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Japan flag Advice on Scuba Diving in Ogasawara Islands, Japan

5 Dive Sites 5 Dive Shops

Part 1: Overview of Scuba Diving in Ogasawara Islands, (Japan)

The Ogasawara Islands are an archipelago of more than 30 tropical islands about 1,000 kilometers southeast of Tokyo, Japan. Even though far away from the mainland, the island group is technically part of Tokyo with Tokyo addresses. The primary islands that are historically significant and of interest to scuba divers are: Chichijima (inhabited and where the ferry from Tokyo docks), Hahajima (inhabited), Iwo Jima, Kazan Retto, Hyotanjima, Minamijima and Hirashima among others.

The islands are still referred to by their English name, the Bonin Islands, given to them over a hundred years ago by explorers and reinforced during their partial occupation in WWII. The name means something like, “no man's land.” The islands are remote and are not accessible by air. Ferries from the mainland take over 24 hours to get to these remote Pacific gems. Only the devoted scuba diver gets to explore these clear warm waters.

The islands are breathtaking and the water is notoriously clear. There is a 25m radio telescope on Chichijima that takes advantage of this remote, clear atmosphere. Chichijima was Japan's primary long-range radio station during World War II, and was frequently attacked by US forces. Former president George H. W. Bush was shot down while raiding Chichijima.

Air temperatures on the Ogasawara Islands do not fall below 7 degrees C (46 degrees F) or risen above 34 degrees C (94 degrees F). This is a Pacific paradise.

The inhabitants of Chichijima have historically caught sea turtles as one of their primary sources of protein. Local restaurants still serve turtle soup and turtle sashimi. In the first half of the 20th century, thousands of turtles were captured each year putting serious pressure on the health of the population. Conservation efforts on the island today focus on providing protected beaches for the turtles to nest. Reportedly only one fisherman is allowed to catch the turtles and that number is restricted to fewer than 135 in a season. Scuba divers commonly encounter the green turtle off the Ogasawara Islands including Chichijima. The green turtle was the most threatened and is now a stable and growing population. The Fisheries Agency and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government operate a conservation facility on the island.

The Ogasawara Islands are geologically young and still volcanically active. The island of Iwo Jima is a submarine caldera and erupted 10 times last century; the most recent eruption was in 1982. The island is experiencing rapid uplift and has several hot springs. Most of the islands have steep shorelines, often with sea cliffs ranging from 50 to 100 meters (160 to 330 ft) tall. The Ogasawara Islands are for the most part fringed with coral reef and have many amazing beaches. The highest elevation on the islands is near the southern point of point of Iwo Jima at 916 meters (3,005 feet). The islands are considered to be subtropical and most of the mountainous islands are covered with subtropical broadleaf forests.

The islands are great for hiking around the beaches, cliffs, and on several islands you can explore the historic WWII caves and bunkers. Water sports are popular, of course, with scuba diving being the best! People also sea kayak, water ski and wake board, windsurf and stand up paddleboard. The surf is strong enough on many beaches for surfers to catch a wave, especially when a storm is blowing in. This same weather phenomenon that makes surfing more exciting can really stir up the water and reduce the usually crystalline visibility famous on the Ogasawara Islands.





Part 2: Dive Sites, Marine Life & Environment in Ogasawara Islands, (Japan)

The remote Ogasawara islands offer great scuba diving sites. The waters in August reach 25 degrees C (77 degrees F) and visibility is good to great between 30-50 meters. The main island of Chichijima is a popular dive destination of the Ogasawara chain. Chichijima is the island that offers the most amenities and where the ferry from Tokyo delivers visitors. Chichijima means “Father Island” in Japanese and it is the largest of the Ogasawaras. The second week of August hosts a festival on the island, and August is also a prime time for water temperatures, visibility and whale watching/listening. However, the Ogasawara islands are ideal year round. Typhoon season creates rough waters and sometimes severe weather; however, the season's range is between May and November, prime scuba time!

You can spot bottlenose dolphins while diving off the northern shore of Chichijima in the Anijima Straits at the dive site known as Nagasaki Washington, named for the two beaches that the dive site lies between. The dive site sits in clear waters with a white sandy bottom and scattered islands of reef and fish. It is common to see Blotched faintail rays, also commonly called Speckled stingray. The dive site is best known for its many coral species: Brain Coral, Starburst Coral, Cauliflower Coral, and the large polyped stoney Frogspawn coral some reaching the size of small cars. The colorful Schlegel's parrotfish, also known as the Yellowband parrotfish is a colorful inhabitant of the reef along Chichijima.

The small island of Minamjima, off the southwest coast of Chichijima, is a beach lover's paradise. There is a famous and classic arch of rock and a protected white sand beach that makes its way into the interior of the island. The blue lagoon that the arch protects is amazing and there are lots of pictures of this stunning place online. The majestic albatross, known as ahodori in Japanese, inhabits the island. The best dive sites are out in the bay where it’s common to spot white tipped reef shark, abundant coral and dolphin.

