April 2013: The Marine Diving Fair, Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan

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Friday April 5th to Sunday April 7th 2013

A popular activity and a whole range of dive sites, is the message I got out of this year’s Marine Diving Fair, an annual event in Tokyo showcasing dive schools,  cameras, photos, books and much more which I attended this month.  Although the event was mostly for promotional purposes,  it was also a chance to get some tips on photo editing, learn about travel deals and sit down with doctors to discuss diving-related medical issues.

The event is organized by Japan’s first scuba diving magazine Marine Diver which began in 1969.  I was fortunate enough to meet and talk to the editor who agreed with me that Japan’s diving industry is not that well known in other countries and that more could be done to promote it.

My top 3 highlights of the event were:

1)  Sanriku Volunteer Divers in Tohoku

2) Okinawa

3) Some unexpected dive sites

Sanriku Volunteer Divers are a group of divers and fishermen cleaning up after the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.  I stopped off at their booth to catch up with some people I met while volunteering in late 2011. Although a lot remains to be done, the sea is much clearer, cleaner and full of life.  The leader of the group also runs a tour called the Salmon Swim to observe salmon swimming upstream.  Sure enough, the fish are returning in numbers as the underwater photos on display clearly showed.  One challenge now is the radiation and knowing just how many people will want to dive in Tohoku for fun, even when the debris has all gone.

Okinawa is the pride and joy of Japan’s diving scene and the main feature of this year’s event.   The coral reefs and marine life are world class and I came across a range of schools with staff dressed in traditional costume offering the latest local information and specialties like free samples of sake and seaweed.  Diving is always possible in Okinawa because it’s warm all year and there appears to have been an increase in the number of tourists coming to see the manta rays of Ishigaki or the mysterious ruins of Yonaguni.  The choice of dive sites and types of diving is staggering.  This year some fisheries cooperatives and conservation groups had also joined, highlighting issues such as sustainable fishing and coral preservation.

Over the past couple of years since I began heading under the sea, I’ve found that Japan does come up with some unexpected surprises.  This year’s event had also drawn schools from more obscure areas.  One particularly interesting place was Yakushima off Kyushu’s Kagoshima prefecture.   This island is a popular hiking destination, famous for its forests and having some of the oldest trees in the world.  But the warm Kuroshio current also makes its way by, bringing a great range of fish and in turn, some impressive diving.  I got some information on the topography (tunnels, cracks, waterways) and some dive sites only 10 minutes away from the main port.  Wakayama prefecture south of Osaka and Kochi prefecture in Shikoku have now made it onto my list of destinations as well.  As there is very little information available, these areas are almost always overlooked but I could see from the leaflets and underwater photos that there is much more to them than I think.

The Marine Diving Fair drew a huge audience from across Japan.  I queued for a little over 20 minutes to enter the venue and was struck by just how many people there were.  With such a big interest, the need for such events will only get larger so it’s to be expected that dive schools and other dive-related organisations spend time, money and research into making better products or offering even better services.  Although opinions were varied – one fellow diver did say that the demand for diving will probably not rise that much, given the high cost of diving and unemployment particularly among young people, making them unable to afford trips.  What will happen in future is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

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