Sunday October 19th to Tuesday October 21st
*I wish to say a big thank you to Nicola Jones and the rest of the staff at Nishinoshima Tourism Office (http://www.nkk-oki.com), for inviting me to the islands to write about the diving there, and to the Oki Islands Tourism Association for covering some of my expenses including accommodation. I’d also like to thank Eiji Yanagihara of Club Noah Oki for supplying some of the underwater photos.
Mention the Oki Islands and not many people in Japan will know where they are, but that’s why going there and being able to dive is a special experience. Located on the Sea of Japan coast, the Oki Islands are four large inhabited islands and around 180 smaller uninhabited ones, with Dogo Island the largest, followed by the Dozen Islands that consist of Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima and Chiburijima. In 2013 the Oki Islands became part of the Global Geoparks Network backed by UNESCO. Read more about the Oki Islands Global Geopark here (http://www.oki-geopark.jp). Formed by volcanic activity, today they are known for fishing, agriculture, delicious seafood (squid, turban shell, rock oyster, crab…), sea kayaking, some spectacular scenery and, of course, scuba diving.
Underwater, the islands are just as fascinating, with a range of currents and a variety of temperate and tropical marine species. Divers can shine a light over beds of seaweed or study temperate soft coral as schools of fish swim around in the distance. There is also a chance to see up close a special and unique underwater topography, where the waves, currents and volcanic activity have created huge dynamic rocks and even caves.
Iguri, Nishinoshima: The adventure here begins after a 10-min boat journey, down an anchor rope to 16m. Visibility was only about 5 – 8m because of remaining swell from a strong typhoon the previous week. Iguri consists of two rocks stuck together with the anchor placed in between. We turned left, swimming over the rock down to 20m. A very monotonous environment with flat sandy areas and some seaweed growth, it’s a scene very typical of the Sea of Japan coast but if you’re a nudibranch hunter or prefer small critters you don’t need anything more. Foraging through the leafy green seaweed, a closer look reveals a surprising array of life, such as orange starfish and little crabs that hide under rocks and in cracks but come out if you stop moving. Usually they are very patient and will stay still if you don’t scare them. A keen eye might also notice the slight movement of a piece of seaweed. A closer look, and you could find a range of tiny fish or a nudibranch nestling under the greenery. Nearby, schools of chicken grunts patrol the rocks and below them congregate the damselfish. Yellowfin amberjack quickly swarm all around, disappear and then return. We spent the rest of the dive ascending up the rock to 16m and hovering around at that depth until it was time to ascend.
Hoshi-no-kami-shima, Nishinoshima: This site, 30 minutes away from the mainland, is known for its fairly strong currents but the long journey and challenging conditions are worth it as the marine life is very prolific. As soon as there is a semblance of a current it whips the site into life. Nutrients in the water column strike the rocks and cause upwelling — perfect for schools of fish that dine on plankton. Hoshi-no-kami-shima is a small, uninhabited island that can be explored up to around 25m. Its walls plummet vertically into the depths below, and every inch of rock seems to be covered in seaweed, sponges and tiny critters, a great site for those keen to spot a range of blennies. Clouds of shimmering damselfish flittered in and out among the soft corals, and groups of chicken grunts and amberjack drifted past as we spent most of the dive studying the rocks in detail, shining our lights over the little holes and dark patches. Look up during the dive and you’ll see long rays of sunlight piercing through the ocean’s surface, transforming the water from a slight grey green to a deeper blue. When the current is strong and nutrient-rich waters bellow up from the depths, the area becomes an engine driving the complex ecosystem here.
Oki no Tatami, Dogo: 10minutes away by boat from Fuse Diving Center, this site is a huge rock whose bottom is at around 25m over a carpet of white sand. Divers who like macrolife or exploring with a light are often brought here, where there is a mild current but not much in the way of huge schools of pelagic fish. During the dive we circled twice around the huge rock itself, and around it in the distance, saw some small to medium-sized rocks. The simple, almost barren landscape gives little hint of the wealth of marine life below the surface, but schools of damselfish are top of the agenda here, as well as a wealth of biodiversity, including several blennies looking like frogs and curiously poking their heads out from their lair in the rocks. Some can look quite comical, with feathery tentacles above the eye, often found peering out of dark holes or retreating to the safety of them when startled. The best way to explore Oki no Tatami is to keep circling the rock. It’s a classic Sea of Japan coast dive, and very beautiful.
- I took a flight with ANA at 06:55AM on Sunday 19th October from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Yonago Airport, and then took a taxi to Shichirui Port, which takes about 20 – 30mins from Yonago Airport. The taxi fare from the airport came to 3,460yen. My flight was paid for with air miles.
- There are also flights to Oki Airport with JAL via Osaka (Itami Airport) and Izumo (Izumo Airport).
- At Shichirui Port, I then boarded a ferry (Ferry Kuniga) bound for Beppu Port on Nishinoshima Island. The journey takes two and a half hours and a single ticket costs 3,240yen. The ferry is extremely spacious, with a games room, shop, places to take off your shoes and lie down, smoking areas and lots of benches out on deck. The ferry leaves at 9:30AM and arrives at Beppu Port at 12:05.
