Miyako-jima lies approximately 300 kilometres (190 mi) southwest of Okinawa Island and 400 kilometres (250 mi) east of Taipei, Taiwan. With an area of 158.70 square kilometres (61.27 sq mi), Miyako is the fourth-largest island in Okinawa Prefecture. The island is triangular in shape and is composed of Ryukyuan limestone. Miyako-jima is subject to drought and is frequently struck by typhoons.
Miyako-jima is well known for its beauty, particularly the Eastern Cape (東平安名岬, Higashi-hennazaki), which is considered by many as one of the most beautiful spots in Japan. Other notable locations include Maehama beach, the German Cultural Center, Painagama Beach, and the sights on Irabu-jima. There are three islands close by which are connected by bridges to Miyako-jima, Irabujima (as of early 2015), Ikemajima (池間島, Ikema-jima), and Kurimajima (来間島, Kurima-jima). The Miyako language, one of several Ryukyuan languages, is spoken here.
Miyako is home to a unique festival called Paantu (パーントゥ), which occurs in the ninth month of the old (lunar) calendar. Three men dressed in grass, leaves and mud go walk around town smearing the mud on houses, cars and people. They carry sticks in one hand and an expressionless mask in the other. Legend holds that those who have been muddied by the Pantu will have a year of protection and good fortune. Owners of new homes will also invite Pantu to give a muddy 'blessing' to their homes.
Miyako has its own version of soba. Otori is a custom of drinking Awamori, a distilled beverage native to Okinawa Japan. It is performed by people sitting (usually around a table). One offers a toast, drinks from a small glass, and then offers some to each person at the table making a round, and usually going to the right. When the toaster makes his way back to his spot the person who passed the Otori before pours him another glass. He then announces "TSUNAGIMASU" and drinks his second glass. After a brief interval, it is then the turn of the next person to pass the Otori, which continues until the celebration is ended.
Miyako-jima is home to sugarcane cultivation, and produces brown sugar. Miyako jōfu is a locally produced hand-woven textile made from ramie fiber. It was formerly known as Satsuma jōfu. The textile traces its production to the Tensho period, 1573-92. The city has seen a tourism boom initially with locals and Taiwanese in the early 2010s, but since 2016 is struggling to cope with cruise megaships from mainland China, but the port can only handle ships as large as 50,000 tons, eventually they hope to service ships as large as 200,000 tons. However, may change the character of the island as its population is small and rural.
The Miyako Strait between the island and Okinawa mainland are problematic due to their width to allow Chinese ships to pass through, without invoking UNCLOS rights. However, such passages puts Japan on high alert due to fears of territory being cut off and generally degrades bilateral relations.
In late April 2015, it was confirmed that the Japanese Ministry of Defense was in advanced planning regarding the permanent deployment of a GSDF security unit to Miyakojima, to begin sometime in fiscal year 2016. This is part of ongoing efforts to improve the defenses of the Nansei Islands. A GSDF security unit is a battalion sized force, of up to 500 personnel, whose role on Miyakojima will include providing the initial response to large-scale disasters in the area as well as acting as a rapid response force to counterattacks on remote islands within its area of responsibility.
The Miyakojima security unit's exact composition is unclear as of April 2015, though given its known taskings, it's likely that the TOE will include both the Komatsu LAV and soft skinned vehicles with all terrain capability.
Consideration is also currently being given to deploying GSDF units equipped with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles to the island.