by Charlie Whipple
Hokkawa's on the east coast of Japan's Izu Peninsula, a little less than three hours from Akihabara in Tokyo where Scuba Diving Club Manatees has its headquarters. When we gathered at 6:30 a.m., rain drizzled from overcast skies, even though the weather people had forecast sunshine. But a little rain never stopped the intrepid divers from Manatees.
A lone cardinalfish next to a long line of hydrozoans, but the fish hastens of thousands of playmates only a few meters away.
Two vans departed Akihabara at 7 a.m. sharp; by 10 we were parked outside Kenny's House in the hotspring resort of Hokkawa. After a flurry of setting up cameras and climbing to wet and dry suits, and the Manatees strolled a 100 meters down to the harbor and Kenny's waiting diveboat.
In moments, the 22-foot boat's twin 150 Yamaha outboards had us on a plane, headed for the Rudder-Scraper (Kajikaki in Japanese) a series of rocks that come so close to the surface at low tide that local fisherman sometimes scrape their rudders on them.
The site has three permanent buoys, which lets the diveboat captain choose the one that suits the wind and current. We tied up to the one on the southeast corner of Rudder-Scraper rocks.
One of the Manatees had never dived in Japan before. She earned her open water certification in Guam and her 43 dives were all in those lukewarm tropical waters. Needless to say, her backroll entry brought a gasp of surprise. The water over Rudder-Scraper rocks was only 18 degrees celsius (about 65 degrees Fahrenheit). Still, in 6.5 mm wetsuits, it wasn't too bad.
He is pitching woo to her and she is being coy. But can you tell which is which? Nudibranch lovers at Hokkawa's Rudder-Scraper rocks.
We descended into typical Japanese spring waters; full of nutrients and vibrant with life. Everything was moving. Spiral worms and other hydrozoans were out in force. Nudibranches courted in slow motion. And hordes of cardinalfish, it felt like hundreds of thousands, swam round and round the tallest rock. Just as we turned to go, one Manatee noticed a flounder on the ocean floor. We swooped down for a closer look, but it had other things on its mind. Suddenly it lurched upward into the midst of the cardinalfish, snapping this way and darting that, trying to catch a meal. Unfortunately the cardinalfish were more nimble, and while we watched, the hungry flounder dropped to the sand to sulk, and perhaps do some image training.
Back aboard Kenny's boat, our Guamanian Manatee could not stop exulting about the tremendous amount of ocean life in Japan -- soft coral, rhinoceros shrimp, nudibranches, scorpionfish, hydrozoans, seafans, groupers, seabream, rock lobsters, you name it. We may have observed more lifeforms in 40 minutes at Rudder-Scraper rocks than she saw in all 43 of her dives in Guam . . . well, maybe not quite.
This little scorpionfish braces himself by placing his fins on each side of the sponge he's hiding in. The strobe brings out all his colors, but in natural light he blends well with his background.
I have dived dozens of sites in Japan, many of them only a couple of hours drive from Tokyo. And I've dived many times at many of those sites. Each time there's something new. The sites change markedly with the seasons, so you get to observe the entire lifecycle of many species. In the Bahamas, for example, divers go into a frenzy over sighting a moray. In Japan, it's unusual if you don't sight one. For my money, Japan may be one of the best-kept secrets in the diving world.
Back to Hokkawa. Kenny's boat docks at the quay, and the Manatees shift their gear to new tanks. We hustle back to Kenny's House because there's a naturally hot pool there you can climb into, wetsuit and all. As the hot water sucks the chill from your bones, you begin removing gear, one piece at a time. One of Kenny's people comes to take your lunch order. You climb from the pool, warm clear through, and hang your gear up. By the time you've meandered over to the tables set up in front of the shop, lunch is served. Hot, but not too filling, because you have one more dive on Rudder-Scraper rocks to go.
Charles Whipple is a writer who has lived in Japan for more than 20 years. He is an avid diver and often contributes diving articles to Australian, New Zealander, Japanese, and American diving magazines. He's fluent in Japanese and willing to help any diver get acquainted in Japan.
12/24/2023 update: Mr. Charles T. Whipple passed away in 2019. Rest in peace.
Copyright of the article and photos on this page were reserved for Charles Whipple. The copyright now belongs to the person who has inherited it.***
Posted May 26, 1996
I thank Mr. Whipple very much for sending this report for my site. This is an ideal report to know about typical one day diving from Tokyo area. I remember the hot spring after freezing dive in winter. Do not worry, water gets warm in summer around Tokyo area as well!
If you ask Mr. Whipple about Japanese diving information, it will be a good idea when and where you are interested in diving there. Japan has four seasons and there are places for from ice diving in Hokkaido, to sub-tropical diving in Okinawa or Ogasawara and in-between. - Junko A. Pascoe