Saturday September 13th 2014
Hatsushima is a quaint little island in Sagami Bay, only 25 minutes by boat from the city of Atami, a major hot spring town and dive spot about 45 minutes from Tokyo by bullet train. If you want to dive but can only spare a day, it’s worth taking the boat and heading out there. Hatsushima is only 4km (2.5miles) in circumference so you can walk around the island easily, and the fresh raw fish at the restaurants along the seafront is not to be missed. The island is supported by tourism and fishing, while dive shops were eventually established to increase the number of visitors.
Depending on the weather and sea conditions, boat dives are available but they tend to be for experienced divers due to the sometimes strong and unpredictable currents. The range of sites is not that big, but the most popular spot that is open to all is Futatsune, a shore dive that begins down a slope of concrete steps as divers put on their masks and fins before swimming to the nearest buoy and making their descent. Upon reaching 6m, we encountered some parrotfish that seemed more than happy to spend time close to us as we took photos. We then descended to 12m over a bed of medium-sized rocks and swam gradually towards the right, reaching our final depth of around 22m. The rocks seem to be pretty standard but a closer look reveals a surprising amount of activity where a lot of the rocks have been colonised by hundreds of sea sponges, anemones and small coral. We spent time searching for macrolife such as sea slugs and shrimps trying to hide away under the glare of our torches.
One of the highlights of Futatsune is an artificial house-shaped structure that was placed there deliberately for marine life to grow over. This has been a successful initiative – the structure is teeming with soft coral, a range of seaweed, tiny shellfish, crabs and anemones. Divers can swim through and hover over various parts depending on what they find or stop and marvel at the many schools of fish that drift past. There is also a sandy area around the structure for those wishing to descend a little deeper and explore the bottom.
The ascent begins with a slow and gradual leftward turn over the sand. This part is home to a cluster of tree branches and green leaves, which is where squid come to spawn around May, brought here by the warm Kuroshio current. The eggs they deposit are contained in long white tubes that hang off the branches by a thread, clustered together in huge balls. On this dive we didn’t see any eggs but close to the branches are more rocks at 14m that mustn’t be overlooked. The schools of orange anthias fish are pretty something, darting quickly from one place to another, while other species such as trumpet fish, nudibranchs and butterfly fish are close by, all of them great from up-close-and personal interactions. During the safety stop, look out for tiny blennies that seem to poke their heads out at you, no doubt out of curiosity!
- I took a bullet train from Tokyo’s Shinagawa station at 07:04, arriving at Atami at 07:45 to meet the shop’s gathering time of 08:00AM at Atami station. A return ticket costs about 7,000yen.
- I was picked up and driven to the nearest port from Atami station. The journey is about 10-15mins. At the port, customers are given their return ferry ticket which is 2,400yen but included in the price you pay after a day’s diving. The ferry journey to Hatsushima is approx. 25mins.
- The boat is fairly comfortable with long wide seats, an outdoor seating area and carpet at the bottom for those who want to sleep. Vending machines for drinks are available as well.
- Everyone gathers at Hatsudai port and walks 5mins to the dive shop. Diving gear is put onto a van that comes to meet customers, and is then driven to the shop.
- On the right is the dive shop Seafront Hatsushima (http://seafront-dive.com), indoor shower/toilet/locker area for men and women, reception (with a table for logging dives and some books/magazines on marine life)and a large area for rinsing equipment and hanging it to dry. On the right, by the water, is a huge area of tables where divers can leave their stuff for the day or sit and relax. Shower gel and shampoo are provided, as well as free Japanese tea, warm and cold. The facilities aren’t very new.
- Divers are put into groups, shown the facilities and then get get ready for the first dive. Before changing into wetsuits, all gear is taken to the beach entry point (about 2 seconds from the seating area) and set up.
- Entry into the water is along a rope on foot. Divers put on their masks and fins holding onto a rope, then walk backwards slowly into the water, swim to the nearest buoy and descend in groups from there.
- The exit is up a different rope where divers walk up before removing masks and fins once the water is shallower.
- Gear is carried up to the shop and divers have a designated area to hang everything with the others in their group.
- Next door to the dive shop is a row of restaurants all serving set meals including rice, miso soup, pickles, salad and fresh sashimi raw fish (squid, prawns, sardines, shellfish…). The meals are usually about 1,900yen. Hatsushima is well-known for its fresh fish and the meals are highly recommended!
- Two beach dives are usually done before 13:30 so divers are free to have lunch and write up their log books in time for the 15:20 ferry back to Atami. Taking the 16:40 boat is included in the dive price and the shop will drive you back to Atami station as well. If you take the 15:20 you need to make your own way to Atami station (taxi or local bus).
- For those wishing to stay on the island, the Hatsushima Island Resort (http://www.hatsushima.jp/island/index.html) is the most popular place to stay. You can stay at the Island Camp Villa and enjoy a hot spring and a range of food.
Dive 1: Futatsune: dive number: 156, depth: 21.1m, average depth: 12.2m, dive time: 50mins, entry time: 10:40AM, exit time: 11:30AM, water temp: 24-25C, used a 10L aluminium tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 4kg weights (3kg back plate and 1kg weight in one pocket), start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 40 bar. Saw knifefish, large scale blackfish, nudibranchs, anthias fish, grunts, parrot fish and harlequin crabs
Dive 2: Futatsune: dive number: 157, depth: 24.1m, average depth: 13,7m, dive time: 45mins, entry time: 12:33PM, exit time: 13:18, water temp: 24-25C, used a 10L aluminium tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 5kg weights (3kg back plate and 2kg weights in each pocket), start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 50 bar. Saw grunts, parrot fish a