I spend sunrise the next morning at the easy-to-reach Geta Falls, nicknamed Zen Falls, the last of my above-sea-level escapades and a calming spot for a morning picnic amid the surrounding entanglement. On the west coast of Iriomote, only seacrafts can reach the genuinely secluded beaches, which serve as launchpads to technicolor coral reefs. Just 124 miles from Taiwan, the west coastline of Iriomote is my diving point to meet and greet some of Japan’s most unlikely inhabitants in the clearest of seas. I am confronted by schools of bright yellow-and-blue fish and soon encounter orange-and-white-striped clownfish that live in the tentacular anemone.
Alas, I’m not yet a diving pro able to venture into deeper waters, because if I were, I might see mantas, sea turtles and hammerhead sharks, all of which are frequent visitors to the area. I’m not, however, adverse to stroking half-meter-long squidgy sea slugs while snorkeling in shallow waters, even if it’s more appealing to admire the alluring jumbo-size starfish that live in this outer galaxy of Japan.
The Yaeyama Islands haven’t all shirked modernity like Taketomi. I set sail next for Kohama, famed in Japan as the setting for the long-running 2000s TV drama Churasan, which told the fictional story of Eri Uemura, born May 15, 1972 — the day Okinawa was handed back to Japan by the United States. Comprising just three square miles of barely-above-sea-level sand, grass and trees and with a highest point of about 325 feet, Kohama is a perfect destination for some tropical sports — and that’s precisely what the Risonare Kohamajima resort is built to provide. Its full golf course looks out to sea, a backdrop of neighboring islands behind it; tees and fairways roll calmly beside beaches and atmospheric family villas, each with their own antique-style oriental daybeds perfect for a lazy afternoon nap. Positioned in the center of the Yaeyama archipelago, it’s perhaps no wonder that here is my best chance for a spot of windsurfing. Locals have even skipped the ferries and surfed all the way to Taketomi because of the flurries of air that swoop around the coastlines. “Of course, it’s easier than it looks,” says former pro Takeshi Matsuzawa, who helps me with my technique. “But these are the finest winds in all of Japan.”
The next day, I’m firmly back in slow-pace mode, and my tanning skin is overdue for some care and attention. Risonare’s Ryukyu Spa offers the antidote, harvesting the seas for coral and enfolding it in seaweed for a skin-stimulating body pack and facial designed to cleanse the pores with ancient clay. I sporadically doze off during the 80-minute session but feel suitably revivified by the time I stroll home under the gleaming moonlight.