Countless varieties of butterflies can be found on Okinawa Island and the Sakishima Islands. On Ikema Island, located to the north of Miyako Island, I was awestruck by the numbers I witnessed. With vibrant patterns of orange and black, the butterflies swarmed around a tree. At first it seemed as though the tree was in full bloom, until I realized they were common tiger butterflies. Paper kite butterflies, a related species with patterns of white and black, are also quite beautiful. However, some people consider them unattractive, as they resemble pieces of torn newspaper, particularly the local Ryukyu Shimpo, being thrown in the air. It is the largest butterfly in Japan, while the smallest, the forest quaker, is also unique to Okinawa.
In Okinawa, butterflies are called hābērū and have long been considered spiritual beings. Many of the tools used by noro, Okinawan priestesses, are shaped like butterflies.
Rare butterflies can be found on Iriomote Island, drawing enthusiasts from all over Japan. The rarest of all is the Ryukyu Murasaki (blue moon butterfly), whose black wings are adorned with large spots in colors shifting from white to lapis lazuli blue. While their name includes “ryukyu,” they are originally from Taiwan and the Philippines, accidentally reaching Iriomote due to typhoons, among other reasons.
I was lucky enough to encounter one while strolling on the island. It is always hard to photograph a butterfly, but this one stayed perfectly still, allowing me to photograph it at close range. I went back to the inn and announced my discovery, upon which a butterfly collector scolded me for not capturing and bringing it back. However, I felt quite lucky even to have just seen one.