Japanese Language and Japanese Dialects in Danger of Extinction - Iriomote dialect of Yaeyama language

In 2009, UNESCO announced that of the world's 6,000 or so languages, 2,500 or so are in danger of disappearing. This included eight languages in Japan.

In addition to Ainu, which had been listed before the 2009 announcement, the list also included Hachijo in the Izu Islands, Amami in Kagoshima, Kunigami in northern Okinawa, Okinawan in central and southern Okinawa, Miyako in the Sakishima Islands, Yaeyama, and Yonaguni language of the Sakishima Islands.

Of these dialects, the Iriomote dialect is spoken on Iriomote Island.


Iriomote dialect of Yaeyama language

Yaeyama language is a general term for several dialects spoken in Ishigaki City and Taketomi Town.

However, even within Taketomi, the dialects are so different that it is almost impossible to communicate with each other.


For example, the basic vocabulary of "you" is very different even in Taketomi Town, “ura” in the Iriomote dialect (Sonai Chiku), “woh” in the Taketomi dialect, “vva” in the Kuroshima dialect, and “dah” in the Hateruma dialect.

Moreover, not only vocabulary but also grammar differs greatly.

Then, what on earth is Yaeyama dialect?

It is not limited to Yaeyama language, but it is quite a difficult problem.


Ishigaki Island = Ishigaki City 

Other island areas are Taketomi Town.

The Taketomi town office is scheduled to be relocated to Iriomote Island, but as of 2020, it is still near Ishigaki Port. To reach other islands in Taketomi Town, you have to go through Ishigaki Island once.

As a result...


▶Basic vocabulary "Anata" dialect 

Iriomote Island Sonai District →ura

Taketomi Island ( from the Taketomi dialect dictionary )  →ura / wo:

Kuroshima →vva

Hateruma Island →da:


Access to Iriomote Island

Iriomote Island is one of the islands in Taketomi Town, but all islands can be reached by boat from the remote island pier in Ishigaki Island. Iriomote Island has two ports on the Ishigaki route, Ohara Port in the east and Uehara Port in the west. The Sona district of Iriomote Island, introduced here, can be reached from Uehara Port in the western part of the island by a free shuttle bus provided by a shipping company.



Natural Monument of Iriomote Island

At Uehara Port, there is a signboard of the Iriomote wildcat, which is a national special natural monument. Every year, many Iriomote wildcats are killed in traffic accidents, so we are calling for caution. Stopped on the right side is the shuttle bus of the shipping company Anei Kanko.


A large billboard at Uehara Port


A sign explaining the Iriomote wildcat.


Iriomote wildcat driving caution map. Drivers are warned to be careful.


Iriomote Island is full of precious creatures.

Semaru box turtle, a natural monument.

There is a hinge on the ventral side that closes the front and back gaps and protects the body.


Traditional events on Iriomote Island

The Sonai area is the oldest traditional village on Iriomote Island.

Every fall, the nationally designated Important Intangible Cultural Property "Shichi" is held.


Maitreya (Miruku) comes with Hatagashira as the head.


During festivals, people from Sonai also return to support the festival.


Maitreya's dance.


The end of the festival is a boat race Hari divided into red and white.


In late July, a harvest festival is held to celebrate a bountiful harvest.

Notice of harvest festival on bulletin board in district.


On the day of the Harvest Festival, from the morning, the big rope is made for the tug-of-war to be held at night.

Close the main street of the district to traffic.



After attaching a decorative rope to the ring, the western half is complete.

Combine with the eastern half to make one.



Two crops can be grown in Iriomote Island.

Two crops can be grown in Iriomote Island. There are several seedlings of different colors in the nursery.



Special product Akamayamai (red cat rice).


In the first half of 2022, the ears of rice fell down due to wind and rain, and the harvest was poor.

May you have a bountiful harvest next time.



We hope that through the "Yaeyama language, Iriomote dialect," a language and dialect in danger of disappearing in Japan, you will deepen your understanding of Japan.