September and October 2012: The Return to Hachijojima, Japan

Saturday September 15th, Sunday September 16th, Saturday October 6th and Sunday October 7th 2012

As the overnight ferry from Tokyo makes its 12 hour journey to Hachijojima, the sight of Hachijo-fuji, a tiny Mt Fuji rising up in the distance, is the first sign that the ferry is about to reach its destination.  Hachijojima, a quaint little island of around 8,500 people, is mountainous and volcanic with black sandy beaches, warm sea temperatures and a beautiful and diverse marine life with plenty of sea turtles.  It’s a popular destination in September and October as the sea is still warm and there are a couple of long public holiday weekends in both months.

A few seconds’ drive from the port is the dive school Regulus Diving.  Information is readily available there on the dive spots along both sides of the island, while boat dives can be easily arranged for 4,000yen per person.  One site next to the port is Sokodo, a good place if you have not been in the water for a while.  Home to a collection of hard and soft corals, the highlight of Sokodo is a triple arch, a gigantic rocky structure full of tunnels and crevices that runs almost up to the surface and is teeming with marine life and interesting routes to swim through.  Maximum depth is somewhere between 12m and 24m, making it ideal for all levels.  After entering the water down some slippery steps, you are soon in a sheltered bay around 3m deep.  From here, a straightforward swim past some concrete boulders leads to the triple arch.  As the dive begins, the bottom is mainly rocky and visibility can be poor but the complex arch formed by the eruptions of two now-extinct volcanoes is home to many – banded boarheads peering up at us with huge eyes, angelfish, parrotfish, trumpet fish, Moorish Idols and for the more observant divers or digital photo buffs, there are nudibranchs, sea urchins and sea slugs to photograph.   Cornet fish, chicken grunt fish, sea bream and oriental butterfly fish can be seen as well.

Another popular site about 30mins from Regulus Diving is Nazumado.  Like Sokodo it is a beach entry but getting into the water is challenging if conditions are choppy.  The spot is famous for the Yuzen (Wrought Iron Butterfly Fish) that is only found in Hachijojima and areas further south.  After gearing up at the car park, divers walk down a concrete slippery slope and enter the water holding a rope fixed to the ground.  To do this smoothly, put on your mask, insert your mouthpiece and walk backwards with your BC fully inflated and your fins hanging from your wrist by their straps.  Once in the water and away from all the commotion, you can put on your fins and adjust/clean your mask while floating.  As the dive begins, all the effort is worth it – a 240 degree heading leads to a huge rocky ledge called Umanone with an arch in the middle.  It’s possible to swim through, but turning left and heading to the other side brings you to Christmas tree worms on the rocks opening and closing, an octopus hiding away and a few nudibranchs.  Moray eels roam in and out of random holes searching for food.  But the most fun is exploring the deep crevices, cracks, and wall formations that have built up through centuries.  With the ledge now on our right, we swam down to about 22m but as the current was quite strong, we returned to the arch at around 11m. Through it, we found some small red soldier fish and one or two lionfish close by.  In Nazumado there is plenty of life – banded boarheads, yellow trumpet fish, golden spadefish, moray eels and loggerhead turtles. In addition to the array of macrolife, Green sea turtles swim over the rocks and arches while hammerheads and thresher sharks are known to appear mainly between May and July.

In October the weather turned colder and wetter, forcing us to spend more time in Yaene, another of Hachijojima’s popular spots.  Located on the west coast, this site is sheltered with less waves and surge and a much easier entry/exit, either down a ladder or by giant stride.  The shallow parts are enclosed by a couple of concrete piers and a few boulders, while out in the open sea straight ahead, currents are stronger and seas rougher.  The macrolife in Yaene is varied but the arches are not as spectacular as Sokodo or Nazumado.  Once in the bay and ready to go, a 180 degree heading and a 15-20min swim takes you to an archway.  The bottom is quite sandy to begin with, at 6-7m down, but soon more concrete boulders (teeming with lobsters during the night) and rock gardens come into view at around 12m, and some friendly and curious giant snappers that accompanied us for most of the dive.  There is not much coral, but some of the rocky boulders are huge, like walls rising above for miles and miles.  Swimming over one, we came across 3 giant turtles grazing and swimming slowly by.  The area is also home to juvenile angel fish, yellow trumpet fish, and schools of barracuda type species.   A right turn at the archway is home to an incredible nest of clownfish, a wall of rock covered in huge anemones that house millions of dark-colored babies with the adults trying to attack as we took photos.  Further on from here, it’s possible to enter the archway from the other side and up again over the many huge rocks where divers can spend some time at 7-8m simply watching the turtles.

Diving in Japan in September and October can sometimes be tricky due to typhoons.  This year we dodged several to spend a good deal of time at Hachijojima, but were nevertheless affected by rain, currents and swell.  As some dive sites suddenly close when the weather worsens, it’s a good idea to stay in regular touch with the dive school and look into the possibility of boat dives.  Hachijojima has many sites out in the open sea, usually a short 10-15min journey if that.  Here are some places we visited:

Metto Asane: A backward roll is the start of an immediate descent over a bed of rocks. Once below, at around 10m, is a huge pinnacle where 30-40mins can be spent simply swimming around that before making an ascent.  Close to the pinnacle are some interesting rock formations and small arches to swim through and around.  There is not much coral apart from some sprawling table corals and high-rise coral heads, but the colossal rocks rise up for miles and miles.  The site is home to batfish, stonefish, damsel fish and cleaner fish among others.

