Letter from… Japan

Boasting thousands of islands, with a combined coastline of 34,000km, Japan just might be the diving world’s best-kept secret. Local diving guide Kaoruko Inou reveals what it’s like to swim with a school of sharks, and climb rocks underwater on the island of Izu-Oshima…

My most intense memory of diving was after the 2011 earthquake in Japan. I went to Tohoku in the northeast along with other volunteers, to help clean up the sea. It was surreal being surrounded by marine life existing as it has always done, amidst the tragic destruction that the earthquake had wrought.

After a day of working, we waited to watch the spawning of the coral – a specific lunar phase in which flora and fauna reproduce at the same time. As the organisms dispersed from the coral and began to float all around us, they looked like stars against the dark of the ocean. It was in that moment when I realised I was right where I was supposed to be.

It has been almost six years since I first learned how to dive. I was stuck working at an automobile company, and I began longing for something new, so I found a – very strict! – instructor, and eventually became his protégé, training as an instructor at his school.

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There are two really popular areas to dive in Japan: Okinawa and Izu, where I’ve based my business. Personally, I think the greatest place to go is to Izu-Oshima: it’s like paradise. As a cluster of volcanic islands, Japan’s underwater landscapes are incredible, so as well as diving you can even try underwater rock climbing. The geometric shape of the columnar joints, which are created when lava from an erupted volcano cools to form rock, are perfect to climb.

The best part about being an instructor and guide is getting the chance to dive around the world with people from all kinds of backgrounds. I especially love taking tourists diving – it’s amazing seeing the excitement in their eyes when they first come into contact with the underwater world. Because Japan is an island, we’re surrounded by incredible marine life on all fronts – from the north to the south and east to west – and have over 1,900 endemic species.

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Another benefit to the diving scene here is the hospitality that Japanese people pride themselves on, making it their mission to ensure tourists have the most unique experience possible. Whether you’re swimming with sea angels in the icy waters off the northern coast, or with thousands of tropical fish in the warm southern waters, you’re likely to come across unusual marine creatures.

One of the most rare endemic species is the Cherry Anthias fish, known as Sakura-dai in Japanese. It was named after Japan’s national flower, the cherry blossom, because of its colour – a riot of red and pink.

One place that I still haven’t been to is the Ogasawara Islands. They are about 1,000km from Tokyo and people travel long distances to see how clear the ocean water is. There are still so many places I want to explore, but Japan will always be my favourite place to dive. We have culture, good food – and we are really great hosts.