July 2013: Shikinejima, Japan

Saturday July 20th 2013

Shikinejima is about 150km from Tokyo and part of the Izu Island chain.  An easy journey by boat (overnight ferry or fast jetfoil) takes you away from the hustle and bustle of the capital and down to a beautiful relaxing coastline comprised of white sandy beaches.  The water here is shallower than the other islands in the chain which makes the snorkeling spots more calm and alluring.  Most of the island features a range of outdoor onsen and the hot water can even be enjoyed while diving.  Shikinejima is not the most obvious diving spot in Japan but the sites below have plenty to offer:

Nakanoura Beach: This is one of Shikinejima’s top snorkeling spots.  Diving at this small sheltered bay is extremely easy as you mingle among the snorkelers and only go to around 9m.  In the distance is a fixed net underwater, sheltering the bay from the open ocean so the water is calm and clear.  Standing on the sand, we put on our fins and masks and descended to 5-6m, swimming in a straight line over a bed of white sand and medium-sized rocks.  This dive is not so tropical and instead offers a range of seaweed and green plants which are a haven for sea anemones, sea slugs, small crabs and shrimps.  Swimming over to a more large rock, I found a group of wrasses ducking and weaving together as I approached.  Closer to the rock, an eel, wary of my large form, slowly swam out as I circled around.  As I waited patiently, it would turn to face me and see if I was still watching before moving back into its home and out of sight.

Crossing the sand flats to another cluster of rocks, I found various forms of seaweed growing towards the surface.  Blue emperors and longspine emperors swam out of reach, crabs ducked down out of sight and brown sea slugs rested quietly on the rocks enjoying the movement of the water.  I scanned the sea floor as I went looking for the shape of a flounder or anything else that might be hiding in the sand but no avail although back at the same cluster of rocks I was lucky to spot some sea slug eggs and a couple of trumpet fish hovering nearby.

Uonone: A short boat ride from one of the local ports takes you beyond Nakanoura Beach and into the open ocean to Uonone.  We did a backward roll into the water and descended to around 8-9m.  The rocks are huge, almost no sand exists and the current is mild. The cascading rocks caked in seaweed form gradual walls all around and run down vertically to about 20m but 13-14m is the best area in terms of visibility and marine life.  Sea anemones, home to the clown fish, flourish in a range of colours and as we swam over these at 14m the water became immensely clear.  We then encountered schools of yellowstriped butterfish and largescale blackfish for whom the rocks and seaweed are a nice little refuge while damsel and angel fish appear to thrive as well, pecking nutrients out of the water and swirling here and there.  As the sun shines over the rocks the colours of the soft coral and seaweed are particularly striking.  Having a small light on this dive is highly recommended as plenty of discoveries like crabs, nudibranchs and tiny shrimp also await.

Mikawan: This site is sheltered by huge cliff-like rocks in a small bay.  Away from the waves the surface is extremely calm. We descended down an anchor rope to 6m and were met with a carpet of medium-sized rocks.  What stood out were bubbles of warm water, our very own underwater hot spring, and although the water temperature was quite cold, we could stop and put our hands above the vents to warm up.  Mikawan has a fairly large turtle population and quite a few adults swam gracefully away in the distance going about their business or stayed by the rocks enjoying the vents as much as we were.  One adult, surrounded by warm bubbles, slowly looked up as we passed by before falling back into a peaceful slumber.  In general this site is quite barren and devoid of life except for sea slugs, nudibranchs and the occasional box fish so divers are taken over the rocks to a bed of white sand and organic material that contains even more vents and gets stirred up if you so much as think about getting too close with your fins.  This is a great chance to  study the vents in more detail.  The sand also offers some interesting surprises for those with a keen eye, including sepia stingrays burrowing into the sand and flatfish watching us intently as we floated above.

