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YAEYAMA ISLANDS

Yaeyama Islands

A family of isles situated at the southern end of the Okinawan archipelago, the Yaeyama Islands are a surprisingly accessible getaway from Japan. Wanting sun, scuba diving or sand? Yaeyama's aquamarine waters teem with wildlife -- namely sea turtles, dolphins and even stingrays -- due to plenty of coral reefs. On land, the islands are home to distinctive mangrove forests and palm trees lending a lush and exotic feel to surroundings. The influence of Chinese culture -- the islands are closer to Taiwan, after all -- also hints at the rich history of the area. A visit to museums or former samurai residences provides a fascinating glimpse into local customs and folklore. Have an interest in gastronomy and food? Ishigaki Island is renown for its marbled local beef, which rivals that of Kobe. Vegetables, such as fern sprouts and pine tree foliage, abound. Seafood is plentiful and fresh. Fermented foods, snake meat and pigs' ears appear on local menus, too. Travelers journeying here will find much to do and enjoy!