Sharks and Character Building: Diving in Japan

Kerama Islands, Okinawa Prefecture
Joy Joy Diving

So, I have been doing my posts in nearly sequential order and as some of you know I'm "behind" on my posts. In honor of the tail end of Shark Week, this post is of a recent diving experience on the islands of southern Japan. Additionally, going forward, posts will not be in any particular order. Stories will be at the whim of yours truly.

Rain Washed

So, I changed my mind from going to Korea's Jeju Island. While I'm sure it is a worthwhile place to visit, stories and blog posts I read on the island seemed very underwhelming, particularly if I was going to hit bad weather, which seemed like it happened often. Instead, I opted for the islands of Okinawa's prefecture. The route to getting here for me was fly Tokyo to Naha then take a boat from Naha to Kerama Islands. Wanting to spend next to zero time in Naha, I took the first possible boat three hours away. Again, to sound diplomatic and put a positive spin, I'm sure there are many worthwhile things to do in Naha, from the time I spent there, though I had some excellent ramen, the place strikes me as a nicer, Japanese version of the bad parts of the Jersey shore. Take from it what you will, but I suggest going to smaller islands immediately, if not sooner, once landing in Naha.

According to Google image search, there are many islands that are worthwhile visiting, but since I hadn't been diving in a while, I picked the one that seemed most dive-worthy while also having nice beaches: Zamami Island in the Kerama Islands. All of the names of islands and groups of islands sounded confusing at first, and they still are, but now having been here a couple of days, I'm starting to get the lay of the land. Yet, it almost doesn't matter. Why? The water is ridiculous everywhere.

I've been to Bali and Lombok, and the water is crystal. The view is pristine. Everyone raves about the epic rock structures in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, and the rocks are pretty cool, but the area also has an insurmountable pile of trash and water that is less than excellent. Read: eyesore. After spending time in Japan, it's easy to be a downer on the uncleanliness of other places. This place? Okinawa? Wow. The clarity of the water is just awe-inspiring. The colors are something else. Really painting a picture for you, eh? The pictures I've taken barely do the island justice, so please either Google or just see for yourself. They named the hues according to which island the water surrounds because each one is another shade of turquoise or deep, bright blue.

So, I went on a dive today with Joy Joy Divers where I was the only diver for the morning. The coral is not as colorful as the coral that was in Indonesia and in many cases, it looks dead or dying, particularly compared to the Menjangan Island in Bali.. There were, however, many schools of small fish, all of which I cannot name. D'oh, I can name one, which the divemaster told me: Blue-Green Chromis fish. There was a pretty school of them that were hanging out above the purple coral at our saftey stop. Throughout the dive, there were plenty of Parrotfish, which I'd seen before but couldn't name. Pointing at one, I asked DM what one was and after he wrote the name, he erased and wrote: "It is yummy... My favorite." For not being so talkative on land, he had a funny streak, which included making water bubble rings, but quite unlike my DM in Gili T, who blew perfect round smoke circles vertically. Instead, these were puffy bubble circles that jet out horizontally. All stuff that entertains a n00b diver.

Back to fish and diving: the first dive also included a shark sighting! It was probably about 1.5m (5') in length but resting under a rock, which is why I can't pinpoint its exact size. It was a Whitetip reef shark. Even though I had seen a reef shark before, it was at a distance but that didn't matter when the divemaster put her palm to her head to signal a shark. I had butterflies in my stomach. Fine at the end of that dive, I was still nervous at how I would react at the next sighting, and now it was a mere meter (3ft) away.

So how did I react? Calm, apparently. The DM was calm and after writing the type of shark, he added to his slate: "It's [a] kind shark," and then proceeded to get a closer look. You know those closer talkers? Closer than that. Sharky was pretty cool looking, I will admit to that. I was and still am of the belief that kind shark or not, it's still a shark. It still has razor sharp teeth which it can use to rip the meat off my leg the same way I eat Super Bowl wings.

Dive number two I was told was going to involve going into caves. These caves were awesome! He told me before we got into the water (I insisted on a backroll, I cannot step-in dive), that I should look up when I see lights in the caves because the breaks in the ceiling are amazing to observe. And they were. I wish that I had a camera that went that far under water because the light and structure of the rocks was so incredible.  Here is one and one more stolen pic (credit given!) to give you an idea of what it looked like. To be honest, seeing for yourself is completely different. Some pictures embellish a view, but this one, even with Photoshop, I am hard pressed to find pictures that do the scene justice. For one particular spotlight that he pointed out, he wrote, "You can be a star!" Funny man strikes again.

Thinking we were going to go back the way we came, because no opening looked large enough for my fumbling diving self, he points downwards into an opening that would just fit a human body and tank through. Then he signaled for me to mind my head. Excellent. How can this go wrong? Clunk.

As we were coming out of the cave and into open water in the area, we saw another Whitetip. This little guy was just swimming in circles around us. DM, on the other hand, was following him and trying to pet him. I just watched. Sharky, Jr. came a lot closer than I would  have chosen for him to be, but it was fine. He wasn't big enough to do any significant damage, like rip a leg off, but was he capable making a tooth mark smile into my arm? Oh yea. These moments, when faced with a shark this close, no matter how 'kind' or gentle, I like to refer to as 'Character Building.'

Consider my character built.

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