Experience: Swimming with Dolphins (Miyakejima)

Tokyo has a subtropical side, but very very few visitors get to see it. I’m not talking about the heat and humidity that rises off the steamy pavement in August. Rather, I am referring to the islands located hundreds of kilometers south of the Japanese mainland, but administered by the government of Tokyo – the Izu islands.

I’m not sure what captivated me about the Izu Islands a few years ago. I was just a few short weeks away from moving to Okinawa and I still had a long laundry list of things I wanted to see on mainland Japan. Perhaps it was that magical combination of words – ‘swimming’ and ‘dolphins’ – that drew me in but before my husband could say “Miyake … where now??” we were on an overnight boat bound for the islands.

The coast of Miyakejima
The coast of Miyakejima

There are several outfits on Miyakejima that can hook you up with a dolphin swim but I wanted a slightly more thorough experience so I contacted Shuichi Taguchi, the owner of Dolphin Club Miyake. He set us up with a two day package – lodging, an island tour, snorkeling and basic diving lessons, and of course, a trip to swim with the dolphins were all included.

I consider myself a strong swimmer but had never really done too much beneath the waves so our morning class on basic snorkeling and diving techniques was incredibly useful. Kitted out in full wetsuits (I looked like an ill-conceived superhero in my borrowed hot pink and green get up), it was a good introduction to the slightly murky waters of Tokyo’s islands. The afternoon, however, saw us on a boat to neighboring Mikurajima, where we “chased” a school of dolphins around the rocky shoals. Every time they approached our boat, we slipped off the side and attempted to follow – needless to say, without flippers it was futile. But for brief moments, we cavorted with dolphins and I have to say, it was rather amazing. Exhausting but amazing.

The tail of a dolphin
The tail of a dolphin

Miyakejima is a difficult island to visit, as the overnight ferry from Tokyo is uncomfortable and only one flight a day utilizes the island’s tiny airport. Also, as Miyakejima is a volatile island due to its volcano, it is often off limits and even residents have been evacuated in the recent past. Always check the safety of a visit before you head out. Also, the dolphin swim at Mikurajima is not a confined and/or fabricated event. This is not SeaWorld or a tropical hotel pool – this is the ocean and these dolphins are wild. Please understand the risk as well as the reward.

Lava fields on volcanic Miyakejima
Lava fields on volcanic Miyakejima

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