August 2015: Diving off Dogo, The Return to the Oki Islands

Monday August 10th – Tuesday August 18th 2015 

Scattered about in the Sea of Japan, just off Shimane Prefecture, are four inhabited and 180 uninhabited islands.  To many people, they’re a mystery. Often confused for Okinawa because of their name, the Oki Islands are perhaps a great example of what Japan might have been like in the past. With fishing, seafood (squid, turban shell and rock oyster to name a few) and spectacular natural scenery, they are steeped in history, tranquility and charm, a place yet unaffected by the hustle and bustle of a huge metropolis.

It’s precisely this that draws me to this charming destination.  I first visited the Oki Islands in October last year after receiving an invitation from the local tourist association to write an article on diving there.  One article soon became several, and as I returned this time, I spent 8 days diving off Dogo, the largest island of them all.

Sheer colossal cliffs are one of Dogo’s most noticeable features.  Rising up from the ocean, years of rough waves have carved them into what they are today.  The underwater scenery is just as fascinating, with a range of currents, temperate and tropical species.  Beds of seaweed and clusters of soft coral sway to and fro, while schools of fish swim around in the distance.  Huge dynamic rocks abound, offering divers a unique and interesting underwater topography.  Here are some of Dogo’s dive sites that are well worth a visit:

Oki no Tatami: 10minutes away by boat from the dive centre’s shores is Oki no Tatami.  With a backward-roll splash, we descend onto a huge rock that sits on a carpet of white sand at around 25m.  The deeper we go, the more the rock takes recognisable shape from the greenish blue which I’d been focusing on at the start of the dive.  Visibility isn’t great, but it’s good enough to immediately spot a school of damselfish.  Those who enjoy macro photography will enjoy Oki no Tatami, where the current is mild and there is not much in the way of pelagic fish.  The underwater terrain mirrors the high, steep cliffs that exist topside, and upon closer inspection of the rock, crabs and blennies peer from every crevice while barrel sponges draw near and recede.  The bottom can lack obvious signs and the medium-sized rocks scattered around close by make it easy to lose your bearings, so the best way to explore this site is to spend time circling close to the huge rock itself, a journey which takes no more than around 30mins. As well as the schools of damselfish, some highlights are a variety of bennies that look like frogs, poking their heads out from their lairs in the rock, with feathery tentacles above the eye.  I encountered chicken grunts, schools of young yellowtail and even a couple of red sea bream drifting slowly by.  The diving experience exploring the many nooks, crannies and little holes is well worth the exercise here, even though the fish escorts aren’t always present.

Iibiguri: This is a point reserved for advanced divers who enjoy the challenge of deeper depths and currents (an Advanced Open Water certification is a minimum requirement). Iibiguri’s range of pelagic and large schools of fish are a sharp contrast to the rocks and macro life of Oki no Tatami but these vastly different dive locations complement each other well.  Iibiguri lies about 15mins from shore in the open sea, and the fairly strong currents make it extremely rich in marine life and a must-dive spot for anyone visiting Dogo.  We descend along a rope to 16m and gather at a small ledge before clinging to it, chuffed with our front-row seats as we wait for something, anything, to emerge out of the blue. The edge forms part of a gigantic rock, and depending on the direction of the current, the dive involves exploring this structure to about 40m before returning to the ledge and making the ascent. The best way to enjoy this site is to feel the current and take in what’s around you.  We saw several calm red sea bream, schools of pearl-spot chromis, Hong Kong groupers, striped beakfish and a few spotted knife jawfish.  Each side of the rock drops precipitously into the deep blue and seems full of coral, such as small whip coral and soft coral. Chicken grunts and angelfish zipped around while spotted morwongs and tawny groupers glided by.

