Monday, May 26, 2008

Homemade Submarine

The submerged ruins at Yonaguni cover so much area that a diver cannot take in the entire panorama in a single view. A scuba diver has a little more than half an hour to see what he can, but a snorkeler or skin diver has only a minute or so.

One skin diver who made many dives at Yonaguni's Iseki Point was the man with the world's breath holding record, Jacques Mayol. He came up with a unique way to get a feel for the immense scope of the ruins in a single dive.

Jacques didn't like to be encumbered with scuba gear. On the other hand, he also acknowledged that even he--the dolphin man of the diving world--had limits to how long he could stay underwater without breathing. So what he did was design a board that he could hang on to and also steer up and down as he sped past the ruins at the end of a rope towed by a motorboat. He called the board his "bargain submarine". No windows, no seats, no periscope. Just a high-performance fin.

Because Yonaguni, as the first island to stand in its way, takes the brunt of the ferocious Black Current, even scuba divers have a hard time getting where they want to go at Iseki Point. So Jacques' feat was awesome in the extreme.

Between the violent current, the huge scale of the ruins, and the hammerhead sharks, I think I will wait until someone institutes tours by glass bottom boat.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Yonaguni--Just the Facts

Japan's southwest is Okinawa, and Okinawa's southwest is Yonaguni. The island is about 10 kilometers wide from East to West and only about 4 kilometers long from North to South. It is home to some 1,800 fishermen, farmers, and their families. Yonaguni is also a popular destination for serious divers. Some come to swim among the hammerhead sharks that frequent the west coast of Yonaguni. Others come to take a closer look at the mysterious rock formation that a local diver named Iseki Point.

"Iseki" means "architectural relic". The star attraction at Iseki Point is a massive stone formation that pokes its head above the water 100 meters off the coast. It rises 25 meters from the sea floor, a rectangular shape that measures 250 by 150 meters.

Some say it looks like a flattened pyramid, the kind that rises in steps like the ones that are found in South or Central America. With its five rocky layers, I think it looks like Fred Flintstone's version of a ship--a stoneage ocean liner that ran aground within swimming distance of the coast.

In any case, it is so big that a diver cannot take it in all at once. Profiling the structure's dimensions was the first job undertaken by the survey team from The University of the Ryukyus. For those who have the opportunity to travel to Okinawa, a scale model of the ruins--based on the university's survey team's data--is on display in the Loisir Hotel (Naha) lobby.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Welcome to Yonaguni

Yonaguni floats in the East China Sea at 23.5 degrees North latitude, like a buoy marking the Tropic of Cancer. It is the westernmost point in Japan, and also the point farthest South. On a clear day, you can see Taiwan from Yonaguni, but you cannot see the other islands in the Okinawa chain.

The tiny and remote island Yonaguni is becoming a household word in English because of the mysterious construction submerged off its shore. Perhaps it was a pyramid, because it is composed of several layers that get progressively smaller towards the top. Perhaps it was a gusuku, the Okinawan word for a castle/fort/shrine. It may have been nothing more than an ancient quarry, or it may have been nothing at all--simply a freak of nature.

In this weblog, I will write about various aspects of the riddle of Yonaguni's submerged objet with the help of Dr. Masaaki Kimura, professor emeritus of The University of the Ryukyus and the man in charge of exploring Yonaguni's underwater mystery.