April 2011: Shirosaki near Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan

This month I began my dives back in Shizuoka prefecture, following on from my trip to Atami in March, although this time I ventured further south to the beautiful chilled out areas of Ito and Rendaiji near the tip of the Izu Peninsula, which runs from Atami. Despite the high chance of aftershocks (since last month’s earthquake Tokyo has had at least 3 powerful tremors in the last few days) and feeling quite hesitant as a result, I decided to go ahead with my dives. The weather was a wonderful 22C, warm, dry and sunny, so I would have been crazy not to go. And over the past few weeks getting on with life as usual has been really comforting.

I booked my dives with Tago Diving Centre, an excellent school recommended to me by a fellow diver I met in Okinawa, extremely knowledgeable and professional with 300 or so dives in his log book. Tago Diving Centre is quite a difficult place to get to, taking over an hour after changing trains at Atami station. And that doesn’t include the time it takes to get to Atami from Tokyo! Because of the aftershocks the trains were running behind schedule, so I arrived one hour late, but the owner’s daughter Yoshida-san was waiting for me in her car, and despite my arrival time was really chatty and friendly. About my age and already a dive instructor, we talked loads on the short trip to the dive school. She dived for the first time aged 7, and I felt fortunate to be preparing to dive with someone so experienced.

Like last month I was going to be using a dry suit but Yoshida-san was very much of the opinion that, even though I’ve only dived 10 times, I’m qualified so I don’t need any lengthy explanations or somebody to hold my hand as I got my equipment ready. I was on my own, but we were pushed for time and soon I was all kitted up and ready to head out. I felt a slight boost of confidence at being left to my own devices.

Our first dive spot was Shirosaki Bay. The dive school is located right on this bay so the boat journey was about 2 mins. We boarded a medium-sized boat with plenty of space and more than adequate for our trips to the dive sites. The rope we used to descend only went down to about 5m, after which we had to swim downwards ourselves. This was quite difficult and took time, but surprisingly I was quite calm, perhaps because I’d already tried a dry suit last month and been in murky water. Once down below (23m), we saw some incredible marine life. Compared to Atami, visibility was a lot better. Shirosaki Bay is much more out there, and far from any busy congested areas. Soft corals several feet high were attached to rocky outcrops and boulders. My highlight was spotting a lion fish and taking a quick photo as it sat on the rocks observing us closely. I also noticed crabs nestled amongst the rocks, algae covering the sea floor, a moray eel quickly swimming back into the rocks, and plenty of striking sea anemones and sea slugs, with stunning orange, white and purple colours. During our ascent and while completing a decompression stop at 5m, we got to rest near the buoy close to the boat, and study the different shellfish and seaweed clinging to the rope.

After our first dive Yoshida-san let me soak in the school’s hot tub wearing my dry suit, a fantastic way to get warm and enjoy the feeling of sitting in water and being 100% dry. After donning our gear and preparing our cameras, we headed out to Benten-jima for our 2nd dive. Benten-jima is a small island just off Shirosaki Bay and seemed the ideal place for more fascinating discoveries. The descent was extremely smooth, and before I knew it I was swimming quite comfortably but the current was fairly strong and I found buoyancy control really difficult. Yoshida-san had to take my hand and lead me around most of the time, but the marine life more than made up for that. The waters off Benten-jima are relatively clear, and the soft corals large and healthy-looking. I saw venomous sea urchins, some with tiny crabs nestled inside, a red brittle star stretching out its long arms, a large stingray that swam off behind Yoshida-san leaving a cloud of sand, and two frogfish sharing a rock ledge, both brilliant orange. At one point, we approached a cave. Cold and pitch black, I wondered how deep we’d come. I could really feel the chill through my dry suit and was a bit apprehensive as we peered inside only to find nothing, when just as we were swimming off, a Zeiform fish (a small order of marine ray-finned fish) slowly appeared from inside the cave. He was quite big, a mysterious creature from the deep with a dark spot on his side. Finding him was very special, and we watched him slowly disappear into the distance. Bentenjima is surrounded by rocks to hold on to, and offered plenty of areas to shine torches through, poke around and discover more fascinating things. I loved watching the sea slugs chilling out on the huge seaweed and moving with the current.

I wanted to sit and talk to Yoshida-san a lot more, but we were still short of time and I had to take a mid-afternoon train if I wanted to reach Tokyo at a reasonable hour, so after quickly going over my dives and listing the creatures we saw, she sent me on my way armed with a bag of seaweed that her Mum had prepared and which I can use in salads and other dishes.

Fortunately my April dives are not yet over! I’m delighted to have been asked to take part in a charity dive on Saturday 23rd, to raise money for the earthquake victims up north. We’ll all be making a donation to the dive school and doing 2 dry suit dives in Osezaki, west of where I dived today. Am really really excited!

Practical information

  • Tago Diving Centre (www.tagodc.com) is close to Shimoda, a city located south of the Izu Peninsula.
  • The nearest station is Rendaiji. Take the bullet train to Atami from central Tokyo which takes about 45mins, and change to the Itokyu line which takes you direct to Rendaiji. A one-way trip is 1800yen. When I went I had to change trains due to the earthquake but usually this is not required.
  • When you arrive at Rendaiji, the school will pick you up by car. The journey is about 30mins from Rendaiji station.
  • Along the route are plenty of cherry trees and mountains. It’s a stunning area.
  • Tago Diving Centre is family-run by Mr and Mrs Yoshida and their daughter who was my guide for the day.
  • Facilities are excellent – 2 toilets, 3 showers, basic but spacious changing rooms with private cubicles, and a bathtub overlooking the bay. You can use the bathtub anytime to get warm, it’s always full of hot water.
  • No lunch, snacks, tea or coffee provided so try and bring your own.
  • Two guided dives with all equipment hire and drysuit rental came to about 20,000yen.
  • Set up your equipment and put it on before you get on to the boat.
  • The boat is basic, no seats, roof, it’s completely open. Perch on the side and put on your fins, mask and gloves before arriving at the site.
  • Entry into the water is the backward roll. A rope is provided for the descent.
  • Equipment is removed after arriving back at the dive school. The school will also drive you back to the nearest station after your dives, and look up train times for you.
  • Diving in this area is possible year-round but conditions vary. In summer and early autumn popular dive sites can be extremely crowded but visibility is much better. In winter although the water temperature drops, there is still plenty to see as long as you can relax, and put up with some murky water.

April’s dives:

Shirosaki: depth: 22.6m, dive time: 37mins, average depth: 13.7m, water temp: 14-15C, visibility: 5m, used a 10L tank, 8kg aluminium weight belts and ankle belts, and a dry suit. Saw a lion fish, algae, crabs, a moray eel, sea anemones, sea slugs.

Benten-jima: depth: 27.9m, dive time: 37mins, average depth: 12.9m, water temp: 14-15C, visibility: 5-6m, used a 10L tank, 8kg aluminium weight belts and ankle belts, and a dry suit. Saw sea urchins, crabs, a red brittle star, a stingray, frogfish, sea slugs, sea anemones and a Zeiform fish.







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