Monday February 6th, 2017 and Monday February 20th, 2017
Prospering in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Odawara city in southwestern Kanagawa Prefecture is a huge hub where major railways from Tokyo meet, and where tourists go to visit Odawara castle or see the cherry blossoms of Odawara Joshi-koen Park (Castle Ruins Park) during the spring. When it comes to the ocean, fresh seafood arrives at the harbour every day and kamaboko, or steamed processed fish meat, is one of the city’s most well-known marine products. Diving here, however, is almost unheard of, so I felt fortunate and excited at discovering a new place with Mr. Tanaka of Hayakawa Diving Service, who was introduced to me by a friend as I prepare to continue my dry suit diving this month. At the dive centre, we set up our gear and walked over a stony pebbled beach into the water.
Descending slowly above a rope, we made our way over the rocks and pebbles to around 5m, swaying against the waves as we swam straight ahead. Visibility dropped a little to around 5 – 8m, and the water was slightly cloudy from the sand and sediment being stirred up by the waves. Beds of kelp and other seaweed growth were attached to the rocky boulders. Black scraper fish mixed with puffer and box fish, punctuated with the odd starfish, sea urchin and some lion fish; just some of the many species found here. On and around the rocky structures were frogfish and an array of life including moss fringe heads, crabs and tiny blennies. There were also wrasses and other seemingly tropical species in the cold water, but they were subtly different from the other forms I have come to know in warmer waters. I photographed a tiny fringehead blenny peeking out at me from its hole, while Mr. Tanaka pointed out a much larger hole-dweller nearby, a moray eel poking its head out from its lair and eyeing us cautiously. I also spotted what I thought was a pinecone fish deep within a crevice.
After exploring the 5m area for a while, we decided to head a little deeper and began swimming over a huge carpet of sand that at first glance appeared to be devoid of life. But only a few metres in, the first sign of life came into sight and that’s when the action started – large stingrays resting on the sandy bottom emerged gently and swam off immediately as we approached, flicking their tails as they buried themselves further away. A plaice watched us swim over him and I could only make out his shape by straining my eyes as I passed by. Below us was another long rope stretching into the distance, and we hovered above it for a while, exploring the seaweed growth and searching in vain for baby squid and other tiny signs of life. Soon, the rope we were swimming over came to an end, and before us was a cluster of rocks caked in kelp and seaweed. Another large moray eel sat perfectly still out in the open with mouth agape, allowing me to try and photograph it from a few inches away. A Valentin’s sharpnose puffer swam slowly past, pausing just long enough in front of a cluster of kelp so I could get a better look at him. The highlight of this site, however, is the tiny exotic coral crab, pink and white with tiny projections protruding from its head, sitting at the bottom of a thick branch of vibrant pink soft coral and extremely well-camouflaged. On our way back to the shallower depths, we swam back over the rocky structure and I was shown a seemingly endless aggregation of bulb-tentacled sea anemones, resplendent in yellow and pink, that hosted two types of anemone shrimp.
Once we were back at the concrete tetrapods, Mr. Tanaka, who had introduced me to a range of marine life during the dives, quickly proved his mettle again when he showed me a baby lumpfish on a piece of rock, nestled among several stones and well-protected from the ocean swell. Mr. Tanaka has been monitoring the lumpfish and watching it grow, with regular updates and photos on his blog. After observing it for a while, I reluctantly turned back towards the shore and the end of the dive.
Odawara is a great destination for divers in Tokyo who want to go somewhere quickly and easily for just one day. The site is excellent for training and skills practice but not so good for those who want deeper depths, more adventurous diving and a bigger range of fish to observe. At first glance there is not much to the site, but if you can discover, enjoy and appreciate the life and beauty within it, then some fascinating diving awaits at Odawara.
- To get to Odawara, take a direct train from Shinjuku on the Odakyu Line. This costs just over 800yen each way (from Yoyogi Uehara station, which is slightly closer to home) and takes around an hour and a half. There is also a Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo and Shinagawa stations, and the JR Tokaido Line which runs from Shinagawa station.
- Divers gather at 9:20AM at Odawara station. Mr. Tanaka from Hayakawa Diving Service (http://www.h-ds.com) will come to meet people and drive them back to the shop. The drive is around 10 – 15 mins.
- Hayakawa Diving Service is right next to a small bay that’s surrounded by concrete tetrapods. There is a huge outdoor area and wooden deck with chairs and tables to wash and dry gear or relax and enjoy the sun. There are also some sheltered tables and chairs, a small office and indoor area for customers to sit in after diving (this area has dive magazines, books and underwater photos), four showers (two for men and two for women), four toilets (two for men and two for women), a changing area (around four indoor cubicles) and area to hang dry suits. Shampoo, conditioner and hair dryers are provided but no towels are available.
- All dives are beach entries. Kit up on land and walk over the pebbled beach while wearing all gear. Masks and fins are put on in the water, and divers descend by swimming over a rope which goes on to 5m past the tetrapods. Maximum depth is around 11m. Once past the tetrapods, there is a huge carpet of white sand and far ahead a small cluster of rocks with kelp, seaweed and other growth. It’s an ideal site for skill practice but not so good for fish watching.
- No lunch is provided and there are no shops nearby so divers must bring their own food and drink. Hot tea and coffee is available.
- Divers are responsible for washing and hanging all their gear after dives.
- A day of two beach dives usually finishes around 15:30. Mr. Tanaka also drives people back to Odawara station.
- Two beach dives cost 11,500yen including tank, weights and guide.
- English-speaking divers in Tokyo can arrange dive trips to Odawara and Hayakawa Diving Service with Ben Wouters of Dive Zone Tokyo (https://www.divezonetokyo.com) depending on schedule and season.
Dive No: 241, Entry time: 11:27, Dive time: 41 mins, depth: 11.5m, exit time: 12:08, water temperature: 16C, water visibility: 5m, start pressure: 190 bar, end pressure: 80 bar, used a 12L aluminium tank, scuba pro size 27 boots, ankle weights (500g on each ankle), 6kg weight belt, 3kg in pocket, dry suit. Saw: lumpfish, moss fringehead, type of blenny, plaice, flounder, Valentin’s sharpnose puffer, black scraper fish, soft coral, starfish, sea urchins, coral crabs.
Dive No: 242: Entry time: 13:18, dive time: 40 mins, depth: 11.6m, exit time: 13:58, water temperature: 15C, water visibility: 5m, used a 12L aluminium tank, start pressure: 190 bar, end pressure: 50 bar, scuba pro size 27 boots, ankle weights (500g on each ankle), 5kg weight belt, 3kg in pocket. Saw: same as above
Dive No: 243: Entry time: 10:40, dive time: 40 mins, depth: 7.3m, exit time: 11:20, water temperature: 15C, water visibility: 5m, used a 12L aluminium tank, start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 80 bar, scuba pro size 27 boots, ankle weights (500g on each ankle), 6kg weight belt, 3kg in pocket.
Dive No: 244: Entry time: 13:18, dive time: 38 mins, depth: 7.0m, exit time: 13:56, water temperature: 14C, water visibility: 5-7m, used a 12L aluminium tank, start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 100 bar, scuba pro size 27 boots, ankle weights (500g on each ankle), 6kg weight belt, 3kg in pocket.