The island known as Anijima is just off the northern coast of Chichijima. Off the large bay known as Takinoura, there is a wreck dive site where American dive-bombers sunk the Yayoi Maru in about 25 meters of water. After 50 plus years, its bow is covered in coral. The wreck is swarmed with Almaco jacks and striped Amberjacks, making this a spectacular dive. The strong current makes the site accessible to advanced level scuba divers. However, the high visibility and relatively shallow bottom (just 25 meters) along with the warm water makes this dive relatively easy as far as advanced dive sites go.

The wreck Daimi Maru is in Chichijima's main harbor Futami Bay near Kaname Rock. The Japanese vessel was sunk by Allied aircraft and sank in just 33 meters of water, making it another dive-able wreck. This wreck is in clear waters and lies on sand coral. It is common to spot nurse sharks at the Daimi Maru wreck site.

Because the Ogasawara Islands have never been connected to a continent, many of the islands' animals and plants have undergone unique evolutionary processes. This has led to the given nickname of the “Galapagos of the Orient". Some 40% of the plant species on the islands is endemic. There are very few animals on the islands and the Bonin flying fox is a unique and endangered bat species visitors are lucky to see. The “goats gone wild” are much easier to spot! The islands are also home to over a 100 native land snail species, amazingly 90% of which are endemic to the islands.

The surrounding waters of the Ogasawara Islands host abundant tropical fish and coral reef species. Marine animals such as Humpback and Sperm whales, dolphins, and loggerhead turtles thrive. Whitetip reef shark are also common around the islands. It is common for scuba divers to hear Humpback whale songs echoing through the water. The Humpbacks migrate through the region each spring.

Scuba divers exploring the Ogasawaras will spot many tropical, colorful fish. Spotted garden eels buried in their sandy homes with snaky heads are a common sight off the island ledgesThere are also Spotted snake eels that freely swim in their sinuous pattern along the sandy bottoms. Bull rays and the bright endemic Japanese pygmy angelfish are also typical sights for scuba divers.

A Giant squid was filmed off the Ogasawara Islands for the first time in the wild and got international attention in September 2005; a year later the Japanese resident was captured on film again. The Giant squids that inhabit the Ogasawara Island area are most likely the same species that inhabit most of the world's oceans. While it is unlikely for a scuba diver to see a Giant squid, it is possible.

Another dive location is accessible through the dive shop Urashima. The shop offers boat excursions that take divers to the uninhabited Keita Islands north of Chichijima. There is a dive site known as Tuna hole off Mukojima, where divers carefully wedge into a rock fissure and often drop in on resident sharks. This is an advanced dive and once inside the hollowed rock, it is common to swim with a school of tuna that circle and circle giving the site its name.


Part 3: Dive Shops, Airports & Logistics of Diving in Ogasawara Islands, (Japan)

The far off Ogasawara Islands are not accessible by air. To get to the islands anticipate an overseas ride that takes on average about 26 hours – that is if you’re lucky with good weather. I read several times, when researching how to get to the islands, that the trip from Tokyo can be very choppy and often times the weather slows the boat down significantly. Traveling to the islands requires a strong stomach for the sea and dedication as well as a flexibility in travel plans if need be for connecting flights once back from this Pacific paradise.

To catch the ferry to the Ogasawara Islands fly into Tokyo. Tokyo's Narita International Airport, otherwise known as New Tokyo International Airport, handles most of the international flights. Tokyo International Airport, also called Haneda Airport, traffics most of the domestic flights. Once in Tokyo you will depart via Ogasawara Kaiun Company's Ogasawara Maru cruise liner that departs every three days. The ship docks from Tokyo’s Takeshima Terminal. The Ogasawara Maru is a 131-meter long (430 ft) vessel, with a capacity of 1,031 passengers. Once on Chichijima you can ferry to Hahajima on a liner called Hahajima Maru.

Chichijima and Hahajima are the only inhabited islands in the Ogasawara islands. The famous island of Iwo Jima is probably the most famous. It was the stage for the battle of Iwo Jima in WWII in the naval struggle between the USA and Japan. The US actually occupied Iwo Jima until 1968 when it was handed back to Japan.

Two touring companies offer tourist accommodations for scuba divers looking to dive the Ogasawara Islands. The JTB Sunrise Tours and Kinki Nippon Tourist otherwise known as (KNT) are good companys to check out.

Once on the main island of Chichijima, use the Ogasawara Village Tourist Association and Diving Center to organize your trip and answer your questions. The Association can help you plan your scuba diving adventures on the Ogasawara Islands. There are relatively few scuba diving resources on the islands but there are informal dive instructors willing to guide dives or boat captains that offer dive excursions if you seek them out. The language barrier between Japanese and English is a hurdle to be jumped. The dive service called Urashima offers instruction and a dive boat in Chichijima. The Ogasawara Marine Center on Chichijima is another resource for divers and those interested in learning about the local marine life especially sea turtle conservation.

There is currently only one way to see the historic island of Iwo Jima and that is through Military Historical Tours out of the state of Virginia in the United States. It organizes the Iwo Jima Association of America (IJAA) and may be your only ticket to dive the island. The islands history and volcanic landscape are worth seeing no matter if you dive there or not.


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