July 2011: Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan

Saturday July 30th 2011

A month since my last dives in Kumejima and I was itching to get back into the water, but July turned out to be pretty hectic and unpredictable, to the point where I wasn’t sure whether I would complete my mission to dive once a month. Last weekend some friends and I headed south of Tokyo to an island called Oshima but our day of diving was called off due to high waves from a typhoon that had passed the area a few days earlier. July has also been quite cloudy and wet, so I was placing my hopes on a trip to Atami that I’d booked with a dive group in Tokyo.

Ever since I started diving properly this year, I’ve been by myself, looking up dive schools online, making the necessary arrangements alone and diving with a guide. As fun as those trips have been, it’s not the same as diving with others, staying in touch and swapping stories. So I was really eager to head out with this new group.

I dived in Atami back in March, so I knew roughly what the dives might be like and what we might see, but still felt slightly nervous at the prospect of heading underwater with new people of different levels, and in particular being more responsible for my own gear and well-being. On my previous trips, a lot of the dive schools looked out for me, reaching out to adjust my buoyancy and in some cases taking my hand to guide me to the right areas, but deep down I knew that the time had come to start doing those things myself.

I travelled down to Atami with my friend’s husband, and we were soon picked up at the station and taken to the school, Atami Scuba. As we unloaded our stuff, got our bearings and introduced ourselves to everyone, I was struck by how friendly the others were, how excited they were about getting into the water, and how good it felt to be around others who enjoy diving as much as I do. All our equipment had been prepared, and it was easy talking to everyone and finding a buddy for our first dive of the day. The group leaders gave some excellent detailed briefings, and made sure that we’d paired up with the right people.

Bitagane, my first destination, is a short 5 minute boat ride near the port. We were separated into different groups, some diving in Bitagane, others around another site called Soudaine, and the more advanced divers heading out for a wreck dive. Dive sites in Atami contain plenty of spectacular soft corals, nudibranchs and moray eels as well as the Chinsen, one of the only divable wrecks in Japan. Unfortunately, visibility today wasn’t that good, but the water temperature was perfect, around 24C which made for a very smooth and comfortable dive. We stayed close to plenty of rocks and occasionally I spotted a few colourful fish including a great black and yellow one, about medium size, swimming on its own around the rocks. There were plenty of moray eels around the weed beds too. Our dive leader was fantastic, looking around to see if we were ok and even splitting us into groups according to how much air we had so those with less air could ascend first. I probably felt more relaxed on this dive than any other, thanks to the comfortable warm water and the feeling that I was definitely in good hands.

After Bitagane, we headed back to the dive school for a 2hr break and spent time chatting and taking it easy before our next dive to Soudaine. This time I was with another group, and happy to be able to dive in 2 different locations. Soudaine is also teeming with various creatures, and rocks with steep sides that drop deep deep down to the bottom. My buddy this time was my friend’s husband and three other divers were with us. On this descent I had some mild ear-clearing problems but managed to take it slow and was able to calmly head down without holding on to the rope as I approached the bottom. The others stayed close by and we spent the next 45mins literally drifting past walls and walls of rocks, sometimes swimming in between them, and heading out over huge gardens of kelp stretching for miles around. As we swam between the rocks we were surrounded by huge schools of tiny fish. If the visibility had been slightly better we would have seen much more, but once down below I could make out a lot of the marine life. We dived to around 15m, and ascended slowly, sticking close to the rocks for a better look at the plants and other creatures. I was delighted to spot my first octopus during this dive! A slight current made buoyancy and swimming a bit hard, but taking a slow ascent and seeing things up close was pretty special and really brought home to me just how varied the marine life of Atami is.

Both my dives were smooth, I was so relaxed and really got back into being underwater. After our dives we had an excellent barbecue, and then headed to our accommodation to watch Atami’s famous fireworks display. The fireworks were amazing, much better than I expected, and the perfect end to a great day of diving and socialising. Most importantly it was so nice to have finally met other divers to share stories with, and it was great getting advice, tips, seeing everyone else’s photos, and just talking diving! Am really looking forward to heading to Oshima with the group next month, where hopefully I can fit in at least 5 or 6 dives….

Practical information

  • In June I came across a divers’ group called Discovery Divers Tokyo (www.discoverydiverstokyo.com) and signed up for this month’s Atami trip through them.  They’re an excellent mix of foreigners and Japanese people, very friendly and sociable!
  • I took the morning bullet train direct to Atami from Shinagawa station, leaving at 07:34 and arriving at 08:12.  Cost of single ticket: around 4,200yen with reserved seat, about 3,500yen without.  Arriving around 8AM is good if you want a full day of diving.
  • Discovery Divers picked us up and took us to Atami Scuba (www.atamiscuba.jp), a 5-7min drive from Atami station.  The school is right on the port, with modern hot showers and toilets, a vending machine by the reception and a fairly large area with tables and chairs for a barbecue.  No tea, coffee or snacks are provided.  Good to bring your own snacks, but Discovery Divers organised an excellent barbecue.
  • The boat leaves for the first dive at 10AM.  Everyone puts on their equipment at the school and walks on to the boat to sit on the floor.  Entry into the water is by backflip.  Once off the boat, equipment is removed back at the school.
  • We had a 2hr break before our next dive around 13:30.
  • 2 boat dives cost 15,000yen, the barbecue 1,200yen and full equipment rental for one day 7,000yen, making a total of 23,200yen, not including train tickets and overnight stay.
  • All divers are responsible for setting up their equipment and tidying up after each dive.
July’s dives
Dive 1:  Bitagane:  depth: 19.9m, dive time: 35mins, dive in: 10:17AM, water temp: 24C, surface temp: 27C.  Used a 10L tank, 3kg weight belts and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw plenty of moray eels, soft coral and a black and yellow fish I’m trying to find out more about!
Dive 2:  Soudaine:  depth: 16.9m, dive time: 46mins, dive in: 13:40, water temp: 25C, surface temp: 27C.  Used a 10L tank, 3kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw my first octopus, moray eels, huge schools of small fish and gardens of kelp.  Slight current but nothing too serious.

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