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ISSUE 12 ARCHIVE - OKINAWA DIVING, JAPAN WHERE I LEFT MY HEART

Juliette Claro, Diving Leisure London

Let's break out the big news: Japan is the craziest place in the world. From electronic Star Trek-designed toilet seats which require a diploma in engineering to understand, to gigantic plasma screens blaring advertisements for Suntory whiskey at every junction in Tokyo. Once you are there you are an alien, I mean a 'geijin'. The only way to regain your sanity after staying five days in the madness of Tokyo is to revitalize and discover the beauty of the untouched islands around Okinawa.
The Underwater Channel
Landcapey bit Okinawa is sadly famous for being an American annex military base and for being one of the longest battle nightmares of World War II. Don't be put off visiting the beautiful island by the fact that the military base in Naha is in itself adding another star to the American flag. Okinawa is a gem and the dive sites are extremely varied and colourful. Cave diving, WWII wrecks and amazing reefs offer wonderful photographic opportunities. There is everything in Okinawa that would please any diver from Open Water to tech geeks.

Dive centres are mainly based in the capital Naha in the South (Reef Encounters has been running for over sixteen years ask for Doug), but as a rule, GET OUT OF NAHA! Head North to places like Onna Village where local dive centres will take you to discover the best dive sites without having to try your patience with other Japanese divers who take pictures of pretty much everything under water with the V sign pointing up who cares about the reef eh? Piranha Divers runs diving excursions and courses to the best dive sites around Maeda Point at reasonable prices (ask for Jan).
Mini Turts Accommodation options in the North are mainly pensions with rooms in traditional tatami mats which offer the best sunsets you have ever seen.

If you are interested in environmental conservation work and the preservation of the aquatic eco-system, Sunset Beach House in Onna Village has a license to incubate turtle eggs and during the hatching season in August they release hundreds of them on the beach of the pension. They will let you take part in the experience and explain how the project works.

For the best drift dive experiences, i.e. conveyor belt sensations, head towards Kerama Islands where sea turtles, sharks and manta rays will wave at you as you drift at Mach 12. Absolutely brilliant! Then you can take a mad Japanese bus to Naha port and jump on a ferry to heaven...
Regaldive
A fish, recently The highlight of diving in Okinawa is to get to Zamami and Aka Islands which are just one hour South West of Okinawa. Sixty people live on Zamami Island and as soon as you arrive they will tell you about Zamami beach. That is because it is, quite simply, the most beautiful beach you will ever see. Turquoise water and rich reefs which you can explore just by snorkeling (watch out for the sun on your back). Here, you can forget about the internet, credit cards and traffic... and welcome pure organic tranquility by the deep blue sea and the beach.

Dive centres on Zamami are all Japanese and do not always speak English. They also have an alien concept of what a DIN adaptor is (the standard in Japan are steel tanks with International valves)... but in their heart they are all sailors and they know the sites!
The best caves are near Aka Islands where white tip sharks greet you with a grin and lionfish join your party hovering above your heads as vain as peacocks.

Ellisella Dive Centre is run by a charming couple who will do everything they can to get you to dive the best of Japan. You could easily embarrass yourself and forget your no deco time at twenty-five metres by playing with shrimps and octopuses at a busy cleaning station. You could also be amazed when the skipper tells you in broken English, "We are going to Turtle Point" because you are actually going to see turtles... loads of them... swimming, munching, resting...

That sums up the diving in Okinawa, it is rich, colourful and undeniably one of the best diving places in the world.

There are hardly any tourists, apart from lost American officers, Japanese season travellers and one or two French people backpacking around South East Asia desperately searching for snails or frogs in soya sauce. Okinawa is totally underrated. In many ways it is best that way as it would be devastating if mass tourism ever turned it into a mini Sharm El Sheikh.

I hope this article will unveil the mysteries behind the island and if you are still wondering about Japanese diving gear... then book a flight and check it out for yourself.

Long live Hello Kitty fins and pink matching BCDs.

Best dive sites
  • Okinawa Maeda Point US WWII wrecks (45 metres)
  • Kerama Islands Twin rocks White River drift dives
  • Zamami Big Man Rock caves tashihama cleaning station kameko-su (Turtle Point)
  • Aka Island Caves
Don't forget
  • Your DIN adaptor
  • Sun cream (or you will burn)
  • Your camera with a strobe
  • Your Japanese translator
  • Your manners to fit with local Japanese protocol

Nautilus Lifeline

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