Japan: Okinawa - Zamami - Yonaguni

Furuzamami beach, Zamami island
Furuzamami beach, Zamami island

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Despite being still Japan, Okinawa and its Islands are quite different to the rest of Japan. While it’s still winter in Tokyo, spring has already arrived here. Temperatures currently range from 18C on a rainy day and 25C on a sunny one. Those Southern islands were conquered last by the Japanese empire, and have their own cultural heritage. In addition, the largest US troop contingent is based in Okinawa, which also lead to a slightly more Western living style.


Okinawa´s pretty crowded, and the cities can host a myriad of tourists. Fortunately there are some small islands around, which are often visited just on a day- or weekend trip and are amazingly peaceful now in off-season. One of those gems is called Zamami and can easily be reached by ferry within an hour from Okinawa. In summer this place is crowded with divers and beach bums, but in February almost no one stays on the island. There are dozens of Humpback whales mating, breeding and resting in the safe water around Zamami, and whale watching is the main attraction in winter. Unfortunately, during my tour the whales were not breaching (=jumping), but they are curious and came close to the boat. I guess this fearless behavior was one of the reason for their almost extinction around Okinawa during the 50s and 60s, when the whales were hunted. While in the late sixties not a single whale was seen in several years in Zamami, the population recovered to around 200 different animals, which is close to the population in the pre-hunt era.


Underwater ruins, Yonaguni
Underwater ruins, Yonaguni

Back in Okinawa I flew with a small Dash8 turboprop airplane to Yonaguni, the southernmost island of Japan, just 100km away from Taiwan. A mere 2000 people live here, the island is known for some wild horses and the biggest moth worldwide. Nothing spectacular above sea level. But once submersed one can explore the real treasures of Yonaguni. Clear blue water, as the remoteness guarantees that no dirty river water pollutes the sea and the cold water temperature hinders the growing of algae. Some nice rock formations, underwater arches and swim through. And hammerhead sharks! Schools of up to 100 sharks roam around the island. Hammerhead sharks are relatively shy, they can´t be attracted by bait and they normally avoid the coast. So, if you want to see them you need to dive in the blue water and hope, that they either pass by or that they come to check you out. Shy, but nonetheless curious. I saw the hammerheads on about half the dives, and the biggest school was around a dozen sharks. Not the ultimate shark encounter, but still quite impressive!

And that´s not all, Yonaguni has one more special dive site. Around 30 years ago, locals were looking for a good hammerhead dive site, but they found instead some mysterious underwater ruins! Specialists still don´t know neither age nor origination of the ruins. Some even claim, that nature carved the limestone. I disagree, there are walls, stairs, entrances, various straight lines. Nature could form some of those features, but not so various patterns in such a cramped spot. Others believe that those are the remnants of the mysterious lost continent Mu that disappeared around 10´000BC. The perfect diving spot for archeologists and passionate divers looking for a unique dive!

Sounds like a perfect diving holiday, but it wasn´t. Japanese diving style and my whishes do not harmonize, unfortunately.


     Japanese                                Ego

Dive time                         max 35min                               >1hour

Group size                       up to 10 divers                          Private guiding if possible

Independence                  None, follow the guide             The further away from the group the better.

Depth                                Stay shallow                             Shallower than 20m is snorkeling


Enough of whining, my next destination is the Green Island in Taiwan, where I dive from shore and with a private guide. No more restrictions (but also no more hammerheads and underwater ruins :-(


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Previous destination: Japan: Tokyo

Next destination: Taiwan


Write a comment

Comments: 2
  • #1

    Brian (Wednesday, 03 February 2016 15:28)

    Hey! Love reading your blog. Im planning on going to Yonaguni as well...dont know if I should bring my own gear or rent it on site. The problem with brining it is, I dont know if there will be enough time for it to dry before the inter-island flights on to Naha. Seem to be strict with the luggage weights. What do you suggest?

  • #2

    Dominik (Sunday, 07 February 2016 22:51)

    Hi Brian, thanks for your message! They do have quite a wide selection of rental gear, I did only bring reg and and mask. Overweight is around 200 Yen per kg. Hope that helps.