Zamami Guide

Looking to escape from the rat-race but only have a weekend to spare, try Zamami Island!!  Recently designated a NATIONAL PARK, and also a recognized 2-star destination in MICHELIN GUIDE JAPAN, this small cluster of islands features arguably the most beautiful ocean in Japan. Only an hour away from Naha, but a world apart, Zamami is the perfect hideaway to chill out from your school blues. Beautiful beaches, amazing diving, standup paddleboard and sea kayaking, great fishing, numerous drinking establishments…Zamami has something for everyone!
The island is one of Okinawa’s premier tourist attractions and in the summer ‘peak season’ sometimes has over 2000 tourists a day including lots of other ‘foreigners’ to speak English with. From Xmas to April it’s humpback whale mating season, then sea turtle season then coral spawning season, manta ray season, turtle season again and so on so there’s always good snorkeling (you can’t go wrong at Furuzamami Beach), as well as fishing, diving, sea kayaking and during low tide, shellfish, squid and octopus hunting. Recently, there has been a standup paddleboard boom on the island, as the calm and pristine waters between Zamami’s various islands provide the perfect venue for the Hawaiian born sport.
Zamami Village is comprised of over twenty islands, however only three of the larger islands in the chain are inhabited.  The primary Zamami Island has a population of around 600, Aka Island stands at around 200, and Geruma Island has only 60 or so inhabitants.  There are schools on all three islands.  Zamami Island features the most stores, restaurants, hotels, diving services, rental services etc.  Aka and Geruma islands are connected by a bridge.  Just south of Geruma Island, and connected by another bridge, is Fukaji Island, home to the Kerama Airport (and an observation deck).  Chartered helicopters fly from here.

Major Annual Events:
Mid-April: Ocean Opening Ceremony
The Ocean Opening Ceremony marks a new year of beach-related activities in Zamami’s clear, warm waters. The event includes an Okinawan prayer for safety at sea and features performances such as the traditional Eisa and hula dances. The whole island works together to produce a fun day with delicious fried fish, onigiri rice balls, and a zenzai sweet-bean dessert.
Mid-June: Sabani Race
Immediately following the rainy season, the dazzlingly blue waters around Zamami serve as the stage for a 36km race from Furuzamami Beach to Naha Port. Competitors take to the sea in Sabani, or traditional Okinawan row boats each equipped with a sail. Over the course of the preceding days competitors, villagers, and visitors take part in pre-race preparations that culminate in a full-scale festival the night before the event.Beginning of
July: Yacht Race
In the warm, summer ocean and with the Kerama islands as a backdrop, Zamami will hold its 38th annual yacht race this year. The oldest yacht race in Japan, the Zamami competition draws large sailboats from around Japan to vie for victory in an all-out dash from the Ginowan Marina on Okinawa Island to the goal line in Zamami Port. Following the race, competitors and spectators take part in an awards party as race organizers bestow upon the winners the ceremonial cup.
End of August: the Zamami Island Festival
Another institution of the annual events calendar, the Zamami Festival is by far the largest party of the year. The villagers are the artists and performances include eisa, hula, traditional Ryukyu dancing, and the local band “Za Mamies.” All of the establishments on the island set up stalls along both sides of the port providing delicious food and cold drinks to those in attendance. Just before the festival ends, fireworks light up the night sky and quiet harbor waters from across the bay.
November: Zamami Fan Appreciation Month
The islanders set aside the entire month of November to show their appreciation for all the visitors who have fallen in love with Zamami. In addition to a party and performances by villagers in the port each weekend, the various shops and restaurants in the village sponsor a treasure hunt and photo contest over the course of the month.
End of December until Beginning of April: Whale Watching Season
Every year humpback whales return to Zamami from northern waters to give birth to and raise their children. At 13-15 meters long and weighing around 30 tons, humpback whales are one of the largest mammals on earth. Visitors have a chance to see these majestic creatures up close as they dynamically perform, swim, and play in the waters around Zamami.
End of March: Whale Music Festival
The finale of the whale watching year, the music festival is a friendly effort to provide the whales with a musical send off as they return to Northern waters. The lively event features famous musicians from Okinawa Prefecture.


