Our study trip to Ishigaki city in Okinawa was an unforgettable experience, immersing us in the cultural heritage and natural beauty of the Yaeyama Islands. One of the most interesting parts of our journey was a lecture by Eric van Rijn, a Dutch expatriate with over two decades of residency in Japan, who offered unique insights into the attractiveness of the Yaeyama region from a foreigner‘s perspective. 

Eric’s professional background in international business took a new turn when he relocated to Ishigaki Island in 2016, where he established Nohoho and oversees ViLLA Nohoho. This move reflects a blend of local authenticity and global outlook, catering to travelers seeking an exclusive retreat amidst Ishigaki’s natural splendor. 

ViLLA Nohoho, located in the northern region of Ishigaki Island, represents sustainable hospitality, granting guests access to Sunset Beach and the celestial wonders of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park. Limited to one group per day, the villa promises intimate experiences, immersing visitors in Okinawan tranquility away from modern pressures. 

Eric’s lecture shed light on the deep-rooted connection between nature and tradition in the Yaeyama Islands. Spanning ten unique islands, each boasting its distinct character, the archipelago is a sanctuary of biodiversity and indigenous wisdom shaped by centuries of isolation. 

At the heart of the islands’ cultural mosaic lies the preservation of indigenous languages, recognized by UNESCO as vital repositories of Yaeyama’s rich history. Dialects like shimamuni and dunanmunui embody the spirit of the islands, echoing through folklore, music, and communal expressions. 

The landscape adorned with vibrant hibiscus blooms year-round underscores the harmonious relationship between islanders and their environment. These flowers serve not only as aesthetic delights but also as versatile ingredients in local cuisine, traditional remedies, and personal care products. 

Guided by the lunar calendar, the islands’ cultural fabric is interwoven with ancient rituals and festivities passed down through generations. Whether witnessing the enchanting procession or marveling at celestial narratives in the night sky, Yaeyama’s traditions offer a glimpse into a mystical world beyond the mundane. 

Exploring villages with coral limestone walls and fukugi trees reveals a tapestry of timeless heritage. From the iconic shiisaa guardians to the melodic tones of the native Yaeyama language, every aspect of daily life exudes a profound sense of identity and resilience. 

Embedded within everyday life are the wisdom and traditions passed down by ancestors, evident in the use of medicinal herbs and culinary practices. From yomogi mugwort to turmeric, these “life grasses” reflect a holistic approach to well-being, deeply intertwined with nature. 

In conclusion, our journey through Ishigaki city and the Yaeyama Islands transcended mere studyit was a profound exploration of time, culture, and heritage. Departing from this enchanting corner of Japan, I carried with me cherished memories and a renewed appreciation for the enduring spirit of Okinawan hospitality and tradition.