East Asia

Japan Underwater Photo Contest 2020 Winners

Gold Medal winner: "Survival," a photo capturing a butterflyfish feeding on spawning corals in Yakushima, Kagoshima
Gold Medal winner: "Survival," a photo capturing a butterflyfish feeding on spawning corals in Yakushima, Kagoshima

From October to Novem­ber of 2020, the Japan National Tourism Organ­ization (JNTO) held its second annual Japan Underwater Photo Contest, seeking photos taken by divers that showcase the undiscovered beauty and artistry of diving in Japan to the world.

Japan's Hachijō-jima

Wrought iron and Japanese butterflyfishes forming a loose shoal, Hachijō-jima, Japan. Photo by Richard Smith.

Japan’s diving scene used to be a well-kept secret, but more and more people have realised that Japan has much more to offer than just sushi and karaoke. The country spans a vast latitudinal range, from the tropical south where coral reefs dominate around Okinawa and the other Ryukyu Islands, into the almost subarctic north. As a result, its biological diversity is great, with many different habitats accommodating a wide array of species.

Japan's Miyakojima

Miyako Island abounds with macro subjects, like this Phyllidia varicosa nudibranch photographed with a snoot. Photo by Martin Voeller.

Year 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has confronted the world with an unprecedented situation. Many countries went into lockdown, and as a result, many people were forced to stay indoors, including myself in Japan. Although Japan never went into an official “lockdown”—it instead went into a so-called state of emergency—I could not wait to get out of the Tokyo metropolis as soon as restrictions were lifted.

Japan's Toyama Bay

Squid in Toyama Bay, which is located in the Hokuriku region of Honshu, Japan. Photo by Martin Voeller.

Many people outside Japan have probably never heard of Toyama or even know where it is exactly, but the ocean enthusiasts who have heard of it probably associate Toyama with squids, both big and small. The video of a 10-meter-long giant squid filmed in Toyama Bay by the owner of Diving Shop Kaiyu during Christmas 2015 went viral globally—such sightings are rare, but these squids pop up on an average of once a year in the bay.

USS Grayback, a U.S. Navy submarine lost in 1944 to enemy air attack, has been found.

Wreck of World War II submarine USS Grayback discovered off Japan

The submarine was found by the Lost 52 Project, which locates lost U.S. World War II submarines, and is the first U.S. submarine discovered off the coast of Japan. Japanese records indicate that the sub was sunk by a 500-pound bomb dropped by a naval bomber in February 1944.

Japan's Izu Peninsula: Diving the Southern & Western Coasts

Hammerhead sharks at Mikomoto, Izu, Japan. Photo by Masayuki Agawa

In just five years, Japan has seen its number of tourists grow by 20 million, and most of them visit the country to see the ancient temples, to experience the onsen hot springs, or to walk through the labyrinth of neon skyscrapers in its urban cities.

Japan's Kinki: Macro Mecca of Honshu

Magnificent Miamira (Miamira magnifica), Kinki, Japan. Photo by Andy Murch.

Kinki is a ruggedly beautiful peninsula in the southwest of Honshu, Japan. The area is best known for the Shinto shrines of Kumano, which sit atop forested mountains in the center of the region. Each year, thousands of tourists and devotees undertake a pilgrimage through the mountains to reach the tranquil sanctuary, which is said to be a place of physical healing.

The Ogasawara Islands: Japan's Galapagos

Often referred to as the Oriental Galapagos, the Ogasawara Archipelago is located in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, about 1,000km south of Tokyo and is one of the most isolated and remote parts of Japan. The isolation of the archipelago, combined with the fact that the islands have never been connected to a continent, is said to have produced a “Galapagos effect” with flora and fauna that is unique to the islands.