a wooded area within the central part of the island, Fubo Utaki is considered the most sacred Utaki throughout the Ryukyus, and as such, entry to the site is strictly prohibited. Located at the northernmost tip of Kudaka Island, Habyan (aka Cape Kaberu), is the aforementioned spot where goddess Amamikyu has created the Ryukyu archipelago. Beside its religious merit, this scenic point is bestowed with a glut of sweeping ocean views as well as multiple oddly-shaped rock formations.

 

Situated 5 kilometers off the southern coast of Okinawa main island, Kudaka-Shima is reachable by either a ferry (20 minutes) or a high-speed boat (15 minutes), both of which depart from the nearby Azama Port (timetable here).

 

With a landmass of a measly 1.38 square kilometers, cycling is by far the best way to explore the island. Two shops next to Kudaka’s Tokujin Port offer bicycle rentals per day or hour. It takes about 12 minutes by bike to travel the island from north to south, a distance of 3 kilometers. While Kudaka’s 8 kilometer long coastline abounds with numerous secluded coves, the only beach where swimming is allowed is Megi Beach as the rest of the shoreline is deemed sacred.

 

As Kudaka’s sanctity spared it from mass-development, nature reigns supreme throughout much of the island, with tropical thickets cover large swathes of land. The only speck of civilization which defies the place’s untamed character is the island’s sole settlement, nestled in its southern part. Home to a little more than 200 residents, the village is far from exciting. Nevertheless, visitors who wish to soak in the local culture can challenge their pallet with Irabu Soup (a soup made of sea-snakes) at this traditional eatery.