Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying. It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though! But after a couple of months of being back in England […]
Archive for January, 2007
Well here we are in 2007, and a Happy New Year to everyone. I hope the forthcoming 12 months are successful and happy ones for you all, and for you divers, I hope you manage to get in the water even more this year. 2007 started off for me with 2 dives looking for hammerheads and then on some underwater ruins that are thought to be up to 8,000 years old. That’s definitely the way to stay off a year, and if the diving carries on in that way I’ll be pretty pleased! Well, this entry is going to have quite a few photos, so pull up a chair and get ready to see some of the underwater sights of the westernmost island of Japan.
A tiny background about Yonaguni – it’s a very small island (around 26km in circumference) with one taxi, one bus, and 2 traffic lights. Not the bustling metropolis of Okinawa or mainland Japan. It’s about 1 and a half hour flight from the Okinawan mainland, and the plane that took me there was a puddle-skipper! It only had 39 seats and was a propeller plane rather than a jet engine one. Just about the only reason to go to this island for tourists is to see these underwater ruins. That is, unless you’re a big fan of the Japanese TV drama, Dr Koto, in which case, Yonaguni will be a must-see place! The show was about a doctor from Tokyo who moved to Yonaguni and had various “adventures” there. In fact, each time the dive boat passed the house where the TV show was filmed, you heard lots of Japanese chatter pick up about “Docutaaaa Kotooo” and photos being taken. But enough about Japanese dramas that 99% of you are never likely to see, onto the diving!
The above photo is a model layout of the ruins, courtesy of the dive shop I dived with, called Sawes. The extra special thing about this diving company in Yonaguni is that the owner is a man called Kihachirou Aratake (pictured below, with me). He was a fisherman who, in 1987, discovered these structures underwater which he believed to have been man-made. Scientists have since visited these underwater ruins and opinion is still heavily divided. Many people believe these structures to be underwater remnants of a civilization lost in time and history, and one which at 8,000 years old, could almost outdate the Pyramids. The people who claim that these underwater rock formations are simply that, and which have no man-made origin, are numerous. However, even if these are manmade, for all of these natural phenomena to have occurred within the same 150m square area is absolutely amazing, and certainly something special to behold. Having dived the ruins now, I have to say that the lines, straight edges, right-angled corners and similar are just too well defined to have been naturally occurring. Plus there is the turtle monument and and face in the rock (2 things which I will come onto in due time).
I managed 3 dives on the ruins, so here is a general overview of what you would see when diving them. First of all, to get to the ruins is about 40-45 minutes by boat as it is off the eastern coast of Yonaguni and the main port is on the west. There can be a strongish current, so usually you perform a negatively buoyant exit from the boat. And from there you enter some beautiful water. Visibility of 25-30m at least, and a water temperature of 25C in the winter time means you’ll always exit a dive very happy with the conditions. And because of the lack of industry around, the coral health there is superb and there are some huge fish about.
[thumb:447:l]To get access to the main ruins, you have to go through a gateway at around 13-14m. This is the first sign that there could something more to this than just nature at work. The rocks that form the gateway are distinctly different, but yet on both sides they are sized identically, so the gateway is symmetrical. I will be the first to admit that this one could have been formed by rocks falling from the island and landing in this position many years ago. However, it is another thing which could be evidence of a civilization before our time. As this is a bit of a special blog entry, I’ve also decided to add some video clips that I took on my trip. For a video clip of the gateway to Yonaguni’s underwater ruins, click here.
[thumb:446:r]OK – so you swim through this gateway and the next thing which you are confronted with is something called the “Twin Towers” (see right). These are 2 rectangular-shaped, parallel rocks standing 8-10m tall and next to each other. To see the straight edges around these rocks and the sharp corners and edges certainly got my mind working as to whether these could be the creations of people rather than mother nature. The question of what the rocks were still remains though. Maybe some part of a building which has since collapsed, or possibly a timing device which used the sun and the space between the rocks to dictate the time of day or year? I really have no idea and am purely speculating – I’ll leave it to the historians to decide what I’ve actually seen here. For a video clip of the Twin Towers, click here.