 

How to get there?
Zamami has two ferries: the larger Ferry Zamami and the high-speed Queen Zamami. The Ferry Zamami takes around 2 hours from Naha’s Tomari port to Zamami Island stopping at Aka Island on the way. The Queen Zamami takes about 50 minutes to 1 hr 10 minutes depending on whether it stops at Aka before or after Zamami. Both boats leave from the Tomari port in Naha (not to be confused with the Naha port or Shinkou Naha port – remember “Tomari”!) Specifically, the Ferry leaves from right outside of the Tomari Port Terminal building, while the Queen Zamami leaves from the north hokugan side of the port. If you’re coming by taxi, tell the driver “tomari hokugan” for the Queen. The Ferry costs 2120 yen one way, and the Queen is 3140 yen. During the peak-season summer months, the Queen makes three trips per day, and the Ferry at least one, and often two during the busiest times like obon.
Both ferry schedules are published 2-3 months in advance, and tickets can be reserved from two months prior to your desired date of travel. To check the schedule, head over to the Zamami Village homepage. At the time of editing this article, online reservations via foreign credit card were still unavailable.  However, the CIR on Zamami has been working with the village office to translate the reservation system and to allow for reservation with credit cards issued overseas in addition to those issued in Japan.
For the mean time, to book tickets, please contact the Zamami Village Naha Ticket Office in Tomari Port by phone, fax, or in person. There should be a staff member who can speak enough English to reserve your tickets. If calling, call after 10:00AM as they are the busiest in the morning. If sending a fax, please be sure to include the dates, times and names of your desired vessels, number of passengers, representative’s name and phone number.
Tel. 098-868-4567
Fax. 098-868-0630
An important final note is that due to typhoons in the summer and fall months, and strong northernly winds during winter, the sea becomes quite choppy.  At times, waves reach heights too high for the Queen and sometimes even the Ferry to run.  The captains of the boats themselves decide the final ferry schedule for the day by 8:00AM, so please be sure to check the village homepage to make sure your ferry is running.
In addition to the ferries to Zamami, the village also runs the inter-island ferry called “Mitsushima” between Zamami Island and Aka Island. The Mitsushima costs 300 yen one-way and makes 4-6 trips a day.  The Mitsushima can also take you to the neighboring Tokashiki Village for 700 yen one-way if you reserve it at least one day in advance. Mitsushima reservations to Tokashiki’s Aharen Port can be made at the ticket office in Zamami Port.
There are uninhabited island taxis that drop you off at one of the three main uninhabited islands where there is great snorkeling.  Either of the smaller two islands Gahi and Agenashiku cost 1500 yen for a round trip, and the larger Amuro Island (on which you can camp by request–ask the CIR when you get there) costs 2500 yen. Gahi and Agenashiku sit right in the middle of a Ramsar Convention designated “Wetland of International Importance” (read: ridiculously beautiful and abundant coral ocean). Many of the standup paddleboard and sea kayaking tours paddle out to one of the uninhabited islands, snorkel, then paddle back–a great option for the active adventurer!  However, DO NOT try to swim to the uninhabited islands as the currents are fast and dangerous.

