Tuesday January 17th, 2017
When most people think of diving, they think of a summer activity in warm, tropical waters but some areas offer other kinds of diving even when the warm weather is over. In Tokyo, for example, many dive sites nearby are open during the winter, offering a range of fun diving and training opportunities despite the cold. Although I prefer diving in warm water during the summer, one of my goals this year is to get used to cold seas, in order to prepare for future diving back in the UK.
For many divers, donning a bulky wet suit in winter, plunging into cold water and sinking to deeper depths where it’s even more cold would be a nightmarish experience. But scuba diving in winter can bring various advantages — much less crowds, better visibility and sea life you won’t see in other seasons. Most importantly, if you’re prepared, with a suitable dry suit and inner wear, winter diving can be comfortable and a lot of fun.
I began this year’s dry suit diving off Tago along the west coast of the Izu peninsula, where north- and south-flowing currents meet, bringing tropical and cold-water fish to the seas around its rocky shores. Also on offer are cave diving and shipwreck exploration, which provide a range of opportunities for divers of all levels. Depending on where you go, it’s also possible to dive at Izu for a day from Tokyo and even Nagoya.
Tago is a small fishing village about 3 hours south of Tokyo by train, located along an intricate coastline with uniquely shaped rocks and small islands. A small selection of dive sites are on offer at Suruga Bay, which is off Tago, and areas closer to shore. Tago’s waters are characterised by huge rocky boulders, soft coral gardens and sandy patches. At our first dive site, Shirosaki, many rocky structures appeared to have given way to erosion, resulting in various cuts and shapes below. These forms are covered in thick soft coral and sponge growth including a massive area of fan-shaped coral facing down towards the sand. Large undulations of coral are accompanied by hundreds of chromis and hunting lion fish, while the mild nutrient-rich currents help fuel a parade of marine life. Descending deeper along the rocky wall, the soft coral covering the tops of the rocks disappears. The wall drops to around 20m before ending in a bright sandy seafloor, punctuated by large boulders. With a maximum depth of around 25m, marine life was plentiful, with large sunstars, frogfish nestled close to soft coral growth and a small harem of sprat-like fish. Frequent encounters with nudibranchs and even a baby sepia toioensis (a species of cuttlefish native to Japanese waters) make this dive one not to be missed.
Our second dive site, Bentenjima, was a small islet about 10mins away from the port. As the descent begins down a large rocky structure, thousands of silver-stripe white herring can be seen feeding in the water column, cruising past, sometimes within arms reach, ambling through as they search for some unknown signal that causes them to pick out a bit of plankton for a quick snack. Bentenjima displays various walls with attractive folds, and is an ideal environment for a range of sponges and macro life. Three-spot damselfish appeared where the walls were covered in a variety of soft coral and sponge growth, small and trailing one after the other, moving in tiny shoals. There is also a section of rock at around 12m which is covered from edge to edge with amazing pink anemones, all of which were inhabited, of course, by their own family of clownfish. A Japanese angel shark slept in the sandy bottom, and small groups of network filefish moved above the rocks, when the comical-looking lactoria fornasini or thornback cowfish with a pair of spines projecting forward in front of its eyes and a distinctive mouth with thick lips, began wandering in and out of our sightlines, grouping together over the vase sponges and large gorgonians. The best surprises at Bentenjima, however, are kept for the safety stop in the 5m zone and the shallower depths, where soft corals sparkle with life in the shade of the round, impressive rock formations.
Winter in Tago offers a range of fascinating underwater experiences. Although the water temperature drops, there is plenty to see as long as you can relax and put up with the cold. Tago is one of those rare places where you won’t always be overrun by other dive tourists and can enjoy a relaxing day of diving, especially if you are able to head there on a weekday!
- The nearest station to Tago Diving Center (http://tagodc.com/category/1475893.html) is Rendaiji on the east coast of the Izu peninsula. Take the bullet train to Atami from Shinagawa in Tokyo and change to the Ito line which takes you directly to Rendaiji. A one-way trip comes to around 3,500 – 4,000yen and the journey is around 3 hours.
When you arrive at Rendaiji, the school will pick you up by car. The journey is about 30mins from Rendaiji station.
- Tago Diving Center is family-run by Mr and Mrs Yoshida and their daughter Sayuri who was my guide for the day.
- Facilities include 2 toilets, 3 showers, basic and spacious changing rooms with private cubicles and a bathtub overlooking the bay. You can use the bathtub anytime to get warm as it’s always full of hot water. There is also an indoor area with a stove if divers feel cold.
- No lunch, snacks, tea or coffee are provided and there are also no shops nearby so remember to bring your own food and drink.
- Two boat dives with all equipment hire and drysuit rental comes to just under 20,000yen.
- Customers set up their equipment and put it on before walking down some steps to get onto the boat. Perch on the side and put on your fins, mask and gloves before arriving at the site.
- Entry into the water is a backward roll. Ropes are provided for the descent and a small step ladder is available for divers to get back on the boat.
- There is no shampoo, conditioner or body soap available at the shop so remember to bring your own, in addition to a couple of towels.
- Equipment is removed after arriving back at the dive school. Divers are responsible for washing and putting away all their gear.
- Tago Diving Center will drive you back to Rendaiji after you dives and look up train times for you.
Dive No: 239, Shirosaki, Entry time: 11:18, depth: 22.1m, dive time: 43mins, exit time: 12:03, water temperature: 15C, water visibility: 5m, Start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 80 bar, rented neoprene dry suit, used 8kg weight belt, jacket BCD, used a 12L aluminium tank. Saw: frogfish, Goniobranchus tinctorius nudibranch、Cadlinella ornatissima nudibranch, branch coral, silver-stripe white herrings, lion fish and baby squid Sepia tokenises.
Dive No: 240, Bentenjima, Entry time: 13:09, depth: 23.3m, dive time: 40mins, exit time: 13:50, water temperature: 15C, water visibility: 5m, Start pressure: 200 bar, End pressure: 50 bar, rented neoprene dry suit, used 8kg weight belt, jacket BCD, used a 12L aluminium tank. Saw: Japanese angel shark, network filefish, lactoria fornasini, clown fish and anemone fish, three-spot damselfish and Japanese blacktail triple fin.