Dive Destinations

by Julian Ryall

wifm_autumn09_low-32There are many reasons why people go scuba diving. Some seek the thrill of exploration; others want to see exotic coral, brightly colored fish or even chance an encounter with a shark; yet more want to fin through underwater caves or the rusting hulks of long-sunken ships.

The one positive that many divers who live in Tokyo comment on, however, is just how quiet it is down there. Pull the mask down, sink below the surface, and the noise of the commuter train, the chatter of the TV, and the moans of the boss just float away.


On the surface, western Japan might not be the most promising place for divers to exercise their passion; it does not, after all, benefit from the year-round sunshine and balmy waters of destinations such as Hawaii, the Caribbean or Tahiti.

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No matter, says Matthew Endo, who has been running Mar Scuba in Tokyo for the last 10 years. “Many people think of scuba diving in warm tropical locations, but the temperate waters of the Izu Peninsula have the benefit of easy access from the Tokyo or Kanto regions, as well as being home to some of the best diving in Japan for the biodiversity,” said Endo, who is originally from Los Angeles.

He describes the Izu Peninsula as one of the diving fraternity’s best-kept secrets—although it has attracted more attention since being featured in a couple of international diving publications.

“It is one of the few areas in the world with kelp forests and an incredible diversity of marine life, ranging from soft corals to temperate and tropical water fishes that ride the Black Current up from the Philippines in the late summer and early fall,” said Endo.

Just an hour from central Tokyo by bullet train, the beach resort of Atami makes an ideal jumping-off point for a daylong diving trip. And it is one of the very few dive spots in eastern Japan with a wreck to explore, as ships that sink are generally raised fairly soon.


wifm_autumn09_low-34The wreck at the Chinsen site is what remains of a large barge that was carrying stone for the harbor walls. The vessel was at sea when a typhoon struck, snapping its keel and sending it down 33 meters to the seabed. It is constantly surrounded by schools of halflined cardinals, and moray eels have made the nooks and crannies of the ship their homes. Rays are also frequent visitors, as are spider crabs, while sponges and soft corals have taken a grip on the barge’s surfaces.
Not far away is the Sodaine dive site, where a rock pinnacle stands just 5m below the surface, split into two sharp points and dropping some 40m to the sandy bottom.

Further down the coast are the dive destinations of Futo, Ajiro and Hokkawa, all of which offer an impressive array of ocean life, while the more unpredictable waters of Mikomoto are for more experienced divers and, as it is a further journey, dives are generally spread out over a weekend.

The site is famous for sightings of hammerhead sharks in the summer, as well as gray reef sharks and even the occasional whale shark.


Other destinations include the Okinawan islands, such as Ishigakijima for the opportunity to dive with manta rays, and the awe-inspiring formations off the island of Yonaguni; some say these are the remains of an advanced civilization that is unrecorded in history.



SCUBA SCHOOLS

Like the handful of other dive operators in and around Tokyo, Mar Scuba offers a wide range of PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) courses, ranging from the basic Open Water Diver qualification right up to instructor-level courses.

wifm_autumn09_low-31As any instructor would say, you will probably never have to use that knowledge, but it is better to be safe than sorry. After the confined-water dives, four openwater dives are required for the full basic certification. And with that under your weightbelt, there are numerous specialized offshoots that can be studied, including underwater naturalist, photography, search and recovery, dry-suit diving, night diving and wreck diving. Another popular misconception about diving in Japan is that it has to be very expensive. True, the latest flashy equipment may carry a hefty price tag, but Mar Scuba rents all that a diver needs before getting in the water and the basic Discover Scuba course costs just ¥18,900. And after that, the ocean is the limit. ❖

RESOURCES

MAR SCUBA
www.marscuba.com/

DISCOVERY DIVERS TOKYO
http://www.discoverydiverstokyo.com/

JAPAN UNDERWATER EXPLORERS
http://www.jue.jp/