Yonaguni’s mysterious underwater monument has intrigued scientists and divers for decades. Is it natural or man-made? Florine from World Adventure Divers explains.
The “Turtle” at Yonaguni Monument © Florine / WorldAdventureDivers.com
Diving The Yonaguni Monument, Japan – Dive Happy Episode 28 Show Notes
- Florine’s awesome, detailed blog post on the Yonaguni monument on her site WorldAdventureDivers.com
- Diving Japan: DiveHappy Podcast Tim Rock gives an overview of Japan’s many different diving environments from the north to the south
- City of Atlantis – Wikipedia entry
- Lost Continent of Mu – Wikipedia entry
- Dive Zone Tokyo – the dive group Florine dived with at Yonaguni
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Diving The Yonaguni Monument, Japan – Dive Happy Episode 28 Transcript
[00:00:06] CM: Hello and welcome to Dive Happy. It’s a podcast about finding the best scuba diving in Asia. I’m your host, Chris Mitchell. And on this episode, I’m joined by Florine, founder of the excellent website, worldadventuredivers.com.
[00:00:20] FQ: Thank you, Chris.
[00:00:22] CM: The reason I wanted to chat to you, Florine, is on your wonderful detailed blog post about diving at Yonaguni, it struck me that you must have had your imagination really caught by diving at this place. Would that be right?
[00:00:37] FQ: Yeah. Yeah, because there are so many myths and stories and theories about this place. You really try to understand. It’s really like I never had any dive like this before.
[00:00:51] CM: Right. That was exactly it. So I would have — the same as you that ever since I’ve heard about this place, it’s kind of really caught my imagination as well and it seems it feels like a real-time Tintin adventure. And you did a really good job of explaining in your blog post some of the most important theories. Can you tell us a bit about when it was discovered and the idea about how it got there?
[00:01:18] FQ: It was actually discovered quite recently. It was in 1986. There was already like a diving centers in Yonaguni, and this guy from Yonaguni island was just like prospecting for dive site around the island. It was already known that it was a good place to see hammerhead sharks. There was already like a diving business going on there. Then this guy just one day just completely by luck actually just go over these really strange looking rock with like very sharp edges and feels like, “Oh my God! It looks like a pyramid.”
Then it started as a very, very cool dive site, but then people started to wonder a bit actually what it is. This was 1986 and it was only in the 90s – Yes, the 90s, that a professor from Okinawa University, the Ryukyus University, started to make like proper research about the place. Through his research of trying to date it with carbon 14 or trying to look at shapes of the rocks or also find what they believed to be tools, his theory is it is man-made. But then there is this big – because I’ve been through – I was in Japan because I was studying Japanese in Tokyo, and I’ve been through a little bit of the document. I’m not completely fluent in Japanese, I must admit, but I had enough Japanese to go through the document and with a little help of translation tool, I could go through it.
I got lost a little bit because in one document it says, “Oh, It must be 10,000 years old,” and then in another document it says it’s 2,000 years old and you’re like, “Oh, wait.” But maybe I missed something, but because of that, because he said 10,000 years old, this is when all the crazy theories started. By crazy theories, I mean alien theories. Maybe you heard about like some stories about the pyramids in Egypt. Some people believe they were not man-made, but alien-made.
[00:03:28] CM: Yes, the whole Erich von Däniken, Chariots of the Gods. Yeah.
[00:03:33] FQ: So, the pyramids in Giza, in Egypt, they are like from 2500 before Christ, you know? If Yonaguni is 10,000 years old, that would be even crazier. When you look online about Yonaguni monument actually, you find all those kinds of strange websites about alien theories and everything, and I believe, “Okay, I’m going to try to do something a little bit more like realistic and just like this is the island of Yonaguni. Here are my pictures.” I made a little bit of research and here is how my group and I felt about it. Something really like, “Now, I’ll let you think what you want.”
[00:04:18] CM: Yes. That’s interesting. You mentioned about the professor doing the research, and he’s Professor Kimura, I think?
[00:04:26] FQ: Kimura, yes. Yeah, Kimura.
