Zamami Shima (座間味島) is the largest in a small group of islands which form Zamami village, a part of the Kerama archipelago (慶良間諸島) in central Okinawa Prefecture. It’s an area that really tests the limits to what you think Japan is: a vast national marine park dotted with small islands of pristine, white-sand beaches, surrounded by clear blue seas abound with corals and exotic marine life. Take a short stroll off the beach and you’re in the middle of the jungle. In short, it’s a tropical kingdom far closer geographically to Taipei than Tokyo and in spirit, light years from the bustle of either of those cities.
Zamami Island is under 7 kilometres squared, and has only around 600 full-time residents - almost all of whom live in one central village. The other islands in the group are less populated still, and house a variety of beaches for all tastes. There is more than enough room here for everyone to find their little piece of paradise.
In Okinawa you can go swimming all year long without getting shouted at by fishermen or scolded by old ladies, as the sub-tropical climate means it’s warm all year. In fact if you do visit during the winter months, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with the opportunity to see humpback whales returning from their migration (January-March). That said, the beaches are not officially ‘open’ between October and March. Which probably means no lifeguard service so watch out.
There are four main beaches on Zamami Shima.
This is not the best snorkelling spot but probably the best place on the island to swim with turtles. At high tide you are almost guaranteed to see them - there are dozens and they swim up close to the beach to eat its wild grasses.
Please understand that swimming is banned in low tides, to prevent damaging the coral.
Such a well-known spot for snorkelling that it’s regarded by many as the best spot in all Japan. The diversity of fauna is amazing; with many different beautiful varieties of clownfish to be found skirting around and hiding in the large anemones.
You’ll find a good few restaurants built on wooden structures on Furuzamami. They’re a little pricey and sport a more limited range of dishes than in the town centre, though the setting is worth it.
Nita and Touma Beaches
These two are far less popular than Ama and Furuzamami because they are further from the main hubs (those being the town centre and port). Access is a bit of a mission but not so bad if you can rent bikes. They’re sandy, pretty and will definitely satisfy those looking for something off the beaten track. If you want to snorkel, try Nita beach which has a bit more coral, though look closer and it sadly also has more washed up detritus on the sand.
Touma beach has a long stretch of sand and a pleasing bay but is a bit lacking in undersea life and coral. Nice for a chillout day though, and the golden sands glimmer in the sun.