Minamidaitō is an island village in Okinawa, located about 400km east of the Okinawan mainland. The island is known as Minamidaitō-jima (南大東島) and the village is Minamidaitō-son (南大東村). The name is also sometimes written as Minami Daito, or Minamidaitou. With 1400 inhabitants, it has about twice the population of nearby Kitadaito.
Minamidaito was first discovered in 1820 by a Russian Borodino-class marine vessel and named South Borodino Island. The sharp cliffs surrounding the whole island made it inaccessible to humans until in 1900 a Japanese pioneering team from Hachijō Island became the first inhabitants of the island, using the land to grow sugarcane. Minamidaito continues to produce sugarcane as its main source of revenue; it also runs factories for refining the sugar and producing a unique brand of rum called Cor Cor.
As a tourist destination, Minamidaito is one for the adventurous - flight tickets are not cheap and ferries are few, but the fascinating ethnic nature, culture and hospitality of the place can easily make it worth the cost, even just for a weekend visit. Everything about Minamidaito is unique, from the unique cultural blend between Okinawa and its ancestral Hachijo to the unique plant, fish and animal species. It's home to Japan's largest weather station and Japan's shortest airline flight.
The only way to get to Minamidaito is from Naha or neighboring Kitadaito either by plane or ferry. There are two flights per day from Naha, which can be reserved up to two months in advance from Naha Airport or by telephone or internet with Japan Airlines. Flights last about 70 minutes and cost ¥31,600 for a roundtrip(in 2011) or 24,900 for one way. The ferry costs around ¥10,000 for a roundtrip, but sails only once per week and takes 15-17 hours each way. The timetable is decided about a month before. Check with Daito Line (homepage in Japanese only).
The flight between Minamidaito and Kitadaito lasts for 3 minutes or 15 minutes counting takeoff and landing, and is the shortest airline flight in Japan. At 8300 yen it is comparatively no doubt the most expensive too.
The main village complex is easily navigable on foot. For the outer sights there is a rental service for cars and bicycles, but locals are always happy to offer a lift.
The first place to stop by is the Visitor Center (bijitaa sentaa) from which the manager, Kazuaki Higashi (Higashi-san), will help to organise your sightseeing needs. He organizes tours to the underground cave (Chiteiko), night wildlife sightseeing...
If you cannot speak Japanese, it will be important to bring a phrasebook. Almost all of the native islanders have virtually no comprehension of English. On the other hand, due to the presence of school staff, university students and migrants from the Philippines, there should be one or two English speakers somewhere to be found.
Eriko Yoshizato, the manager of Yoshizato Hotel, speaks good English and will be able to help with any queries.
If you have studied Japanese, you will have a great opportunity to practice the Okinawan dialect and the rarer Hachijo dialect.
The visitor center can help you with all the activities and getting hold of any equipment. Services are very inexpensive, or free.
Most souvenirs are available at the airport.
The island has two supermarkets and some smaller shops that open until late in the evening.
Eating on Minamidaito is highly affordable and very good quality. Most meals only cost ¥300-1000. Fish is usually served on the day it is caught, and is well known on Okinawa for this.
There are numerous eating houses, but they all offer roughly the same menu.
Groups usually share their food and drink, as well as the cost.
Beer and awamori are the favorites on Minamidaito. In the bars most beer is Okinawa's Orion Beer, although Yebisu can also be found. Most locals tend to have one glass of Orion then share out a big bottle of awamori.
Chu-hi, the vodka fruit drink, is also in supply, and most bars also have other drinks if requested.
The island's own produce, Cor Cor rum, is available but not often seen, probably because rum is unpopular with Japanese people.
As for soft drinks, look for Daito's fresh shikwasa (bitter orange) juice.
There are a few small hotels and guest houses on Minamidaito, but maybe the best choice for non-Japanese speakers is the larger Yoshizato Hotel, which is in the centre of the village. Ask about a hotel package when booking your flight tickets.
There are two flights per day to Naha, with one connecting through Kitadaito. The ferry is cheaper but longer and with a single roundtrip every week.
Flights and ferries occasionally do not run if the weather is bad - if an afternoon flight is canceled, then you will have to wait until the next day. Be careful about making reservations for connecting flights immediately after your trip.