[00:04:27] CM: Kimura. Yes. That sort of points the fact that he has spent years, I mean, literally decades researching the monument. It’s not some sort of just crazy theory. I mean, it’s actual sustained scientific research.
[00:04:42] FQ: And he’s a university professor, and I’ve seen the articles, the academic articles that was like really, really well-researched, but then research is research. You can be wrong sometimes.
[00:04:54] CM: Sure.
[00:04:54] FQ: Then a problem came along after an American professor from Boston came up and made a really, really short survey. That was really what was strange and just said, “Oh, no. It’s not man-made.” The thing is I couldn’t find it and heard it was in English. So I thought, “Oh! It’s going to be easier to find the academic paper or something online.” Nothing. There was just nothing except his own website, which was like kind of a short blog where he said, “Well, it’s like 95% man-made and maybe touched up by humans.” “Oh, okay.” That was strange too. But this kind of like mystery about it, this is just giving more fuel to people like developing crazy theories about it.
[00:05:39] CM: Yes. Another idea was that the monument actually resembles the grounds of a castle in Okinawa. Is that right?
[00:05:47] FQ: Yeah. Unfortunately, I was in Okinawa for the third time last October and it’s been burned down by an accident.
[00:05:55] CM: Oh no! Oh no!
[00:05:55] FQ: Yeah, it’s really sad. I need to update my article. It’s Shuri Castle. In it’s the heart of the capital of Okinawa, Naha, on the main island. But you can still visit the ground. I mean, it’s just the main building. Just for information, it was already rebuilt once because it was completely destroyed during Second World War. It was already a rebuild, but people got really emotional about it in Okinawa, which I totally understand.
[00:06:19] CM: Sure.
[00:06:20] FQ: Yeah. If you look at the ground of the castle it’s true it has a very similar shape. It’s very massive, but with like very steep edges. But mostly like most castles in Japan are a little bit like this. They are built in wood. So that’s why they are so prone to fire accidents, unfortunately, but they have these giant foundations in stones and you find that allover Japan. It’s true that Yonaguni looks a little bit like this. But I say a little bit. It’s not like – A little bit. I can understand the link, but I wasn’t completely like, “Oh! Well, that’s it. Wow.”
[00:07:03] CM: Sure. I mean, I think I suppose it’s an interesting idea in the sense of if the monument is reminiscent of a castle, that kind of points towards just how big the monument is, which is something –
[00:07:14] FQ: Oh! It’s massive. The size of it – I mean, you’re trying to fathom when you look at videos online how bit it is. I tried to take pictures, like wide-angle shots of like the divers near the steps just to give an idea of the size. But it’s only by being there that you realize, you’re just like, “Whoa! That’s huge.”
[00:07:37] CM: I mean, that’s really interesting, because for all the documents you can watch about it, for all the video footage you can see of it, for the pictures you can see of it, it sounds like nothing really actually prepares for seeing it for real.
[00:07:51] FQ: No. You have to go there. I highly recommend. It’s just interesting. If you love a bit of history and maybe – I don’t know, geology, any kind of science, it’s really interesting. And I think this is why I love scuba diving so much, because there is so many kind of dives you can do and there is a lot of science behind you can do and it’s always so interesting.
[00:08:14] CM: Yeah, it’s a really great mix, isn’t it? Having all those things, those different threads to pull at. Even if you’re not an expert, it’s the sort of the thing that can trigger your interest in those different disciplines.
[00:08:23] FQ: Exactly. You don’t need to be an expert. You just like really be fond of science and history and that’s the beauty of it. Especially nowadays with internet, it’s easy to do research, like I did for Yonaguni.
[00:08:36] CM: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Can you please tell me a bit more about some of the different – what would you say? Features that are on the monument. For example, you mentioned there’s a trench that’s carved out that is completely straight line. It looks like a drainage system.