Restaurants and Night Life
Zamami’s got great night life!  Despite being a tiny outer island,  there are multiple bars, restaurants, and izakaya. Many of the guest houses also serve meals and drinks too. Just pick up an English guide map in the tourist information center (say hello to the CIR Tues.-Sat. 9:30-5:30) in the port upon arrival.  The map features all of the restaurants and establishments on the island, as well as diving services, sea kayaking, guest houses, etc.
Some recommendations include La Toquee (great sushi and cuisine made with local ingredients and fresh caught fish), Marumiya (the standard restaurant with plenty of traditional Okinawan fare), Ojisan (a lunch-only place with delicious katsudon), Umibaru (Okinawa soba), Wayama Mozuku (mozuku sea-weed infused Okinawa soba), Cha-villa (for a cup of coffee or tea or cakes), etc., etc.  Once again, see the Information Center for more recommendations when you arrive.
There is the Ama Umi no Chaya or Beach Parlour that serves nice noodles and alcohol from around 6pm from May to October in Ama hamlet and the Kerama Beach Hotel in Asa village that does fancy dinners and drinks every night from 6pm if you book ahead.  The Furuzamami Beach shops serve good curries, snacks and drinks all day during the summer (May-October), closing at 5pm.
Aka Island features many great places as well including the go-to Parlor Miyama, various cafes, and bars.  Geruma Island is the home of the relatively famous Trattoria Bar Gerumagnon.  The owners create delicious Italian meals with 100% local ingredients, most of which come straight from their large garden right next door.  The restaurant has been featured on multiple television shows and is by reservation, so have someone who can speak Japanese call ahead.
When visiting during winter months, keep in mind that many places close or limit their hours.  That being said, you’ll always be able to find somewhere to eat (on Zamami Island) whether or not you have options.

Where to stay?
The cheapest option, if you have your own gear, is by far the beach-side camp site in Ama, which charges around 300 yen per person per night to use the facilities. The campground rents out various sizes of tents and equipment including sleeping bags, sleeping mats, grills, etc.  A 1-person tent costs 1000 yen per night, 2-3 person tents are 2000 yen, and 4-5 person tents are 2500 yen per night.
There are many, many guest houses on the island (far too many to mention). The cheapest places have private rooms without meals starting as low as 3000 yen per person per night.  A couple of establishments also feature dormitory or hostel style beds as low as 1800 and 2000 yen per person per night.  (For you Naha savvy people out there, the owner of Rehab International Bar as well as RIZE restaurant, Mr. Paul Patry, has also started a guest house in Zamami called Zamamia.  He’s got some of the cheapest rates and knows a lot about the islands.)  Prices go up from there and depend on factors like style of bed/room, meals, time of the year, etc. Many of the guest houses are also diving shops or restaurants and cafes. There are of course many independent diving shops, sea kayak tours, standup paddleboard tours, fishing tours, etc. available.
If you have any questions before coming or booking, either call or email the CIR in the Tourist Information Center in the port. However, as mentioned above, to book tickets please call the ticket office in Tomari Port at tel. 098-868-4567. Someone at the desk should be able to speak enough English to book your tickets.
Getting Around:
The only public transportion on the islands is the village run bus on Zamami Island.  It makes two loops between Furuzamami Beach and the Asa hamlet, or Ama Beach and campground.  The bus is 300 yen one way.  In addition to the village run bus, during the summer months, many of the rental shops and even guest houses run shuttle buses from the port to Furuzamami beach.  There is one taxi on Zamami and one on Aka.  You’ll have to call the taxi yourself, and it’s 700 yen to Furuzamami Beach.  However, it is not per person, so the more people you can load onto the taxi the cheaper it will be.  Aka Island’s taxi is a similar deal.  While there is no village run bus on Aka, most of the guest houses run transportation services to the main Nishibama Beach.  Both islands have scooter and bicycle rentals, and Zamami Island also has car rentals.
Well, that’s about all… In the last few years the amount of foreign tourists coming to Zamami has risen exponentially from next to none to at least a few each day in the busy season, so the island has grown accustomed to them. As a result, even if you don’t speak a lot of Japanese visiting Zamami should present few problems, if any at all.  The recent addition of a CIR to Zamami’s Village Office and Tourist Information Center will result in an even better real world interface for English speakers visiting the island. So throw off the shackles of urban life, grab your towel and sunscreen, and come enjoy one of the most beautiful places in Japan.
Zamami Tourist Information
098-987-2277
contact_zamami@vill.zamami.okinawa.jp
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