Aozumi:  This site is a garden of massive rock formations.  Most are very cliff-like with ridges and are ideal environments for turtles to rest in and hide away.  We were lucky enough to get extremely close to a huge sleeping adult.  Opening his eyes slowly to take a look at us, he was soon fast asleep again and didn’t seem to mind us passing by.  A curious batfish followed us throughout the dive.  Batfish eat turtle faeces, hardly surprising that he was just as keen as us to get close to the turtles.

Suzunoyo:  10m down is a huge floor of rocks and flat coral.  From here we swam with a big rocky ledge to our left that was full of marine life.  The bottom of this ledge is dark and full of small openings, cracks, crevices and concealed spots.  Shining a torch through these reveals a variety of fish, crabs, sea anemones, clear shrimp and small pufferfish.  The ledge stays on the left as the dive continues, and ends at around 22m while to the right are pebbles, sand and rocks.  The site is home to the Yuzen, rays that hunt for food in the sand plains, schools of red soldier fish and lionfish living in the darker sections.

(Thanks to fellow diver Alex who let me use some of his photos for this entry).

Practical information

Please refer to my entry written in October 2011 for practical information on getting to and from Hachijojima, costs and dive school facilities.

September’s dives

Dive1: Sokodo: depth: 13.6m, dive time: 56mins, water temp:28C, average depth: 8.7m , entry time: 11:54AM, exit time: 12:50PM, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit and 2kg weights.  Start pressure: 190 bar, End pressure: 40 bar Saw sea bream, Moorish Idols, trumpet fish and a range of other tropical species.

Dive 2: Nazumado: depth: 13.7m, dive time: 42mins, water temp: 27C, average depth: 8.7m,  entry time: 16:14, exit time: 16:56, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit and 2kg weights.  Start pressure: 200 bar, End pressure: 90 bar.  Saw yuzen, about 4 or 5 turtles and an incredible white nudibranch resting on a rock.

Dive 3: Metto Asane: depth: 19.8m, dive time: 38mins, water temp: 28C, average depth: 12.1m, entry time: 11:20AM, exit time: 11:58AM, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 2kg weights.  Start pressure: 170 bar, End pressure: 20 bar.  Saw batfish, stonefish, damsel fish, cleaner fish and porcupine fish.

Dive 4: Aozumi: depth: 15.3m, dive time: 41mins, water temp: 28C, average depth: 10.8m, entry time: 15:11, exit time: 15:52, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 2kg weights.  Start pressure: 180 bar, End pressure: 40 bar.  Saw banner fish, trumpet fish, lion fish, batfish, butterfly fish, parrotfish and trigger fish.

 October’s dives

Dive 1: Suzunoyo: depth: 21.2m, dive time: 50mins, water temp: 25C, entry time: 11:29AM, exit time: 12:09, average depth:  14.5m, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 1kg weight. Start pressure: 200 bar, End pressure: 80 bar.  Saw the famous yuzen, one medium-sized ray, lion fish and a school of red soldier fish.

Dive 2: Kamanoshita: depth: 19.6m, dive time: 51mins, water temp: 25C, entry time: 14:41, exit time: 15:21, average depth: 13.2m, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 1kg weight.  Start pressure: 190 bar, End pressure: 40 bar.

Dive 3: Nazumado: depth: 24.1m, dive time: 44mins, water temp: 25C, entry time: 09:30AM, exit time: 10:14AM, average depth: 11.3m, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 1kg weights.  Start pressure: 190 bar, End pressure: 50 bar.  Saw an octopus, 2 nudibranchs, christmas tree worms and turtles.

Dive 4: Yaene: depth: 15.4m, dive time: 57mins, water temp: 25C, entry time: 11:53AM, exit time: 12:50, average depth: 9.5m, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 1kg weights.  Start pressure: 190 bar, End pressure: 50 bar.  Saw giant snappers, 3 grazing turtles, and an unusual white nudibranch.

Dive 5: Yaene: depth: 18.2m, dive time: 58mins, water temp: 23C, entry time: 15:03, exit time: 16:01, average depth: 10.6m, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 1kg weights.  Start pressure: 180 bar, End pressure: 40 bar.  Saw a nest of clownfish with huge anemones and tiny dark babies living inside, with the adults further away slightly for protection.

Dive 6: Yaene: depth: 22.9m, dive time: 44mins, water temp: 24-25C, entry time: 18:17, exit time: 18:50, average depth: 13.3m, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 1kg weight.  Start pressure: 190 bar, End pressure: 40 bar: Saw lobsters, a banded boarhead trapped in a fishing net, puffer fish and catfish.

About Rising Bubbles

Based in Bristol, UK, I am a freelance writer and consultant working on Japan’s aquaculture and fisheries development. My work focuses on issues related to sustainability, research, gender, technological advancements, adaptation and resilience. I have a keen interest in the recovery of aquaculture in the Tohoku region, following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11th, 2011, and provide news stories, features and reports from Japan for national and international seafood and fisheries media. While living in Tokyo between 2006 and 2017, I worked as a freelance writer on Japan’s aquaculture and marine-related subjects, in particular scuba diving. My blog began in 2011 as a comprehensive guide to diving in Japan. I have enjoyed exploring Japan’s waters extensively and became a certified Dive Master in August 2015. I hold an MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture from the University of St Andrews, and a BA in Japanese and French from the University of Cardiff, UK.
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