October 2011: Hachijojima, Japan

Saturday October 8th, 2011

This year October’s second weekend was a 3-day one, and full of diving as my group and I successfully made another attempt to head to Hachijojima after last month’s typhoon forced us to call off our trip.

Hachijojima is located in the Philippine Sea, about 287km (178 miles) south of Tokyo. Part of Tokyo prefecture with a population of around 8,500, it is consistently warmer than mainland Japan thanks to the warm Kuroshio current. As the island is volcanic, its beaches are black and sandy, but it boasts a variety of scuba diving points and is famous for sea turtles and underwater lava bridges. Visitors can also surf, visit some botanical gardens or hike to the top of Hachijo-fuji, a Mount Fuji-style mountain and the highest point on the island.

Hachijojima is way out there. The journey is a long 12 hours, but with no typhoons or gale force winds we had a very smooth crossing. Following our arrival we were soon heading to our dive school, a 1-min drive up the road. Very accommodating, with free hot and cold tea and sweets, I was impressed with the wooden stairs, tables and outdoor areas we could sit in, and the little terrace we could use to dry equipment and towels. Being extremely keen to get into the water, preparations were immediately underway to head over to Sokodo, one of Hachijojima’s main dive spots located next to the port where we arrived.

Like in Oshima two months ago, my group sent us some information on the possible dive sites we would visit during our trip. Here’s what they said about Sokodo:

  • Hard and soft corals like those in the Philippines or Thailand.
  • A triple arch that runs almost up the surface and is surrounded with plenty of marine life (blue ring octopus and turtles).
  • Care should be taken on the navigation back, not to get stuck on the wrong side of the sea wall.
  • Intermediate to experienced level, 12m to 24m.

Entry into Sokodo was down some slippery steps into slightly choppy seas, and then out of a sheltered bay area towards the triple arch. Visibility in the beginning wasn’t so good, but down below it was still a feast for the eyes as we came across seaweed, anemones and small sea urchins. The arch we eventually arrived at is formed in quite a complex way, with other tunnels and crevices close by, offering divers some interesting routes to swim through. Hachijojima was formed by the eruptions of two now-extinct volcanoes. Tubes, caves, bridges and other structures were created as lava poured into the sea. There were also some huge concrete boulders close by, covered in plants, shellfish and a plethora of fish. We spotted some black and yellow ones called Banded Boarheads resting quietly at the bottom of the arch and peering suspiciously up with huge eyes. We also came across a juvenile semicircle angelfish and juvenile emperor angelfish, both said to be rare to spot. Parrotfish, Moorish Idols and a variety of tropical fish gave the sea plenty of colour.

After a short break back at the dive school for lunch and filling up the tanks, we were soon off to Nazumado, our second and last dive of the day. This site is about 30 mins from the school, and according to my group the entry is challenging, particularly if there are waves or surge, but the site’s main attraction is its nice arch close by with a rich marine life including the famous Yuzen, or Wrought Iron Butterfly Fish, that only lives in Hachijojima and slightly further south. Currents are common and significant, so new divers are advised to stay close to their guide, in moderate depths.

Venturing into the water at Nazumado was definitely difficult. Fully geared up, we walked down from the car park along a concrete slippery area and held onto a rope to enter the water, but the waves washed up against us making it hard to put on our fins and masks. The easiest way to overcome this (but it does take practice!) is to put on your mask, inflate your BCD and hold your fins so that once in the water you can float at the surface, put on your fins and prepare your mask before descending. It doesn’t make for a graceful entry, but you have to laugh at yourself, and in the end all the struggling is worth it, as Nazumado is one of the top five diving spots in Japan with plenty on offer. Black stone tide pools frame the ocean. Green sea turtles swim over the rocks and arches, and hammerheads and thresher sharks also make an appearance, mainly between May and July. The underwater rocks and arches were our destination this time too. Close to the entry point the water is shallow enough for beginner and intermediate divers, but for the more advanced, it suddenly becomes deep beyond the rocks, and offers even more terrain to explore.

I stayed with some others near the main arch closest to the shore, where the sea turtles congregated and four or five slowly glided by. Fishes of all shapes and sizes swam slowly past us as I stopped to examine the many creatures surrounding the arches. Swimming through we discovered some small red soldier fish with huge eyes perfectly suited to their dark environment. Nazumado is well known for its colourful array of life, including a lion fish that seemed to be camouflaged against a rock. Despite the difficult entry and exit, this dive was certainly as spectacular as I’d heard and well worth diving into.

It felt so good to be with the group again and I definitely satisfied my craving to get into the water. We ended the day with a much-deserved soak in the island’s free outdoor onsen and a filling evening meal back at our accommodation. The sea and winds were so calm, that I knew our diving adventures the next day would continue under more great conditions.

October’s dives

Dive1: Sokodo: depth: 14.1m, dive time: 53mins, water temp:23C, average depth: 9.4m, entry time: 11:44AM, exit time: 12:30PM, used a 12L tank, 3kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw Banded Boarheads, juvenile angelfish, juvenile butterfly fish, huge clam and Moorish Idols.

Dive 2: Nazumado: depth: 11m, dive time: 45mins, water temp: 23C, entry time: 15:12, exit time: 16:00, used a 12L tank, 3kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw green sea turtles, lion fish, soldier fish, sea urchins and sea anemones.


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