A day trip to Okinawa's uninhabited Ukabi Island

Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

A day trip to Okinawa's uninhabited Ukabi Island

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

It was by accident that I went to Ukabijima in Okinawa. On a day in late June, I hit the road and drove down south. My destination of the day was Komakajima, an island only a 15-minute boat ride away from Chinen Peninsula on the eastern coast of Nanjo City. When I tried to buy a ticket at Chinen Marine Leisure Center, however, I was told that there would be no boat heading to the island.​​

A boat bound for Ukabijima, another small island, however, was departing in a few minutes, so I made a snap decision to change my plans. With a 1,400-yen ticket - half the price of regular admission for a solo passenger since I was joining other passengers on the boat - I was on my way.

As I boarded, our destination was already in sight. Ukabijima has an 800-meter circumference and is only about 800 meters away from the shore. It looked more like a small stretch of shore with no trees or buildings than it did an island.  But, as the boat approached, the island grew larger than my initial impression.

As soon as the boat came to a stop, we got off and set foot on the sandy beach. While the western side of the island was covered with sand, the eastern side seemed to consist of pebbles and coral remains. I put my bags on the sandy shore then prepared to do some snorkeling. A member of the crew told me I couldn’t go beyond the buoys in the water.

When I dipped into the water, I noticed the current was fast. I had to constantly move my legs to avoid drifting away from the designated area. Luckily, the waters were shallow, so I didn’t need to worry too much. It was not until I put my face under the water that I noticed how many fish were surrounding me below the surface. Brightly colored fish of all shapes and sizes were constantly following me as if they were expecting to be fed.

At one point while swimming over the rocky rugged bottom, I spotted a school of blue damselfish. As I was trying to get as close to it as possible, something different came into my view. It appeared to be something black and long, possibly a cucumber or a moray eel, sticking its head from a chasm. It crossed my mind to get closer and take a photo and also identify what it was. But I decided not to and kept my distance from the creature. On that day, I was happy enough just swimming with the fish.

I was in the water for about 40 minutes. When I got back on the shore a boat was just arriving, bringing more people to the island. Once all the passengers got off, I boarded and made my way back to the main island.

Under the cloudy sky, the sunlight was not as strong as I expected it to be. But my face and neck were already feeling the burn and it finally felt like summer had arrived.

Chine Marine Leisure Center
GPS Coordinates: 26.174462, 127.829622
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Apr – Sept); 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Oct – Mar)

*A boat ride to Ukabi Island costs 1,400 (approx. $10, adult) and 700 yen (elementary school children) for a round trip. Free for kids younger than elementary school age. The minimum number of passengers to be accepted is two. However, if you go there solo and don’t have any other passengers to get on board together, the boat will still launch on the condition that you pay twice the regular fee.  
*A boat ride to Komaka Island coats 3,000 yen (adult) and 1,500 yen (elementary school children), accordingly. 
*Above fees are subject to change. For the most up-to-date info, please check with the center. 

Lovely café and museum
Once back on the main island, my parents joined me for a lunch. Chinen Peninsula is known for its many restaurants and tourist spots. With so many options, I always have trouble picking where to go. This day, however, I was prepared and knew we’d be going to HAN-YAMA-CAFE, a glass-walled café serving authentic French cuisine.

To get there, I had to drive on a narrow street that runs by a local school. Once I arrived, the elegant building which looked more like an art gallery or boutique, made me hesitant to enter in my casual beach attire. But Café’s manager, Wonkuen Kim, welcomed me, beach sandals and all, with a smile.

Seats were available on the first and second floor. Since the café commands a superb view of the peninsula, we decided to go upstairs. As we were waiting for the food, we enjoyed the views and the modern art on the walls.

HAN-YAMA-CAFE offers course menus and pasta for lunch. Curious about the food and to celebrate my 49th birthday, we decided to go big by ordering one set on the course menu and two pastas to share. For the course menu, we had Bouillabaisse (1,400 yen, approx. $10), wagyu carpaccio (1,250 yen), and sea bream meunière (1,980 yen). The pastas we ordered were Orecchiette al pomodoro fresco (earlobe-shaped pasta, 1,350 yen) and Spaghetti aglio e olio pepperoncino (1,260 yen).

The lunch turned out to be one of the most gorgeous and best I had in a while. I especially enjoyed the Bouillabaisse and pasta. The soup had a rich taste of tomato and mussels, while the pasta had a very interesting texture and chew. The pepperoncino pasta was tangy and garlicky. The presentation of the wagyu carpaccio and sea bream meunière were artsy and matched the surroundings.

When we looked at the plates filling up our table, we were not sure if we could finish all of them. About 40 minutes later, however, our plates were empty.

Once our lunch was over, Kim the manager showed us around Nanjo Art Museum located right next to the café. Although titled “museum,” it was more like an art residence where works of modern art, painting, and photography were exhibited on the walls. To my surprise, authentic works of maestros such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí were presented very casually. There’s also a studio adjacent to the exhibition room where artists were actively working. According to Kim, artists come to this museum to spend some time working on their crafts. Works of such artists were exhibited as well.

Both the café and the museum were a big surprise to me, and I was glad that I chose this for my celebratory lunch. Since there are more menu items to try and more works of art to see there, I’m sure I will visit this place again soon.

GPS Coordinates: 26.17427 127.82014
Hours: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Lunch, L.O. 3:30 p.m.), 3 – 5 p.m. (dessert and drink, L.O. at 4 :30 p.m.) 
*Closed on Tuesday. 
*The café and the art museum are located next to each other and run by the same folks. 
*Admission to Nanjo Museum can be subject to fees depending upon each exhibition.

Yahara Dukasa
On our way back home, we stopped by a couple of locations on Chinen Peninsula. One of them was Yahara Dukasa. This is a piece of rock standing in the sea, about 20 to 30 meters away from the sandy shore. Legend has it that Amamikiyo, the goddess who created Okinawa, set her foot on the rock when she landed on Okinawa for the first time. According to Nanjo City, the goddess temporarily stayed at Hamagaa Utaki, a rocky sacred site nearby, after her landing. Although these two landmarks are small in scale if they are compared to Sefa Utaki, they have nonetheless a strong sacred atmosphere, just like the most famous sacred site in Okinawa. The serene and mysterious mood helped me cool down and relax after having a lot of fun on Ukabi Island and the stimulating dining experience at the café.

Yahara Dukasa
GPS Coordinates: 26.139480, 127.796772

Hamagaa Utaki
GPS Coordinates: 26.140293, 127.796388

Dried squid on Ojima
I also stopped by Ojima Island. I had been there just a week ago to see a dragon boat race. This time, though, I wanted to see squid drying on wire. It is a seasonal tradition that starts in late June and continues until October. I was impressed by the sight of the squid drying in the sun as it also made me feel that summer had arrived. I could have bought some on the spot and washed them down with a can of beer, but I decided not to because I had to drive. With plan on coming back with a designated driver next time, I hit the road and made my way home.      

Ojimas’ squids dried by the sun 
GPS Coordinates: 26.131796, 127.774180

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