Not too many people know that Japan has a lovely coral reef of its own. It is located on one of the southern isles of the Japanese archipelago, near Ishigaki Island in Okinawa prefecture, right by the village of Shiraho. The village announces itself to visitors as the “Shiraho coral village”.
There are roughly 70 different coral species at Shiraho, living in symbiosis with various subtropical fishes. Since we were visiting the region, we simply had to do some snorkeling to see them with our own eyes. So we registered for a half-day program organized by a local diving school.
An elderly gentleman was waiting for us at the cabin used by the school. Since he knew no other language than Japanese, he was delighted that we spoke his language and he wouldn’t be forced to use sign language and gestures to tell us how to use the equipment. A little paperwork and change of clothing and we were in the car, then on the boat and almost immediately parked above the coral reef.
These pictures show what we saw when entering the water (sadly, these are not our own pictures since we didn’t have an underwater camera):
Alongside the amazing corals, we saw loads of subtropical fish in every color of the rainbow, ranging from lemon-yellow to sky-blue. It was fantastic. Even the clownfish popped out from their coral hiding places:
It was truly beautiful.
Finally, here is some important information. Despite Japan’s many tourist attractions, nobody else was there except our small group. We tried to figure out why and came up with the following possible reasons:
- The Japanese can only take vacations during Golden Week (late April-early May) or when the factories close down in summer, and this place is probably too far away for a weekend trip for the average Japanese family (even though there are discount airlines travelling between Tokyo Haneda Airport and Ishigaki, and the flight time is 3 to 4 hours/
- The end of May marks the start of the tsuyu or monsoon season in Okinawa, and people just might want to avoid the rain (although I need to say that during the four days we were there it rained just twice and each time for about 15 minutes)
- The water is too cold (that’s almost funny; however, the Japanese prefer basking in 40 degrees Celsius hot tubs to swimming in 24-25 degrees cold seawater, where you might even get a tan…)
In other words, we highly recommend this place to all foreigners who choose to spice up their excursion to Japan with a bit of underwater scenery!
Sources of the pictures: