The oceans of Japan are known for their unparalleled environment, brought about by the colliding of multiple currents. The Kuroshio Current brings warm, crystalline waters and aquatic organisms from the south, while the Oyashio Current brings in the cold, nutrient-rich waters and marine life of the north. The Pacific side of the country’s coastline offers a one-of-a-kind diving experience with warm and cold ocean life in the same waters.
We asked Hideki Abe, an underwater photographer and the Chief Judge of the Japan Underwater Photo Contest 2020, to tell us more about the charms and wonders of the underwater world of Japan.
Looking Back at the Photo Contest
First, I would like to thank you all for submitting your works to Japan Underwater Photo Contest 2020.
It was a great honor for me to be invited to judge this contest. I have dived in many places around the globe, and I believe that, for environment and biodiversity, Japan’s ocean is among the best in the world. That is why most of my work is based in Japan at present.
I was afraid that because of the coronavirus crisis, which started last year, submissions to the contest would be fewer and of lower quality. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was wrong! We received even more submissions than last time, and of a very high level, a collection of incredible shots capturing the inhabitants and landscapes of the underwater universe in all their magnificent variety. It was a privilege to see such a large number of awesome works, and I was impressed by how so many of them managed to convey the charms of Japan’s ocean.
Among so many outstanding works, we decided to award the Gold Medal to a photo titled survival. It shows coral spawning, a sight that can be seen in Japan’s southern waters, and a butterflyfish coming over to eat. The timing of this shot, which captures the exact moment the coral eggs are being released into the water, and the lighting, which makes you feel like you were there, are both remarkable. It really is a superb shot in a middle wide angle, where nothing is superfluous or left to chance, and it is evident that the author had just a fraction of a second to adjust the camera position and press the shutter button.
The Silver Medal-winning work, Floating, shows a swarm of jellyfish swimming underwater, a sight that can be seen in some areas of the Sea of Japan. I have seen this kind of scene in the French documentary Oceans, but I think that the slight under-exposure of this shot enhances the mystical beauty of these creatures. A good photograph should not only capture reality but also reflect the spirit of the author. In this sense, this remarkable work reminded me of the true meaning of photography.
The Bronze Medal-winning work, Daddy Giving Birth, shows the moment a male seahorse gives birth to its young. You need a great deal of patience to capture animal behavior. It is like a fight against yourself. It is amazing how the author managed to get such a wonderful shot despite the obvious mental pressure. This photo is also an example of great teamwork with a competent diving guide familiar with marine life.
All the other awarded shots were also of a very high level, and any of them could have easily taken home the Gold Medal. Many of the submitted works portrayed the unique sceneries and creatures of underwater Japan and were even more amazing than we judges could have imagined. The screening process was difficult and nerve-wracking (in a good way), and it was with both excitement and some trepidation that we made the final selection.
Japan’s Underwater Photo Spots
From the drift ice of Shiretoko to the coral reefs of Okinawa, from whales and sharks to small fish, Japan boasts a wide variety of marine ecosystems, which are home to many unique endemic species.
With most of the spots just a few hours away from Tokyo, diving in Japan is convenient, safe, and secure.
The diving guides in Japan are professional and attentive, and very knowledgeable about undersea life. They will not only share with you valuable information about the ocean and its creatures, but also show you the best places to see spawning and fights. As an underwater cameraman, they have my thumbs up!
Japan’s ocean is one of the most beautiful in the world. I really would like you all to come see its wonders with your own eyes as soon as the coronavirus crisis is over!
- GMinami Satsuma
- Harlequin shrimp, Ornate slippery goby
- IYakushima Island
- Ribbon eel
- HKinkowan Bay
- Yellownose prawn-goby
- CHachijojima Island
- Coryphellia exoptata
- BIzu Oshima Island
- Scarlet cleaner shrimp, Warty Anglerfish, Amethyst anthias, Longnose hawkfish
- Moss fringehead
- KIshigakijima Island
- Coral hermit crab, Solor jawfish, Miamira sinuata
- Acanthocepola indica, Ornate ghost pipefish
I have had so many great diving experiences in Japan that is hard to choose which one to write about. I would like to share with you two of the most memorable ones.
The first is when I went diving under the drift ice of Shiretoko, in northern Japan.
The water temperature was -1.8°C and the sensation when I plunged my face into the sea was not so much of cold, as of needles piercing into my head. Pain would be the right word to describe what I felt, much more than cold. I remember feeling something like regret: why on earth have I decided to dive in such a freezing place?
But the sight I saw through my mask once I got into the water was so beautiful that it left me speechless.
The translucent ice on the surface was suffused with pale blue and light green, the truck-sized ice blocks stuck at the bottom of the sea looked like a majestic castle and the beauty of the sunlight shining through the drift ice was something truly unforgettable.
Another amazing place I have dived is Ogasawara, about 24 hours away from Tokyo.
Located approximately 1,000 km south of Tokyo and only accessible by a 24-hour ferry ride, the Ogasawara Islands are Japan’s most remote diving spot.
However, these enchanting islands are well worth a long ferry journey.
Here you can find unique endemic species, such as the spotted angelfish or the longfin anthias, encounter sand tiger sharks with their sharp-pointed teeth, and watch schools of dogtooth tuna, which can reach 2 meters in length, swimming in tornado-like formations. From winter to spring, your dive will be accompanied by the songs of humpback whales, which breed in the waters around the islands Diving in Ogasawara really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
From the forests of soft coral in Izu Peninsula to the kobudai fish swimming in the sea off Sado Island, from Kii Peninsula and Kochi to Iriomote Island in south Okinawa, home to some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, Japan has many fantastic diving destinations, each of which is sure to give you unique experiences and unforgettable memories.
Come dive in Japan’s ocean. Its beauty and its people will not let you down and will leave an indelible mark in your heart.
Mr. Hideki Abe
Born in Fujisawa, Kanagawa in 1957 , Abe has conducted multifaceted coverage on the underwater creatures and their encounters with divers in the oceans — from drift ice to coral reefs — all over japan. He has recorded the mating behaviors of more than 100 species, and has been taking photographs of floating underwater creatures for more than 30 years. He has also been recognized worldwide for his work in collaboration with various domestic and foreign researchers. Abe has appeared and contributed to a variety of nature programs as a photographer and coordinator, and also took part in the still-life photographs used in the French film Oceans.