flipper

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Last weekend I took an overnight ferry from Takeshiba Pier to Miyakejima, a volcanic island off the southeast coast of Tokyo to go dolphin swimming (!!!). Miyakejima and six others comprise the (lucky number) seven islands of the Izu archipelago.

Interestingly, Miyakejima and two other islands served as exile destinations for criminals in the Edo period. I loved seeing Japanese folks, who I usually spot straightened out in billowing skirts, nylons and heels or the typical salaryman uniform, instead wearing flip flops, tanned and topless, laying in the sand or hanging from trees.

I had never snorkeled or dived in open water before so I took a group introductory lesson wearing the whole get-up of a wetsuit, flippers, snorkel, mask and all. Afterwards, we took a 40 minute ride on a fisherman’s boat to the neighboring island of Mikurajima, known to be inhabited by nearly 200 wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, distinct for being slightly smaller and spottier than their regular bottlenose dolphin cousins. We rode around in the water pointing and squealing at marine life like flying fish and a giant sperm whale (!!!) until we spotted pods of dolphins. The skipper would yell READY GO GO GO! and we’d splash into the ocean and duck our faces into the water on the lookout for our inquisitive marine friends.

The first few dives we’d see a group of dolphin fins above water but look down and see nothing, or else they’d swum away faster than we could keep up. But on the fourth dive I immediately spotted a dolphin and her pup about 3 feet in front of my face and the lil baby was playfully twirling and hugging close to its mama’s belly. I made eye contact as instructed, and gave it a lil wink. As the two swam away six or seven other dolphins came up behind me so close I could reach out and touch them (strictly verboten so I didn’t) and it was AMAZING. I saw dolphins on a few other dives but that one was definitely the most memorable. I was obsessed with the tv show Flipper as a kid  (there’s videocam footage somewhere in the family troves of me laid out across several lawn chairs squealing like a dolphin while doing the worm) so it was a bit of a childhood dream come true to interact with wild dolphins in their natural habitats.

The entire experience was nothing short of magical. Even though we were out in the ocean for a few hours it felt like a heartbeat and it was over. The water was so blue and the air so clear. I truly believe in the healing power of the ocean. It all feels like a dream. Did it really happen? The only evidence I have of it are the sprinkling of new freckles across my cheeks, these photos, and the memory (which is making Monday at the office much easier to bear).

xo your friend alice

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I went on this trip with Tokyo Gaijins, a tour group aimed at foreigners (although there are often native Japanese on the trips) interested in adventure trips in the area such as hiking, camping, rafting, cycling, etc. Take a peek at the upcoming events on their website: www.tokyogaijins.com

Location: Miyake-jima and Mikura-jima, Izu Islands, Honshu, Tokyo, Japan

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