The tropical island of Ishigaki has been on my want-to-travel-to-list every since I first heard about the island some years ago. A trip down south to Okinawa, temple and shrine hopping in Kyoto, and skiing in Hokkaido were three trips I had added to my bucket list before moving to Japan (that list has since then expanded significantly…). The latter two I had already crossed off earlier, but Ishigaki was still to be explored. I had looked into a trip to Ishigaki, but flights were too expensive, the timing wasn’t right and summer was too hot I figured. Of course Covid-19 didn’t help either. So I had decided to put off the trip for the time being.
With the arrival of the cooler autumn weather, Ishigaki came back into my mind and when Tokyo residents, were included in the Go To Travel campaign, I decided it was the right time to go. With the official Go To Travel information only being available in Japanese, I asked Japan Wonder Travel for help. For good reasons as it turned out quickly; I couldn’t book the discounted flights myself so with their help I was able to save more money than I could have when I booked myself. Here I will explain how I booked my Go To Travel trip to Ishigaki with Japan Wonder Travel and share the overall experience.
Go To Travel arrangements by Japan Wonder Travel
When you Google ‘Go To Travel Campaign Japan‘, you’ll find many different sources of information, but on multiple websites you read that only Japan Wonder Travel offers an English service. My contact with Japan Wonder Travel was very easy and I received a prompt answer every time. After sending Japan Wonder Travel my request, I was asked to share some details about the trip and some additional personal information. Because I had already decided on the flights and the hotel, I shared both and received a quotation within no time. I think it is great that you can decide yourself where you’d like to stay (given that the hotel has applied for the Go To Travel campaign of course) and which time you want to travel and I would advise everyone to do so: the more you have decided already, the sooner the reservation can be made (and the prices go up quickly these days).
Go To Travel Discount
I had calculated the prices beforehand and compared these with the prices written in the quotation, as mentioned on the website they had charged a service fee of about 20%, but because the trip was more than 3 nights, I did not have to pay the ¥5,000 booking costs. The price Japan Wonder Travel offered, was much better than the price if I would paid when arranging the trip myself: in total I saved almost ¥55.000 + I would receive an additional ¥23,000 in electronic Go To Travel Coupons. All in all my gain would be over ¥78,000. So I quickly confirmed the trip. I had to be quickly also because the trip would take place next week and it was Friday already. After my confirmation, Japan Wonder Travel send me the final confirmation together with the payment details. You can pay both by using a credit card as well as a bank transfer, I opted for the bank transfer as a credit card transfer would add another few percent to the travel som. This was all taken care of within one day.
Go To Travel trip
In the final confirmation, Japan Wonder Travel shared also all the other relevant information I needed for the trip e.g. the flight details, hotel reservation and the login details for the electronic Go To Travel coupons. I read that these coupons would be available after 3pm on the first travel day and were valid until the last travel day. I found the explanation on how to use the coupon on their blog quite useful, especially because the system is only available in Japanese.
When the departure day arrived, I was really excited as it had been a while since I had travelled, especially by plane. The check-in with the airline (Peach Air) was very easy and straightforward and didn’t differ from any other trip I had made. After the three hour flight to Ishigaki, we made our way to the car rental where we would redeem our first Go To Travel coupon and again the process was very smooth. We just had to login, select the coupon and redeem it by scanning the QR-code of the car rental company. The only thing that I didn’t know is that you can redeem a coupon for a certain amount once only at each company. So in this case I could use ¥1,000 + ¥2,000 + ¥5,000 and I had to pay the remaining amount by card. I had checked beforehand with the car rental company if they accepted the electronic coupons, which they did, because not all companies / restaurants accept the electronic coupons. But not to worry, many do and you’ll find it is easy to spend the full amount (I had no problems). There is also a full list available, in Japanese on the official Go To Travel website.
Where to exchange the Go To Travel coupons
Before we the trip we were wondering, how and where can we exchange all these coupons with a total value of ¥23,000, but actually we had spend it in a heartbeat. We redeemed the coupons at several local shops including a few restaurants, the car rental, souvenir shops and we could also pay for our trip to nearby Taketomi Island. As I mentioned earlier, the process was very easy and we just had to check if the shop accepted electronic coupons too. Every place accepts the coupons had Go To Travel posters on the shop window and near the cash register. On the way back I also noticed that most shops at the airport accepted the Go To Travel coupons.
My itinerary in Ishigaki
We travelled to Ishigaki for 3 nights and 4 days, a morning flight on Friday from Tokyo to Ishigaki and and evening return flight on Monday. Upon arrival, we picked up our car and drove to the hotel, before heading to Ishigaki town. Our first day we didn’t use the coupons for dinner, as we had received some recommendations for dinner and coincidentally both places did not accept to Go To Travel coupons, though we noticed that many others did.
The next morning we picked up some breakfast at a local bakery and made our way to the Tamatorizaki Observation Point, to eat enjoy the view and eat our breakfast. After that we drove up north to the Hirakubozaki Lighthouse on the northern tip of the island. The view from there was honestly one of the most beautiful we have seen during our trip. In the evening we made our way to Ishigaki town again for a delicious dinner – we had some amazing sushi!
The next day, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel. When we booked the trip, Japan Wonder Travel advised us to book the hotel without breakfast, as we could use the Go To Travel coupons to pay for the breakfast too.
Our friends had recommended us to go on a boat ride with a local, who would make these boats himself. Unfortunately, we could not use the coupons for this, but we thought ¥5,000 per person for the tour was great value for money. Because we were experienced sailors, we could also try sailing the boat ourselves, definitely one of the highlights of our trip!
Ishigaki has quite a few pottery places and we visited Yoneko-yaki Pottery, located close to Yonehara Beach (great for snorkeling). At the pottery they also made a large garden in the back with huge statues in the back. When you pass this pottery, don’t forget to visit the garden too, it makes for some great pictures.
Because we already did a boat trip, we decided to skip the glass boats of Kabira Bay, but instead did a short hike around the area. Most of the companies there accept the Go To Travel coupons too. Kabira Bay is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Spot and for good reason, it is a beautiful place!
Another highlight of the trip to Ishigaki was a day trip to the neighbouring island Taketomi. The boat ride from Ishigaki took only 15 minutes, and we could use our Go To Travel coupons to purchase the tickets. Taketomi is a small island with some beautiful traditional houses, water buffalo rides and amazing beaches. After arriving in the port, you can use one of the many shuttle vans of bicycle rentals to get to the centre and pick up a bicycle. The island is quite small, but having a bicycle to get around was very convenient and I’d totally recommend it. The restaurants we went to all opened after 11am and since there is no convenience store on the island, make sure you eat some breakfast before arriving (we made the mistake to arrive at 9.45 without having eaten anything…). We had an amazing bowl of Yaeyama Soba Noodles (must try!) together with some local Tedyunn Sweets (a rice cake and some deep fried doughnut-like cake from Okinawa). Both were delicious!
After spending our last Go To Travel coupons to buy some souvenirs and snacks at the shops in the local shotengai, we made our way back to the airport. Satisfied from all the great experiences and looking back at a convenient, amazing trip we headed back to Tokyo. Before we arrived back in Tokyo we already many some new travel plans and we will ask Japan Wonder Travel if they can make these arrangements too.
Looking back at a great experience with the Go To Travel campaign and the services of Japan Wonder Travel, I suggest to anyone who lives in Japan and wants to travel, to contact the company to make the arrangements. I was able to save a lot of money, much more than when I would have booked the trip myself. In addition, the communication with the company was very professional, fast, and convenient. All in all a great experience and I can’t wait to travel again!
Hotel: Alaise De Bale Ishigaki
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