Just a 30 minute ferry ride off of the coast of Okinawa is Iejima (the military refers to it as Ie Shima.) For an idea of just how small this island is, Okinawa is considered a very tiny island off of Japan yet Ie Shima is considered a very tiny island off of Okinawa... Needless to say, this 5 mile wide speck of land was incredibly easy to explore every inch of within one day.
Even though it’s so close to Okinawa, Ie Shima felt like an entirely different country. We consider Okinawa to be a lazy, beachy island but somehow the pace on Ie Shima was even slower. Ie Shima was also much more of a farmers island than a beach goers paradise. Much of the island was incredibly flat as well so it almost felt like we were in the Midwest!
The ferry ride might have cost $14 (which in reality is really affordable) but the fun Ben, our friend Vince and I had was priceless! I would definitely consider this to be one of my top ten favorite days I’ve had since we moved to Okinawa. The weather was perfect and this island was both insanely charming and chock full of interesting sites to see. Ben and I had high expectations going to Ie Shima and it definitely exceeded them.
The Ferry from Motobu Port
As I mentioned above, we had to take a ferry to get over to Ie Shima. Since I’m a chronic worrier/over planner I had it in my head that getting onto this ferry was going to be time consuming and stressful (I blame the hecticness of boarding our honeymoon cruise) so I had us arrive 45 minutes early.... Yeah, turns out you simply stand in line (there was only one person ahead of us), pay for your ticket (no questions asked), and board the ferry when it’s time. It was SO EASY and took under ten minutes. I don’t regret arriving too early for the sake of my nerves, but next time we travel by ferry I’m glad I know exactly what to expect!
The ferry itself was actually really nice. There were televisions which were playing the Olympics (apparently Japan did very well in ice skating but I couldn’t quit figure out what specific event), bathrooms, and a shop to purchase food. It was a pretty cushy ride considering that we were traveling for just under a half hour. I thought I’d mention too that you could ferry your car over to the island as well. We didn’t end up doing this but it’s a cool option if you’re not interested in biking 15+ miles like we ended up doing!
Ernie Pyle Monument
During the Battle of Okinawa, in which Ie Shima also experienced heavy fighting, famous US journalist and war correspondent Ernie Pyle was shot and killed. Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia about his untimely death on Ie Shima.
On April 17, 1945, Pyle came ashore with the Army's 305th Infantry Regiment of the 77th "Liberty Patch" Division on Iejima (then known as Ie Shima), a small island northwest of Okinawa. The following day, after local enemy opposition had apparently been neutralized, he was traveling by jeep with Lt. Col. Joseph B. Coolidge, the commanding officer of the 305th, toward Coolidge's new command post when the jeep encountered enemy machine gun fire. The men immediately took cover in a nearby ditch. "A little later Pyle and I raised up to look around," Coolidge reported. "Another burst hit the road over our heads ... I looked at Ernie and saw he had been hit." A bullet had entered Pyle's left temple just under his helmet, killing him instantly.
A monument was erected at the sight of his death to pay tribute to him.
The Pawn Shop Remains
The only remaining structure still in original form after the artillery and bombing of Ie Shima was the town’s Pawn Shop. 70 years later and it’s still standing today and is quite an incredible site to see. You can actually walk around the back and go inside of the building too, it’s clearly been reinforced so it looked pretty safe to me!
I found the twisted metal rebar that was poking out of the crumbled areas of building to be both fascinating and sobering. Although I love getting to see historical sites in person, it’s always a bit depressing remembering the devestation and death that these islands saw on both sides during WWII.
One is the coolest things about Mount Gusuku, aside from its shape which makes it look like the sorting hat from Harry Potter, is the fact that on a clear day you can spot it from a majority of Okinawa’s west coast! Honesty, it always used to bug me seeing this little pointy mountain off in the distance when I still hadn’t been there yet (Ie Shima has been on our bucket list for years!) Mount Gusuku is definitely Ie Shima’s must-see point of interest though. You’d be hard pressed to find a tourist on Ie Shima who didn’t have plans to make it up this 172 meter mountain.
After a very strenuous bike ride that lead us up a near verical incline to get to the entrance of the mountain, I was relieved that “climbing” Gusuku actually turned out to be “taking a very steep staircase” up Gusuku. I was definitely not prepared for a treacherous ascent, so stairs were a relief. We all made it relatively quickly since the mountain isn’t very tall and we’re surprised by the views. Since this island is comprised primarily of farms, the landscape looked like a patchwork quilt! I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.