[00:08:53] FQ: Yeah. That was like a feature that was more like toward the end of the dive. So I posted on my blog post, like the route we took. Obviously, the monument is so big and it is a very powerful drift dive. You can’t do the entire monument in only one dive. This is something you need to realize. We took the route that makes you see most of the interesting features. Yeah, toward the end of the dive, when you go to the top of the monument, which is very shallow, actually. That was another big surprise. The shallowest part is like 5 meter deep, and the deepest part is 25 meter deep. I never went below 16 meter, which this is really shallow, but this is a really powerful drift dive. So you don’t want to go too deep anyway.
There’s no point of going deeper, really. All the interesting features are between 5 and 15 meters. Yes, there was like these – toward the end, on the top of the monument, and you could see like those carved candle — that was kind of narrow. That was the most interesting one thing for me. It’s just like, “No. No.” I’ve seen a lot of natural rock formation, especially on volcanic islands. I don’t know if you have been to the Canary Islands. You can see under water, maybe the Giants Causeway in Northern Island.
[00:10:11] CM: Yes.
[00:10:12] FQ: Yeah. So you see the same thing in the Canary Island on the water, especially around Tenerife. It’s really interesting. But you can see. So you have all those bezel columns that have very sharp edge, and it’s entirely natural. It’s crystallization process in geology. But, okay. So I know rocks can do that naturally, but then you see that and it’s just like, “No. This is carved. There is no potential other possibility,” just like because if you need to say, “Oh, okay. Maybe the currents can do a little bit of—”
But the currents wash around the rocks, and that was also the other thing that was really impressive, that around the monument, you have a lot of rocks. They are all very round, like super round, like boulders, like giant boulders, and you’re like, “Okay. So we have those round rocks, like naturally there for like thousands of years.” Then you have these, in the middle, this massive monument with like sharp edge.
Okay. It’s just like my conclusion at the end is just like, “Okay, I don’t believe it was completely man-made, because even if it’s 2,000 years old, or 10,000, or whatever, because we don’t know. This, we don’t know for sure. It seems too massive to be completely made, like a pyramid. There was maybe like an interesting shape. The sea level was a different level at that time. This we know. Even if it’s between 2,000 years old or 10,000 years old. It could have been carved. I think that’s possible. But completely built? I’m not so sure. But carved and shaped by man. From that point of view, I would agree a little bit with this American professor, but I wish I could have seen any academic article like going a little bit more in depth.
[00:12:09] CM: You don’t believe the monument is carved –
[00:12:13] FQ: Completely man-made? Yeah. Or built by the aliens? No.
[00:12:17] CM: Or you don’t believe is part of the lost city of Atlantis.
[00:12:20] FQ: Oh, no. In the case of Yonaguni, the theory is like Mu. I don’t know if you heard about that. Atlantis would be the Atlantic, and Mu would be in the Pacific. It’s like there is like a mirror legend about Atlantis. But, for me, there was definitely some human activities around it. I mean, the end of the dive, the turtle. I’m sure you saw the pictures on my website. It’s just like, “Come on.”
Someone made it. It’s just not possible. It cannot be natural. It’s really lovely, by the way. It’s a very beautiful sculpture. Whatever age it is, it’s really lovely to see. There was definitely human activity. It doesn’t make it fake, if you see what I mean. It’s definitely a real thing, but it’s not I think in the way what most people would like to tell the story, which is like, “Oh, it’s a pyramid made by aliens.”
[00:13:24] CM: The other detail that you mentioned that I hadn’t heard about before was there was a carved face that looked like one of the Easter Island –
[00:13:32] FQ: Yeah. This one I couldn’t see it myself. This, I saw pictures from the articles from Professor Kimura. I didn’t see it myself. I cannot give you like a review about how I fell in front of it, unfortunately.
[00:13:49] CM: Well, no problem. That’s what I was going to say to you. Yeah, you’re very clear in your post that you unfortunately were only able to do one dive there. I saw you’re super impressed that you managed to get all of these detail from that dive and obviously from your research. You obviously loved it. Would you think that it would repay repeated dives? Do you think you would find more and more just to enjoy being there?
