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Living a Fantacy

The Current picks up once we drop around the corner, so I exhale deeply and pilot myself over to a small rock that I pinch and swivel around like  a flag in the breeze.  Pale sea whips creepily below me as a pair of unicornfish comes slipping by. How appropriate, I think.  This dive off a remote Japanese island is as living a fantacy as I've ever come. 


I'd only recently heard of Yonaguni, a scoop of sunburned and salt-blasted earth that rises out of the Sea of Japan more than a 1,000 miles south of Tokyo.  Tucked deep in the Ryukyu archipelago south of Okinawa, the island is Japan's westernmost point, just 70 miles off the coast of Taiwan.  Life clicks along here in a slower gear than in neon north. Men in sandles tend to fishing boats listing in green harbors.  Young lovers play in coves. All around the air smells sweetly of rice burbling into awamori, a local sake. Fewer than 2,000 people call the island home. 


So while topside is chamingly sleeply, the diving is utterly spectacular. The folks at SaWes dive shop have mapped out scores of sites around the 28-square mile island.  Time it right, and you can sink into schools of hammerheads running thick through the deep purple water.  Yawning arches and swim-throughs lurk below high rolling pastures peppered with wild horses.  Strangest of all, the rock I'm clinging to be part of an ancient settlement that somehow sank into the sea 10,000 years ago.


At least that's what some people say.  It doesn't really matter if you believe it.  Ancient ruins or innocent rocks, this site off Iseki Point is easily one of the most unusual dives you can do.

   "Ok? my diver budy signs.

   "OK," I answer back with a touch to the top of my head.

We peel out into the current again and float past staircases and crisp channels cut into a giant pyrimid with the top lopped off.  Neat rows of rocks run far below toward what once could have been a stadium.  Two monoliths teeter over an entryway like collapsed columns.  I dive on the site four more times and each time time I find another mystery--rocks cut to look like a sea turtle, strange circles etched into the stone, and arrow carved into the pyramid that points to a gate of sorts.


That night I ask a barmaid at one of the island's few watering holes what she thinks about the "ruins." She doesn't understand me though and brings me a cold beer instead.  Maybe some mysteries are better unsolved.


Quick Guide Japan National Tourism can help you arrange a trip to Ryukyu, or any of the other 3,000 islands in Japan. For more information, visit The Naha Airport in Okinawa is the gateway to the rest of the Ryukyu Islands.