Biking Here, There, and Everywhere
As I’ve mentioned previously, biking was our primary mode of transportation throughout the day. We spent $10 per bike for a day long rental which seemed like a steal considering we ended up using the bikes from 9:30 am-3 pm. The only problem we encountered with our beloved bikes (we all agreed that biking is insanely fun) is that there were no gears which meant traveling up hills was BRUTAL. I kid you not, I had the most intense quadricep exercise of my life biking that island.... It wasn’t insanely hilly, but there were definitely points where we needed to make either quick, near vertical ascents or go up very long, gradual hills which were equally annoying. Although they won’t admit it, the two very fit Marines I was with definitely thought it was difficult... So you can only imagine how rough of a time my barely-in-shape self had!
I don’t want to give off the impression that biking was a bad decision though because the pain was SO worth it. I’ve never felt more alive than I did biking all over every inch of this island. The air was so refreshing and after being covered up all winter long the sun on my skin made me feel blissful. Biking also gave us the opportunity to see so much of the island that we would’ve missed had we chosen to drive. We got to get up close and personal with some cranky bulls, see beautiful gardens filled with brightly colored fauna up close, and even interact with a few villagers. It was honestly one of my favorite things we’ve ever done. If you have a chance to go to Ie Shima BIKE IT!!!!!!
Wajee View Point
Up on the Northern coast of Ie Shima is the Wajee view point. A lot of people refer to the Ryukyuan Islands as “the Hawaii of Japan” and views like this make that nickname seem pretty accurate!
We were especially lucky because the bright sunshine allowed us to see the vast corals that live right below the water. At this point in the day it was pretty hot though and if I had the opportunity to jump into into the water below I might’ve just taken it...
The Niya-Thiya Cave was a definite highlight of Ie Shima. During WWII, 1,000+ Okinawans living on Ie Shima hid in this cave which is why it is also known as the “the Cave of 1,000 People.” No one died within this cave which is remarkable.
Inside of Niya-Thiya Cave is a stone which sits atop a podium and beside a tablet written in Kanji; it’s quite clear that this particular rock has some sort of importance. That’s because this, ladies and gentleman, is the famed fertility stone! Legend has it that women who pick up this stone will conceive a child within the following year. Also, if the stone feels heavy to her she will have a son and if it feels light she will have a daughter.
........ I PICKED THIS THING UP!!!!!!!! Oh, boy (I say boy because this sucker was heavy) I guess we’ll have to see whether this legend rings true! By the way, I can only imagine my mom reading this post in horror... How often does one get to pick up a fertility stone though?!
Abandoned US Expeditionary Airfield
Nope, the above is not my husband’s latest mixtape album cover. This is actually the US’s abandoned expeditionary airfield (or what’s left of it) from WWII. It’s a long stretch of rocky, beat up concrete which was once used for the landing and takeoff of military aircraft. Nowadays it looks like a dystopian landscape and was barely usable as biking ground. I had my doubts about seeing this site since it was somewhat out of the way, but in the name of history I dragged my butt here and was actually not disappointed! I’m a sucker for historical sites though so I’m definitely biased.
I’m embarrassed to say this, but not only can I not remember the name of this cave but I also can’t find it anywhere on Google! It’s not very impressive looks wise, but this cave is actually pretty incredible because it is the home of human remains that are over 20,000 years old!
At the very end of our day on Ie Shima I drug everyone allllll the way (about 3 km) to Ie Beach. I heard that it was beautiful and since I’m pretty much beach obsessed it was a must see for me. It was in fact idyllic and I wish that we could’ve stayed longer and had a swim. I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it back to Ie Shima, but if I do I’m definitely making sure I spend more time at this spot.
Lunch & Exploring in Town
Hearty meals were well deserved after over 15+ miles of biking, hiking and walking. Surprisingly, most of the restaurants on the island closed after 1:30 pm but eventually we found a local joint serving Okinawan food named “Cosy’s.” I had taco rice, split a pork cutlet bowl with Ben, drank a coffee at supersonic speed (energy was at an all time low at this point) and then finished it all off with a FamilyMart soft serve ice cream. My appetite was raging after so much acitivity!!!
After eating we explored a bit more and rode our bikes pasts the harbor. We had to stop and take a few pictures because the water was so insanely blue I couldn’t believe it was actually real!
It’s crazy to me how close Ie Shima is to Okinawa yet it felt like we were on an actual vacation. I always say this, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to explore such beautiful, foreign places. Okinawa has been a dream duty station and sometimes I seriously wish that I could just stay here forever....
We're Kara, Ben and baby Zoe also known as the Lesniaks. We’re a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Yorktown, Virginia after a three year tour in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together!
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