You won’t be disappointed if you want to experience an otherworldly atmosphere with plenty of singular photo ops.

If you’re looking for something a bit different from the usual island activities to do during your next visit to Okinawa’s Ishigaki Island, our Japanese-language correspondent Kouhey can recommend the perfect place for you. Yonekoyaki Shisa Garden is about 30 minutes north of Ishigaki City by car and just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the beautiful Yonehara Beach, where Kouhey sampled some divine carbs from Tommy’s Bread. Be aware, however, that this isn’t your typical traditional Japanese-style garden. If anything, it seems like something more likely to be featured in a bizarre science fiction film.

First of all, shisa are stone guardian deities that resemble lion-dogs, creatures that are extremely important in Okinawan culture and mythology. You can find them stationed in pairs outside many buildings throughout the island chain, protecting their inhabitants and keeping the bad luck outside. This particular garden on Ishigaki features an immense number of shisa in various sizes, colors, and whimsical poses that puts a unique spin on the traditional look of the shisa.

As he approached the ticket entrance of the building, Kouhey immediately noticed that the doors were flanked by two incredibly colorful shisa, unlike any of the dozens that he had ever seen before.

He also spotted a pottery studio across the way, where visitors can dabble in making their own smaller-scale shisa. He wouldn’t be trying it for himself, but it definitely sounded like fun for any artists who might stop by.

Eager to see what the garden had to offer, Kouhey picked up his pace and walked inside the main grounds.

Except…what on Earth was this place?? For that matter, was this even Earth?!

▼ This creature looked like it wanted to give Kouhey a hug.

▼ They definitely seemed friendly enough…

Despite not thinking that his jaw could drop any lower, he was floored by the towering shisa pyramid over 10 meters (32.8 feet) tall that greeted him.

The whole garden is said to be over 30,000 square meters (323,000 square feet) and filled with all kinds of distinctly unique shisa. Indeed, no two of them were exactly alike or wore the same expression.

While strolling, Kouhey found fairly standard-looking shisa resembling lion-dogs…

Ones that looked vaguely like dragons…

Towers of stacked-up shisa…

Shisa with giant eyeballs or nostrils…

And even shisa appearing to ride animals or Segways.

Even though it was all a bit strange, the sight of the endless shisa statues against the natural Okinawan scenery was truly stunning in its own way. Kouhey felt as if some kind of mystical, natural energy was emanating from the ground and seeping into his consciousness, which is why this garden is often considered a local “power spot.”

It occurred to him that this spot would provide absolutely amazing backdrops for Instagram users. In fact, during his visit he passed five groups of young women taking multiple selfies with the shisa.

Once he went further inside, Kouhey also noticed a number of small ponds dotting the grounds, all circled by more statues.

Among those were also a few variants that made him think, “Huh? Are these really shisa?” because they seemed so outlandish compared to the others.

He figured that a few aliens must have made a wrong turn and gotten lost on Ishigaki.

Near the very center of the garden was also a single statue that emanated a godlike presence. Was this the top guardian among all of the guardians?

In any case, the more Kouhey walked around the more he felt like maybe he had stumbled into a bizarre, alternate dimension.

There had to be over 100 stone shisa statues already dotting the grounds but even more were apparently in the works as well.

Taking the statues and the scenery into account, Kouhey definitely felt the full gravity of being immersed in one giant work of interactive art.

Ishigaki Island has no shortage of scenic places to visit, but Kouhey recommends visiting the Yonekoyaki Shisa Garden for something you really won’t find anywhere else.

▼ Let’s go!

However, if more modern, interactive art is your style, you might enjoy some of TeamLab’s offerings instead once you’re back in Tokyo.

Garden information
Yonekoyaki Shisa Garden / 米子焼きシーサー農園
Address: Okinawa-ken, Ishigaki-shi, Fukai 447-1
Open: 9 a.m.-5:45 p.m., year-round

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