Head for Adventure on the Seas off Ogasawara with Sumoguri no Gakkou Skin Diving School!
We’d just left Tokyo’s Takeshiba Passenger Ship Terminal at 11:00 a.m. the day before.
After spending a night on the Ogasawara Maru, a large passenger ship with a capacity of 892, I headed out on deck the next morning to find scenery the likes of which I had never seen: a deep-blue ocean and sunshine so bright it was nearly blinding.
We were approaching the Ogasawara Islands, a small archipelago that was registered as a World Natural Heritage Site in 2011. The 50th anniversary of their return to Japan from the United States, which took control of the islands after World War II, was marked in 2018—an occasion widely covered on Japanese television programs.
If you visit the island of Chichijima on your Ogasawara trip, you’ll definitely want to experience all that the waters surrounding this tropical paradise have to offer. One of the best ways to do that is the Sumoguri no Gakkou skin diving school tour.
The Ogasawara Maru sails regularly from Japan’s main island of Honshu, departing roughly once every six days. As there is only one ship, visitors will spend at least three nights and four days on Chichijima. That means Sumoguri no Gakkou’s four-day package tour is a terrific way to make the most of your stay on Chichijima.
Swim with dolphins in a sea brilliantly colored Bonin Blue. (Photo above is reproduced from the Sumoguri no Gakkou website.)
During the four-day package tour, a different place is visited each day. These include lesser-known places where whitetip sharks can be spotted, as well as areas where you can see submerged shipwrecks. Yoshiaki Okazaki, tour organizer and captain of the boat, explains: “There are not many opportunities in daily life for basically the same group of people to head out to sea over four intensive days. We get to take in a lot of scenery that cannot be found anywhere else, and being able to share that experience with the same members is really special.”
As soon as our tour boat left the island, we encountered a group of nearly 50 spinner dolphins. About 10 of them swam parallel to the boat and almost seemed to be playing in its wake, prompting cries of delight from the passengers. We all leaned over the edge, captivated as we watched the energetic dolphins swim before our eyes.
Anijima Kaichu Koen (Anijima Underwater Park) is an excellent snorkeling spot that is filled with colorful tropical fish. Just floating some bread or other bait on the surface and holding out some bread or other bait made the fish crowd vigorously around us—so close we could almost catch them with our fingers.
The tour also offers the chance to try fishing while swimming. This technique entails catching a fish by dropping a line in the water while you remain snorkeling on the surface. Once you’ve chosen your fishing grounds, you float and wait quietly for the target fish to bite. If you see the fish swallow the bait and start chewing firmly, you quickly reel in the line. The trick is not to rush and pull too soon.
Before long, I found myself completely absorbed in the tactics. One of the other passengers who tried fishing while swimming remarked, “This was so much fun, I’d spend a whole entire day doing this if I could.”
Captain Okazaki will even salt and grill the fish right on the boat.
The tour also offers a chance to land on one of Ogasawara’s most popular tourist attractions: Minamijima. This uninhabited island has been designated a national natural monument for its unusual terrain known as “submerged karst topography” that was formed by the emergence and submergence of coral reef.
It’s said that Ogi-ike, a tunnel-shaped lagoon on the island that features a beautiful white sand beach, resembles the harbor that appears in the opening scene of director Hayao Miyazaki’s movie Porco Rosso. Watch this movie before heading to Minamijima and Ogi-ike to enhance your visit.
On the first day, Captain Okazaki gave us a course on skin diving and snorkeling. Skin diving refers to the practice of holding your breath as you dive underwater while snorkeling (without scuba gear). Since the course places a greater emphasis on skin diving, try to practice your snorkeling in advance of the tour if possible. Being able to skin dive makes swimming with dolphins all the more enjoyable.
The small boat Albatross used for the tour has a capacity of about 10 people, making it easy to start conversations with other passengers, who often hold social events together on the island after the tour and even get together after returning to Tokyo. Captain Okazaki says part of the appeal of the skin diving school tour is that “it gives people an opportunity to become friends.”
As guidance for the skin diving school four-day package tour is conducted in Japanese, those who are not confident in their Japanese ability are required to be accompanied by an interpreter for safety. The four-day package also includes a night tour that takes in sights such as the starry night sky, the National Astronomical Observatory’s VERA Ogasawara Station, the Ogasawara giant bat (which is an endemic species), and the Green Pepe bioluminescent mushrooms , which glow pale green in the dark.
It’s also possible to charter the boat with only English speakers, in which case an interpreter is unnecessary. Please ask for details. (English inquiries accepted.)
This article was translated by Noam Katz.
【“Sumoguri no Gakkou” Skin Diving School】
Address: Tamanashoso 2, Okumura, Chichijima, Ogasawara-mura, Tokyo, 100-2101
Price: 4-day package ¥58,500
Cost of boat charter: ¥145,000 (1 day)
Above costs do not include tax, rental equipment, etc.
Phone: 04998-2-7775 (Monday to Saturday 8:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m.)
URL: http://xn--u9jvc514pqwklyidyu.com/ (Japanese only)