[thumb:445:l]So after looking around the Twin Towers for a short while, the dive moves onto the main underwater ruin complex, and a swim along the main terrace. This usually has quite a hefty current flowing down it, so you’ve either got to be pretty quick with the photos, or make sure you get a strong grip on something, otherwise you’re going to be swept past it all. What makes it harder is that the edges are so smooth that there is very little to actually grip onto and you really have to dig in with your fingers as hard as you can to find a handhold. As you swim along here, you notice that all of the edges are at right angles again, and what look very much like large steps are cut into the rock leading from one level to another. These steps are also pretty much all sized the same, suggesting that they were cut into the rock by people to function as stairs. Of course, all of this is my opinion, but you’re reading this blog so I’m assuming you want to hear it! For video clips of the stairs leading up to the terrace, click here or here.
As you reach the top of the large stairs on the left of the photos, you’re at about 8m and on a flat area of rock. For a movie clip showing the main terrace on these ruins, click here. On one side you can swim down a trench in the rock to around 13m and there is an area which has been named “The Cemetery”. Here there is a very flat rock, which is very reminiscent of a Taiwanese or Korean (can’t quite remember what the guide said) tombstone, laid flat on the bottom. And at the end of the trench is a cross cut into the rock. Now this is a very well defined top-to-bottom, left-to-right cross, which would fit in very well with the theory that this trench was some sort of burial area. From the photos below you can see the trench and the cross in question. For a movie clip of the cemetery trench and cross, click here.
[thumb:453:r]Coming out of the trench you then come up to the monument of the turtle. Now this is something that I must apologize for, as my photos are not too good here. The tide was such that is was very difficult to get over the monument with enough distance to show the whole area. However, I did manage to get a short movie clip of it, which came out pretty well. All I can say is that the raised rock area does look remarkably like the shape of a turtle swimming in full flow, with its head and all 4 legs/arms/whatever their swimming things are called visible. The only photos I’ve got here is of it’s head, which is to the left. For a movie showing the turtle monument, click here.
And that’s pretty much the main dive site area for the ruins. Now there is another part to the ruins, and I was lucky enough to have Mr Aratake himself as my guide for this dive. He knows his way around this dive site probably better than anyone, and it was a privilege to have him show me around. The first of the 2 main highlights of this second area is seeing the Jacques Mayol memorial plaque. For those of you who don’t know the name, Jacques Mayol is a legend among divers and freedivers. He was the first person to descend to 100m on a single breath, and set numerous freediving records. The 1988 film, The Big Blue, was made about his life. Anyway, Mayol and Aratake were good friends, and this site was Mayol’s favourite site to dive in Japan. And so after his death in 2001, a memorial plaque was placed at this site. It was quite a nice thing to see, and have my photo taken with.
The second highlight of this other part of the ruins is seeing what could be the carving of a face cut into the rock. Now at first when Aratake pointed this out to me, I merely saw a couple of holes in the rock and nothing else. But then I backed away and suddenly the face came eerily into focus. On the photo on the right, I’ve tried to highlight the eyes, nose and mouth (forgive my complete lack or artistic ability). Hopefully then you should be able to see them clearly on the photo on the left.
So there are the underwater ruins (iseki in Japanese) of Yonaguni. I did plenty of other dives looking for hammerhead sharks, which migrate through the area during the winter months. We had limited success finding those, and no really close encounters, but it was nice to see them when we did. We also did a few dives on the reefs of Yonaguni which are beautiful in themselves. A wonderful array of soft corals, big fish and a couple of turtles greeted us on our dives, and made the dives memorable. A special mention must go to the staff at Sawes too, especially Rui, Nacchi and Nao chan, who were great during my whole stay, and who I have the utmost respect for. They provide a very comprehensive diving service to people who go down there, and they really do work hard and long hours.
So, this blog entry is coming to a close I feel. If anyone has any questions or comments about Yonaguni, the ruins, or how to plan a trip there, then post a comment or get in touch. I’d be happy to help you guys and girls out. I’ll leave you with a few photos of Yonaguni, above and below the waves. Until next time, take care and dive safely.