Saturday August 22nd 2015
Due to the popularity of ocean diving freshwater is often overlooked, but Kushimoto in Wakayama prefecture is home to one particular river where all kinds of freshwater adventures can be had. The Kooza River provides some fantastic dives with super clear water, incredible landscapes and a range of cool critters to discover, not to mention the added bonus of not having to wash any gear or camera equipment after leaving the water. It may not be well known as a diving spot but the Kooza River has very easy diving in a great location. It offers many interesting species to search for below the water, and plenty to keep non-divers occupied — think swimming and BBQs by the river bank!
Heading into the water can be a shock at first as the water can feel quite cold, but the drawcard for divers is the unexpected abundance of stones and pebbles and a huge shallow area (no deeper than around 5m) that seems to stretch for miles. Heading across to the other side of the river, you soon arrive at some huge rocks and boulders. The bottom is covered in more tiny pebbles, a few green plants and a thin layer of sediment and organic materials, and it soon becomes clear that the Kooza River really does have it all, from tiny macro miniature delights like small crabs to clear water teeming with fish life. There are great rocky slopes and plenty of macrolife beneath them, which would satisfy any freshwater diver.
In flat calm water, basking in sunshine, we dropped down onto the series of stones and pebbles to explore further, while river fish that appeared to be sweetfish glinted in the sunlight near the surface. Huge healthy-looking shrimp emerged from their lairs in the rocks, looking around with curiosity, while crabs hid in the nooks and crannies, sometimes with small goby-like fish resting close by and darting out of sight at the slightest provocation. We were spoiled with a good few photo opportunities, and spent ages hovering over the carpet of pebbles snapping everything and anything we could find. The highlight of the dives was the sheer number of pale chubs, a common fish in Japan’s rivers. With distinguishing features such as long ventral fins and protruding mouths, pale chubs are said to be related to carp and have good jumping skills, which allow them to grab bugs hanging around near the surface of the water. They’re also said to be highly active and are tenacious survivors. During mating season, the male’s stomach turns pink and its back turns blue. We were extremely fortunate to witness the pale chub’s egg laying, and thanks to the shallow depth, managed to spend hours lying over the pebbles taking photo after photo.
Because of a lack of tides and currents divers of all levels can enjoy the Kooza river, but as visibility can sometimes turn poor, things such as a dive light and proper finning techniques (so as not to disturb the bottom) should be taken into account. Freshwater tends to be cold, so make sure you have the right kind of exposure suit for the water temperature. Otherwise, the Kooza river is a refreshing and very enjoyable site with many favourable aspects such as great water clarity, abundant shallow formations with ample ambient light, a range of diverse and dramatic topographies and the well-protected quality of the area itself.
- I flew to Nanki Shirahama from Tokyo’s Haneda airport with JAL at 07:25AM arriving at Shirahama around 08:40AM. I was then met by a representative from Kinki University and driven to Kushimoto for work purposes. A single plane ticket costs around 30,000yen.
- I was dropped off at JR Kooza station next to Kushimoto and stayed at the shop Dive Kooza (http://dive-kooza.com/koza.html) which has bunk beds, showers, toilets, towels, hairdryers, shampoo and body soap available. A night’s stay costs 2,000yen. It’s extremely comfortable, with a big indoor space to write up log books, have a coffee or relax and go over photos or books on marine life. You can also connect a computer to their bigger screen when looking at your photos. There are areas to sit outside if the weather is nice, and a convenience store a short walk away for food, drink, snacks and other daily items. Right next to it are places to wash, dry and hang equipment, and a parking area for vehicles. Cameras/lens can also be hired.
- The Kooza River is about 30mins away by car from Dive Kooza. Divers set up at the shop and carry their gear to the riverbank on arrival.
- One dive costs around 7,000yen (two boat dives with Dive Kooza come to around 14,000yen).
- Anyone wishing to stop on the way to buy snacks etc can do so en route.
- I travelled back to Tokyo by train, starting at JR Kooza station and ending at JR Shirahama station. The journey on a local train (there were less trains due to a typhoon) took about 1.5 hours. From JR Shirahama station there is a fast train direct to Shin Osaka station that takes about 2.5 hours and costs around 5,600yen for a single ticket. The bullet train platform is just upstairs, from which there are regular trains to Tokyo for around 14,000yen for a single ticket. Journey time is around 2.5 hours.
- A weekend of diving in Kushimoto can be arranged through David Graham at Kansai Divers (http://www.fourthelement.jp/KansaiDiving/). Check out their Facebook page as well. Tours can be arranged with Dive Kooza and non-Japanese speakers are also welcome!
Dive 1: Nukumi (The Kooza River): dive number: 193, depth: 5.3m, dive time: 41 mins, entry time: 10:20, exit time: 11:01, water temp:23C, water visibility 5m (max depth), start pressure: 180 bar, end pressure: 100 bar, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3kg back plate, 1kg extra weight in pocket (more buoyant in freshwater), 3mm hood/vest. Saw sweetfish, pale chubs, cyprinid fish, amur gobies, pond loaches, shrimps and crabs.
Dive 2: Nukumi (The Kooza River): dive number: 194, depth: 5.5m, dive time: 42 mins, entry time: 11:12, exit time: 11:50, water temp: 23C, water visibility: 5m (max depth), start pressure: 100 bar, end pressure: 50 bar, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3kg back plate, 1kg weight in pocket (more buoyant in freshwater), 3mm hood/vest. Saw sweet fish, pale chubs, cyprinid fish, amur gobies, pond loaches, shrimps and crabs.