[00:14:12] FQ: Absolutely, like any dive site. The first time you go there, you’re just like, “Okay. Where am I? Okay, that’s the route. That’s the current.” That was a very powerful drift dive. So you have a lot to take care about safety during that dive. So, to really look at all the details, it’s impossible from the very first dive. I’d love to spend a week just doing that dive site. But unfortunately, the conditions aren’t right every day. That’s the problem. The currents in the area makes it like – and the winds, makes it really difficult to dive on a daily basis. That’s why I went only once.
[00:14:47] CM: Right, because you were actually there at, sort of ostensibly, the wrong time of year for diving the monument itself, right? Because you were there –
[00:14:55] FQ: Yes.
[00:14:57] CM: Because you were there for the hammerheads.
[00:14:57] FQ: Yes. Yes. Yes, which is a better season if you go in the winter. Yeah.
[00:15:02] CM: Okay. If you were mainly fascinated by the monument, then you would go in the summer? Would that be your best time?
[00:15:09] FQ: Yes. Summer. I would have avoid like maybe June, or September, because these are like typhoon seasons, but maybe something like maybe May, or July would be good, with very warm water, because Yonaguni is really a tropical island. It’s like 100 kilometers away from Taiwan actually. It’s closer from Taiwan than from Japan.
[00:15:34] CM: Right.
[00:15:35] FQ: It’s really warm, and I was there beginning of February, and temperature was like between 28 and 30 degrees when it was sunny.
[00:15:43] CM: Wow!
[00:15:43] FQ: Yeah. I wasn’t expecting in the middle of the winter to be really attacked my mosquitos in Japan.
[00:15:50] CM: Because I was going to say that it’s obviously almost the end of the chain of Japanese islands. Like you say, it’s very –
[00:15:56] FQ: That’s the last island. You have a monument –
[00:15:59] CM: It’s the very last one.
[00:16:00] FQ: It’s the very last one. You have a monument on the island itself which says this is the western most point of Japan.
[00:16:06] CM: Right. I was going to seem it – I mean, the nearest I could compare it to is Lands’ End in the UK, but it’s going to be very blustery and windy and gets all the weather. But you’re saying, it’s actually more tropical. So you’re not going to freeze to death.
[00:16:20] FQ: Yeah. It’s a very lovely weather, except for the mosquitos. They are very aggressive. That was the one thing that I didn’t like on the island, the only one thing.
[00:16:31] CM: Yes. Did you have much luck with the hammerheads?
[00:16:35] FQ: Yes. That was our main mission. It’s fantastic. Whenever I have opportunity to go on dives with the opportunity to see shark in the water without any feeding, any baiting, just the natural thing. It means you take a chance. This is what happened exactly. We had paid for a package of 10 dives. One of these dives was for the Yonaguni monument. I did 9 dives to look for the hammerhead sharks. At the beginning, we didn’t see any at all. If you do this 35 minutes in the blue, which personally I enjoy. I love being in the blue, just above like really breath-taking depths. I don’t know. I find it very soothing, but you see nothing.
The first time, you’re like, “Oh, okay. It’s nature.” Second time, you’re like, “Oh, okay. It’s nature.” Third time, you’re like, “Oh.” I can assure you, the second day – because there is a whole routine. They are very well-organized. The dive center we used, it’s called [inaudible 00:17:41]. They’re very organized. They have usually – it’s fully booked month in advance for information. So you have to plan ahead.
They usually have three groups of divers and they just like make a turn. While one is diving, one is preparing to dive, and the third one is resting at the dive center, and you turn. It’s super well-organized, and you need to be disciplined about the organization. This is Japan. It was really well-organized. It’s kind of like, “Yeah, let’s go again.” It was really like going on a mission, but unfortunately, on the second day, the last dive, the last dive before we did the Yonaguni Monument, we saw one shard at the safety stop. It came to check us out, which is like, “Whoa!”
It helped us feel a little bit better because we were like, “Oh, okay.” So we know they are there. We knew they are in the area. We were just not lucky to find them on the first trials. After diving the Yonaguni Monument, we saw them every single time. That was amazing. It’s just like – the last dive I did, we saw maybe – I don’t know. There were like, 40, 50 of them.
[00:18:53] CM: Whoa!