Aka Beach/Kazemachi Beach: Plunging into the clear water, I descended down one of the most spectacular walls right next to the dive shop.  It seemed that a fest of colours greeted me with seaweed, sponges and soft coral painted in an array of different shades.  I glided down to 5m soaking up the fantastic vista.  As I went deeper, I found more and more small rock formations over the sand, covered in an amazing range of  growth.  As I returned to the shallows, I focused on looking for tiny critters and boulders close to the surface. This is an extremely easy and relaxing dive that’s shallow and close to shore so divers can spend a great deal of time getting lost in a world of biodiversity and discovery.  At one point I was treated to an octopus poking out of a small crevice on the descent before hastily making a getaway, and encountered friendly fish of all shapes and sizes such as pearl-spot chromis, a couple of rockfish that didn’t seem to mind as I leaned in close for some photos, and some very relaxed flatfish lying amongst the sand particles.  There are tiny macro miniature delights and colourful crinoids grazing off the rocks, such as nudibranchs, sea slugs, crabs and a beautiful white seahorse that lives at a depth of just 3m. For divers who love macro life, this is surely one of Dogo’s best underwater environments.

Practical Information

  • I took a flight with JAL around 08:00AM on Monday 10th August from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Izumo Airport, and then took another flight around 09:40AM from Izumo airport to Oki airport, which takes about 30mins.  A round trip with this route is about 70,000yen.
  • I spent 8 days diving 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.
  • 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 Mizuoka, about 15mins away from Fuse Diving Center. A family-run place, although dinner is not available, the breakfast (rice, miso soup, eggs, fried fish and vegetables with green tea) is basic and healthy.  The minshuku has a bath/shower, shower gel, shampoo and towels available for use.  (The owner is a big worrier, and myself and a couple of other divers had a good laugh over that!) Fuse Diving Center can help with accommodation arrangements.
  • For further details, please contact Nicola Jones at the Nishinoshima Tourism Office ((http://www.nkk-oki.com) to arrange accommodation, transport and diving off Nishinoshima for non-Japanese speakers.  Information on Dogo, including diving, is available from Teresa Sadkowsky at the Oki Islands Global Geopark (http://www.oki-geopark.jp)
  • Please also see my blog entry (https://bonniewaycott.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/october-2014-the-oki-islands-shimane-prefecture-japan/) on diving off Nishinoshima and Dogo in 2014.

October’s dives (these are just some of the dives undertaken during my 8-day stay)

Dive 1: Oki no Tatami: dive number: 183, depth: 18.8m, dive time: 41mins, entry time: 17:07, exit time: 17:48, water temp: 26C, water visibility: 10m, Start pressure: 200 bar, End pressure: 50 bar, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3kg weight (plate) and 1kg extra weight in pocket. Saw chicken grunts, pearl-spot chromis, rock fish, red sea bream, damselfish and striped beak fish.

Dive 2: Iibiguri: dive number 185, depth: 40.6m, dive time:33mins, entry time: 11:27, exit time: 12:00, water temp: 26C, water visibility: 10m, start pressure: 200-210 bar, end pressure: 50 bar, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3kg weight (plate) and 1kg extra weight in pocket.  Saw schools of yellow tail, striped weakfish, angelfish, chicken grunts, spotted tail morwongs and spotted knife jawfish

Dive 3: Aka Beach/Kazemachi Beach: dive number 186, depth: 10.5m, dive time: 82mins, entry time: 15:38, exit time: 17:00, water temp: 29C, water visibility: 15m, start pressure: 210 bar, end pressure: 50 bar, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3kg back plate (no extra weights), saw octopus, rock fish, flatfish, white seahorse, nudibranchs, starfish, pearl spot chromis, rock fish and sea slugs.

About Rising Bubbles

Bonnie Waycott is a dive master and writer focusing on Japan's scuba diving and aquaculture. She is currently taking an MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture at the University of St Andrews via distance learning and is due to graduate in December 2017. Her written work has been featured in Asian Diver, Scuba Diver AustralAsia, DIVE, Marine Biologist, The Fish Site, Fish Farmer, Hatchery International and Outdoor Japan Traveler, while for Japanese divers she writes about marine-related issues abroad for Japanese diving website Ocean+α. You can follow Bonnie on Twitter (@risingbubbles), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RisingBubblesNotesOfANewDiver/) and Instagram (@bonniewaycott).
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