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YAEYAMA ISLANDS

The Yaeyama Islands (八重山諸島 Yaeyama-shotō, also 八重山列島 Yaeyama-rettō, Yaeyama: Yaima Okinawan: Eema) are an archipelago in the southwest of Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, and cover 591.46 square kilometres (228.36 sq mi). The islands are located southwest of the Miyako Islands, part of the Ryukyu Islandsarchipelago. The Yaeyama Islands are the remotest part of Japan from the main islands and contains Japan’s most southern (Hateruma) and most western (Yonaguni) inhabited islands. The city of Ishigaki serves as the political, cultural, and economic head of the Yaeyama Islands.

The Yaeyama Islands are home to numerous species of subtropical plants and mangrove forests. The islands produce sugarcane and pineapples. Coral reefs around the islands are ideal habitats for dolphins, sea turtles, and larger fish such as manta rays and whale sharks. Before being wiped out by humans, whales and dugongs were common as well, and Yaeyama once had the largest population of dugongs in the Ryukyu Islands. On Aragusuku Island, there is a Utaki which specially enshrines hunted dugongs with their skulls, but non-residents are not permitted to enter unless they receive special permission from inhabitants, and it is said that any aliens without permission will be driven out by force.

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