January 2018: Japan’s Ice Diving Season

Definitely not for the faint hearted, ice diving is an extreme, adventurous activity that not many divers get to experience.  Those who do, however, find an underwater world like no other — a clear turquoise colour that’s unique to an under-ice environment, sunbeams that penetrate through the ice cracks and a feeling that you’ll never know what you might come across.

When it comes to ice diving, countries such as Russia or Canada may come to mind but the season is about to get underway in Japan, and I was delighted to see this two-page spread in the latest edition of Japan’s Marine Diving magazine, that explains what ice diving is all about and brought back some fun memories.

IMG_20180119_154803385Each winter off the northernmost island of Hokkaido, ice floes from Sibera are blown down across the Sea of Okhotsk, where they settle around the Shiretoko Peninsula, becoming more rounded as their edges soften.  It is here that the ice diving season begins, running in February and March.  While it’s possible to spot a few fish, most divers come to see the tiny, transparent sea angel or clione.  Besides the mesmerising layers of ice on the water surface, ice diving also provides other unique experiences..  Visibility is excellent, while particulate matter settles more easily thanks to the calm sea.  The rocky topography is also home to seagrass, crabs, starfish, shrimp and even tiny nudibranchs if you have a keen eye and are brave enough to withstand the -1C temperatures for long enough to keep looking.

Ice diving in Japan is more of a taster or introduction as opposed to a longer fun dive.  Most dives will usually be no deeper than 10m and for less than half an hour due to the extreme environment.  Non-Japanese divers who wish to try should ideally have some dry suit experience, an Advanced Open Water certification and most importantly, be able to speak some Japanese for safety reasons (briefings on safety measures and dive procedures will be detailed and strict).  If not, please make sure that you are accompanied by another diver who is able to translate on your behalf.

Dive shops on the Shiretoko Peninsula have become increasingly concerned about the lack of ice over the past couple of years, most likely due to climate change and global warming.  But the two-page spread in Marine Diving gave me a lot of hope, that ice diving is still possible after all.  If you’re a keen diver in Japan who speaks Japanese well enough and knows how to dive in a dry suit, I highly recommend this incredible underwater experience!

Click here to read about my ice diving adventure in February 2016: https://bonniewaycott.com/2016/04/06/february-2016-the-return-to-shiretoko-hokkaido-japan/

 

About Rising Bubbles

Based in Bristol, UK, I am a freelance writer and consultant working on Japan’s aquaculture and fisheries development. My work focuses on issues related to sustainability, research, gender, technological advancements, adaptation and resilience. I have a keen interest in the recovery of aquaculture in the Tohoku region, following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11th, 2011, and provide news stories, features and reports from Japan for national and international seafood and fisheries media. While living in Tokyo between 2006 and 2017, I worked as a freelance writer on Japan’s aquaculture and marine-related subjects, in particular scuba diving. My blog began in 2011 as a comprehensive guide to diving in Japan. I have enjoyed exploring Japan’s waters extensively and became a certified Dive Master in August 2015. I hold an MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture from the University of St Andrews, and a BA in Japanese and French from the University of Cardiff, UK.
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