- Five minutes’ walk away from Beppu Port is a restaurant called Conseil (コンセーユ) which serves excellent turban shell with rice, called sazaedon for around 1,000yen. Tea, coffee, soft drinks, deep-fried prawn set lunches, turban shell curry, noodles and other options are available.
- On Monday 19th and Tuesday 20th I dived with Club Noah Oki (http://noahoki.web.fc2.com) on Nishinoshima. The school is a huge yard by the water, very spacious with free tea and coffee, huge areas to wash, dry and hang gear, plastic chairs and tables and huge indoor and outdoor spaces to write up log books, have a coffee or relax and go over photos or books on marine life. Showers and changing rooms (including hair dryers, moisturiser, shampoo, conditioner and body soap) are warm, comfortable and in great condition. A vending machine is available with cold soft drinks.
- All dives are off a boat that belongs to the school and leaves from right outside. It can carry around 10 people. Divers sit at the side with their gear in the middle. Warm tea and hot water (to pour over yourself after dives) are available. There are no shady areas to sit under.
- All entries into the water are backward rolls. Ascent is up a rope and then a ladder.
- The cost of one boat dive is 8,000yen including tanks and weights.
- I stayed at a traditional Japanese inn (minshuku) called Fukuro, about 10mins away from Club Noah Oki. The family-run minshuku is quiet, clean and located on the waterfront. Rooms are basic – tatami straw mat flooring, TV, kettle and futon bedding. Dinner is mainly fish, squid, shellfish (turban shell), with rice, miso soup, pickles, salad and green tea. Wifi access is available. The owners Mr and Mrs Sakamoto are really friendly and welcoming, and Mrs Sakamoto will run a bath for you as well!
- To get to Dogo from Nishinoshima, take the ferry (Ferry Kuniga or Ferry Shirashima) from Beppu Port to Saigo Port. A single ticket costs 1,470yen and the journey is about an hour and 15minutes. The high-speed ferry also operates between the two ports, half the time, but twice the price.
- On Tuesday 21st I dived with Fuse Diving Center (http://www.okidiv.jp) on Dogo. The shop is located right on the waterfront. It’s old, very spacious, with hot showers outdoors and shampoo/conditioner and shower gel provided in two indoor showers. There is a spacious indoor area to look through dive magazines or write up log books. The boat is in good condition, and all dive sites are within 15mins away from the mainland. Free coffee is available, as well as a spacious outdoor area to wash and dry gear.
- Shore dives are available but most of the dives conducted at Fuse are boat dives. Tanks and gear are stored in the middle of the boat while divers sit around that area. There is also a roof over the tanks that divers can sit under too to avoid the sun.
- All entries into the water are backward rolls. Ascent is up a ladder.
- On Dogo I stayed at a traditional Japanese inn (minshuku) called Michizaka, about 10mins away from Fuse Diving Center. Also family-run, this minshuku is spacious with a big room where guests eat dinner (squid and shellfish with rice, miso soup, salad, pickles and green tea) and breakfast (rice, miso soup, grilled fish, tomatoes, seaweed and green tea). A bath is run for you in the evening, shower gel and shampoo are provided but there are no towels so bring your own!
- On my last night in Dogo, I stayed at a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) called Nadagiya. This family-run place is two minutes from Saigo Port from which ferries leave for the mainland. It’s old but very traditional Japanese style with tatami straw mats and paper doors. A bath is available, as well as a simple and delicious breakfast of rice, miso soup, fish, pickles, egg, tofu and green tea.
- To get back to the mainland, you can take a high-speed ferry (Rainbow) or the slower ferry to either Sakaiminato Port (five hours, goes via all islands) or Shichirui Port (two and a half hours, direct service). The ferry costs 3,240yen one way.
- To get to Yonago Airport from Sakaiminato Port, take the JR line train or a taxi (about 2,000yen). There is a shuttle bus from Shichirui Port to Yonago Airport (about 500yen).
Dive 1: Iguri: dive number: 158, depth: 25.3m, dive time: 48 minutes, entry time: 14:32, exit time: 15:10, water temp: 23C, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit (new), 3mm hood/vest and 5kg weights to begin with (1kg in each pocket and 3kg back plate) which later became 4kg. Start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 50 bar. Saw a moss fringehead, damselfish, chicken grunts, yellowtail amberjacks and a range of orange starfish.
Dive 2: Hoshinokamishima: dive number: 159, depth: 20.1m, dive time: 62mins, entry time: 10:25, exit time: 11:27, water temp: 20C, used a 12L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit (new), 3mm hood/vest and 4kg weights (1kg in pocket and 3kg back plate). Start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 30 bar. Saw chicken grunts, knifefish, yellowtail amberjack, young yellowtail, damselfish, sardines, sea bream, sea slugs (orange Ceratosoma trilobatum, blue hypselodoris festiva, white Glossodoris misakinosibogae, purple and cream-coloured Goniobranchus aureopurpureus), pike blennies and neoclinus nudiceps, another type of blenny.
Dive 3: Oki no Tatami: dive number: 160, depth: 19.1m, dive time: 54 mins, entry time: 11:39, exit time: 12:35, water temp: 20C, used a 12L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit (new), 3mm hood/vest and 4kg weights (1kg in pocket and 3kg back plate, one press on my BC made me neutrally buoyant). Start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 80 bar. Saw chicken grunts, pike blennies, neoclinus nudiceps, damselfish and schools of young yellowtail.