Diving Oki Islands

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Oki Islands, Japan

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Country: Japan  Area: Shimane Prefecture

Water Temp: 10 - 29°C (50 - 84°F)

Visibility: 3 - 30m (10 - 98 ft)

Depth Range: 5 - 30m (16 - 98 ft)

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The Oki Islands on the Sea of Japan coast consist of four large inhabited islands and around 180 smaller uninhabited ones with Dogo Island (Okinoshima Island) the largest, followed by the Dozen Islands that are made up of the three islands Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima and Chiburijima.  

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In 2013 the Oki Islands became part of the Global Geoparks Network backed by UNESCO.  Formed by volcanic activity, today they are known for fishing, agriculture, delicious seafood (squid, turban shell, rock oyster, crab...), sea kayaking, spectacular scenery and scuba diving. 

With a variety of currents, temperate and tropical marine species, divers can explore beds of seaweed or study soft coral on the rocks.  Thanks to the islands' volcanic landscape, diving is a chance to see a special and unique underwater topography.  The waves and currents have also contributed to creating huge dynamic rocks, caves and precipitous cliffs.

Marine Conservation

Dive shops staff set aside some time for underwater cleanups.  Divers are responsible for removing ropes and fishing nets in order to reduce the number of fish that get caught up and die in them.  Steps are also underway to protect seagrass beds and sea oak (a species of kelp) that serve as feeding grounds for fish and shellfish.

One dive shop worked with local divers to set down a time capsule (made by 3rd grade junior high school students) every autumn. This project is in its 5th year (2014). The time capsule will be taken out of the water five years after it was set down, and the letters and memorabilia inside will be shared with the former junior high school students (who will be 20 years old) at their “Coming of Age Ceremony” in August. Summer holidays (August) are a popular time for young people to come back to Oki. This project is a great way for local students, divers and the dive shop to work together, respect the sea, and enjoy sharing memories from then and now.

Climate

During the summer, visitors can enjoy temperatures in the high twenties to mid-thirties. It can be humid, but there is usually a sea breeze that makes it feel more comfortable. One Oki catch phrase is “enjoy a -4°C summer” (because it is usually four degrees cooler here in the summer than the mainland). While most of Japan suffers from the rainy season in June, Oki is not really affected. The rain comes at the start of July, but late July, August and September are usually fine. In late autumn it tends to rain more often, and for diving visibility worsens and the water temperature goes down to around 20°C.  There is a chance of a typhoon in September or October, but usually Oki escapes the worst of the weather. In winter the average temperature in December is around 10 or 11°C and 7 or 8°C in January and February, but the night time temperature can reach zero. The islands don't get much snow but the winter wind chill can be very cold.

Other Year round Marine life

Fish seen include damselfish, chicken grunts, yellowtail amberjacks, pike blennies, a range of nudibranchs, starfish, crabs, turban shells, batfish, spider crabs and porcupine fish.

It's also possible to see banded hound sharks, red stingrays, sepia stingrays.

 
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Boat Diving

 Iguri - off Nishinoshima, is about 10mins away from the mainland by boat.  The site consists of two huge rocks, and in between the anchor is lowered and divers spend time exploring both rocks.  At first glance the site is a little monotonous with flat sandy areas and plenty of seaweed but underneath is a surprising range of nudibranchs, orange starfish and little crabs.  For those who prefer fish, schools of chicken grunts, yellowfin amberjack and damselfish patrol the area.

Hoshi-no-kami-shima - also off Nishinoshima, is known for its slightly challenging currents that strike the rocks, creating nutrient-rich waters that are perfect for fish dining on plankton, and also for divers as the marine life is very prolific.  It's a small, uninhabited island about 30mins away from the mainland, with huge rocks full of little holes and dark patches that house blennies and various little critters.

Oki no Tatami - Okinoshima: the focus of this dive site is one huge rock that sits at a depth of 25m.  The best way to explore this site is to simply circle the rock several times before exploring the other small to medium-sized surrounding rocks.  Divers can see schools of damselfish, pelagics in the distance and several blennies with feathery tentacles above the eyes, poking their heads out from dark holes in the rocks.