[00:18:54] FQ: Yeah, and you’re just like – This is the kind of moments where you cry in your mask. It’s just like – it’s just like the way they swim. They just like swing their tails and they’re very cool, very chilled and they just don’t care about you. Anyway, they are so much deeper than you are. Because this is the thing, Yonaguni is not a dive destination for beginners, unfortunately. I had like a couple of people reaching me out saying, “It’s still an open water. I have like so and so dives.” I already mentioned we need like 100 dives before diving Yonaguni. I said, “Yes.” Unfortunately, yes, because there is a really strong current. You’re going to dive above depths of maybe 60, 70, 80 meters. If you don’t know how to handle your buoyancy in currents, it could be dangerous. If you want to see the sharks, you need to be a deep diver. You need to be allowed to go at least at 40 meters.
Even if you’re still like an advanced open water with 30 meters, I would say have the training of deep diving before, because by being at 40 meters, you see them better, because I think they were between 40 and 60 meters when we saw them. By having just like maybe 10 to 20 meters of depth difference, you see them well. But if you’re like above 25 meters or 20 meters, and especially there was like a real big change in visibility. Like the first 20 meters were not very good in terms of visibility.
But from the moment you went below 30 meters, the water became clear again. Obviously, you don’t spend most of the time at that depth. We stayed in 15 meters and there was like the dive guide was the spotter. It was deeper than us for most of the dive. When he saw something, it was like using a little hammer on his tank to call us, and then we could come at the maximum level we were all allowed to go.
But I would do it again. Now I know it requires a little bit of effort to just go dive after dive and potentially see nothing. But I think that’s the spirit. With nature, nothing is ever guaranteed, and that’s the beauty of it. When you finally see it, this is such a reward. You’re just like, “Wow! That was tough.” You need to be dedicated. Then when you finally see it, this is so much better than just like going to the circus and just like throwing a fish.
[00:21:25] CM: Yes, it’s always incredible.
[00:21:27] FQ: That’s an opinion. But yeah, it was incredible.
[00:21:31] CM: Yeah. Well, I think it’s when you – In that situation is when you realize you really are in the animals’ environment. Not the way around, and you really are in the middle of the wild.
[00:21:41] FQ: Yeah. That was what it was. Yeah, really.
[00:21:46] CM: You mentioned as well that you actually went there with a dive shop from Tokyo called DiveZone Tokyo.
[00:21:54] FQ: Yeah. It’s more like a dive club actually.
[00:21:56] CM: Right. Okay.
[00:21:58] FQ: It’s a group of expats living and working in Japan. While I was studying Japanese in Tokyo, I would go like every weekend. This is how I made most of my friends while in Japan. It was really cool. Especially at the very beginning, because my Japanese wasn’t good at all. It was good to rely on a group of more experienced people who spoke already good Japanese and could handle the process of booking, the dive shops. In the area of Tokyo, you can do a lot of diving that is really interesting. But if you don’t speak Japanese, this is very hard. Let’s put it this way. This is very complicated.
I just started to be autonomous on that part very recently. I did my first trial of booking myself, dive centers in Japanese last October. That was very new to me. As I’m becoming a little bit more fluent in Japanese, but I’m still far from being fluent. It’s really like a beginner fluency, if we can call it this way. But that was interesting to begin to have my own adventures too, the way I like to do it. It’s really fun.
[00:23:02] CM: Yes. It’s fantastic. Florine, thank you so much for talking to me about Yonaguni and the hammerheads and I really hope I’ll get there to see it myself one day.
[00:23:13] FQ: Thank you for inviting me to talk about it, because obviously I love discussing diving in Japan, because it’s been such an amazing experience over the last year. Yeah, thank you to you.
[00:23:23] CM: Okay. Thank you.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:23:26] CM: Thanks very much for listening to the Dive Happy podcast. You can see the show notes for this episode and browse all the other episodes at divehappy.com/podcast. You can also sign up for the Dive Happy newsletter, so you get notified when the next episode comes out. Sign up at divehappy.com/podcast. I pinky promise, I won’t spam you.
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