Practical information

  • I took the overnight ferry from Takeshiba Sanbashi in Tokyo with Tokai Kisen ferries (http://www.tokaikisen.co.jp/).  The ferry leaves Tokyo at 22:00 and arrives at 09:05 the following morning.  Tickets are about 12,000yen return (6,000yen for a single) and include a chair below deck but it is possible to rent warm thick blankets for 100yen each and sleep out on deck.  The ferry only has basic vending machines and a restaurant which is not open at night so it’s advisable to bring your own food and snacks.
  • I booked my accommodation with Shikinejima Tourist Office (04992-7-0357) on the advice of Tokai Kisen ferries.  The tourist office found me an inn called Furusato (http://www.travelroad.co.jp/ship/005/furusato.html) which charged around 5,000yen a night for a basic room, dinner and breakfast consisting of rice, miso soup, fish, vegetables and pickles.  Dinner begins at 17:00, breakfast around 7:00 and everyone eats in the communal room.
  • I booked my dives with Shikinejima Diving Service (http://www5.ocn.ne.jp/~sdsdive/menu_page_1.html).  Two boat dives and one beach dive comes to just under 20,000yen including tanks, weights and a guide.  It then costs 6,400yen to rent a wetsuit, reg, BCD, mask, fins and boots).
  • A representative from my accommodation came to pick me up at the airport and drive me to the inn for check-in.  Afterwards the dive school came to collect me.  This pick up is arranged in advance when booking your dives.
  • Diving equipment can be sent in advance from Tokyo for about 2,500yen using Kuroneko Takkyubin.
  • Shikinejima Diving Service is about 5 minutes from the inn.  Immediately upon arriving you see a huge family house on your right, with an area for diving equipment in the distance.  There is a round table outside for divers to sit and fill in forms.  Next to this table is an area for equipment storage, to wash, hang and dry gear.  A toilet and changing room are inside the house.  No books or magazines available but tea is provided.
  • After loading the van with equipment and getting changed, we drove to the dive sites.  The boat is very spacious and flat with almost no indoor area except a couple of benches in the middle next to the engine where divers can sit.  Equipment is put on when the boat arrives at the dive sites.  Bring your own towel, sunscreen and snacks.
  • Lunch is not provided so after each dive there is a chance to go to the nearest store for food and drink.
  • All entries into the water are backward rolls.  Ascent is up a ladder.
  • After each dive, everyone heads back to the port for a quick break.  A member of staff from the dive school will then drive back with the empty tanks and return with new ones.
  • Divers are responsible for looking after their own equipment.  When the dives are over, they are free to use the school’s outdoor area to change and wash up as they like. The school also drives you back to your accommodation at the end of the day.
  • There are very few pubs and bars near the accommodation and some are only open until early times like 20:00.
  • Cycling is a great way to get around the island although there are many steep hills!  Full day bicycle hire is around 1,000yen and can be arranged at your accommodation.
  • Your accommodation will take you to the port after your stay.
  • I returned to Tokyo on the fast jetfoil which leaves Shikinejima around 13:30 and gets into Tokyo around 16:00.   A single ticket is about 9,000yen.

July’s dives

Dive 1: Nakanoura Beach: depth: 8.6m, dive time: 35mins, water temp: 24C, entry time: 10:01, exit time: 10:36, average depth: 4.9m, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 3kg weights (back plate only).  Start pressure: 190 bar, End pressure: 100 bar.  Saw pearl spot chromis, blue emperors, longspine emperors, wrasses, bluespotted cornet fish, striped jack, morwongs, eels, sea slugs, trumpet fish and sea slug eggs.

Dive 2:  Uonone: depth: 14.0m, dive time: 34mins, water temp: 24C, entry time: 12:03, exit time: 12:37, average depth: 9.6m, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 3kg back plate with 1kg extra weight in pocket.  Start pressure: 180 bar, End pressure: 80 bar.  Saw damsel fish, angel fish, schools of yellowstriped butterfish and large scale blackfish.

Dive 3:  Mikawan: depth: 11.9m, dive time: 35mins, water temp: 23C, entry time: 14:24, exit time: 14:56, average depth 8.7m, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 3kg back plate with 1kg extra weight in pocket.  Start pressure: 170 bar, End pressure: 70 bar.  Saw sepia stingrays, flat fish, turtles, sea slugs and plenty of underwater vents.

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