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How to Get there

Flights are available with JAL, ANA and SKJ.  The ANA and SKJ flights go from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Yonago Airport in Tottori Prefecture.  From here, take a taxi or bus to Shichirui Port (or taxi, bus or train to Sakaiminato Port) where high-speed and slower ferries go to both Dozen and Dogo areas of the Oki Islands.  The JAL flights go to Oki Airport on Dogo via Osaka (Itami Airport) and Izumo Airport. Ferries from any one of the four Oki ports take visitors back to Shichirui Port or Sakaiminato Port on the mainland.

The best way to get around the Oki Islands is to hire a car. There are rental car companies on each island. Make sure you book a car in advance. www.e-oki.net has more information. Diving schools offer pick-up and drop-off services if you ask in advance. You can use the scheduled sightseeing bus and boat tours (April – October) in Nishinoshima. There are rental bicycles (standard or electric-assist), which can be rented at the ports. If you like walking, you can explore the islands on foot.

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Where to Eat & Drink

The Oki Islands are known for some fantastic cuisine, such as seafood (fish, shell fish, seaweed from the Sea of Japan), sazae (turban shell) curry, Sazae-don (turban shell rice) cooked with local ingredients, Oki beef and many varieties of sake including Isokko, which is made from seaweed.

The restaurant Conseil コンセーユ about 5mins walk from Beppu Port on Nishinoshima, serves delicious turban shell with rice and miso soup.  Other popular places on Nishinoshima include the Nagato Cafe ながと(daily lunch specials of fish, chicken, pork or beef), turban shell curry etc. with all ingredients fresh from the garden/sea.  The owner likes to have people from overseas at her cafe!  English menu available. There is also Miyako みやこthat's run by a friendly owner who makes great food and serves a range of drinks.  Meet with locals and enjoy a fun night out!

On Okinoshima Island, La Cigale Cafe ラシガルカフェ(https://www.facebook.com/LaCigaleOki) serves locally grown beef and vegetables, pizza, curry, meat patties, salad and delicious desserts.  Cafe Blanc カフェブランat Saigo Port serves coffee, ice cream, curry and sandwiches, while Aji-no-kura 味乃蔵(http://tabelog.com/shimane/A3205/A320501/32000273/) serves lunch and dinner including seafood, udon, soba and set meals.  Seano シーノnear Saigo Port is also good for a night out, with a variety of drinks and small dishes available.

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Other Activities

Visitors are never bored on the Oki Islands! Dogo (Okinoshima Island) has some stunning coastlines formed by the Sea of Japan's powerful waves.  It's worth stopping at the Shirashima Coast Lookout to see the white rocks or take an easy stroll.  One of the most popular places is Rosoku-jima, or Candle Island, a tall rock that becomes a giant candle as the sun goes down.  Visitors can see this impressive view from a sightseeing boat that departs just before sunset (runs spring – autumn). The Chichi-sugi Japanese Cedar, said to be about 800 years old, is also worth visiting.  It's quite a sight with its many drooping branches and roots. If you have time, stop by Tamawakasu-mikoto Shrine and be amazed by the largest shrine building in Oki, and the ancient Yao-sugi Japanese Cedar that protects the shrine. A short cruise around Saigo Harbour and Yabi River on the “Kappa Sightseeing Boat” is always fun, and the guide will show you some unique spots around the town.

On the Dozen Islands, visitors can see horses and cows grazing in the fields, quaint little port towns and stunning coastal views. If you visit Chiburijima, make sure you go to the top of Mt. Akahage and see the panoramic view of the Dozen Caldera, then head down to spectacular Sekiheki or Red Cliff. Stop off at Kawai Spring and drink some fresh spring water.

On Nakanoshima, make sure you stop by Oki Shrine. Cycle or drive to the Akiya Coast and look for “Heart Rock”. This is a great place for a picnic or swimming in the summer.

The Kuniga Coast is one of the most famous spots on the Oki Islands, and features some unique cliffs and arches created by the waves and wind.  Make sure you spend some time in Nishinoshima! You can also visit one of the island’s “power spots”, Takuhi Shrine, located inside a cave part-way up Mt. Takuhi. Visitors can also go fishing, sea kayaking, hire electric bikes and go cycling, go hiking along the Kuniga Coast, try a pottery class or visit museums.  See http://www.nkk-oki.com/topindex.html for more information.

For further details on diving off the Oki Islands and other activities, contact Nicola Jones at Nishinoshima Tourism Office (http://www.nkk-oki.com), who can get in touch with the relevant dive schools and arrange accommodation and transport.

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