The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: japan

Meet the Banabans. Forgotten People of the Pacific.


Two of Banaba’s elders. Photo from Janice Cantieri.

The island nation of Kiribati has been the poster child for proactively addressing the reality of global sea level rise. The country has taken climate change by the horns and implemented a series remediation efforts to extend life and infrastructure in the islands, but also look ahead to a likely need to relocate it citizens.

But the residents of one Kiribati’s islands have already been forced to relocate, over seventy years ago. After annexation by the British in 1900, along with the other 33 islands that today make up Kiribati, Banaba Island (aka ‘Ocean Island’) was quickly ‘purchased’ by the British Phosphate Commission and mining leases contracts were set up for the next 999 years. Phosphate is used for fertilizer and industrial chemicals. Banaba, after absorbing eons of phosphate-rich seabird poo, was well-endowed.

Read more»

Life in Salt: Honolulu-Based Artist Kris Goto on How Cartoons and Comics Made Way for South Pacific Tattoos, Water and Surf


Art: Kris Goto.

Japanese-born Honolulu-based artist Kris Goto might have one of the most unconventional and eclectic backgrounds of any brine-based artist. She’s been drawing since she can remember, but only recently began calling the sea her muse after settling in Honolulu.


Art: Kris Goto.

From early childhood into her teens, she was primarily–perhaps solely–infatuated with the 19th century Japanese art of “Manga”, a term applied to a traditional form of comic or cartoon-making within Japan and an influence still identifiable in her work today.


Art: Kris Goto.

While in school in New Zealand, Goto found herself mesmerized by the tattoos on her Māori (indigenous New Zealanders) classmates’ tattoos, specifically the swirling lines which illustrate ferns and waves. She began copying them in her sketchbook during class. The seed was planted.


Art: Kris Goto.

Then in 2013, after moving to Hawaii and taking up surfing, Goto experienced the wonders of ‘the green room’, or the inside of a barrel for the first time at a surf break in Waikiki called Kaiser’s. She marveled at how the spray from the lip of the wave hit her face. She imagined popping open an umbrella in the barrel to shield the drops, and something clicked.


Read more»

The Unsolved Mystery of ‘Japan’s Atlantis’


Photo: Dr. Robert Schoch/Boston University.

In 1986, a diving instructor on Japan’s Yonaguni Island, the southwestern most of the Ryukyu Island island chain, made an astonishing discovery. A rock formation on the seafloor which he could only liken to Machu Picchu. “I felt a quiver down my spine,” Kihachiro Aratake recalled to explorer, marine biologist and BBC Television host Monty Halls.

Read more»

Wish You Were Here: The Southwest Islands of Japan. Where Ancient Reefs and Peaceful Shades of Blue are Set Against a Violent Past.

new intro 0888 (1)

The wanderlust gene is marked by a desire to be in an almost constant state of travel or at least, planning for travel. Another symptom is venturing to the ends of the earth, and then a little further. I recently found myself in a remote corner of the world – hopping between the Yaeyamas; the last cluster of the more than seventy Ryukyu Islands in the Okinawa Prefecture. These islands are located southwest of the mainland and mark Japan’s final frontier, a mere 80 km east of Taiwan.


Map of the Ryukyu Islands and the Yaeyamas by The New York Times

When it comes to actually making it out to the Ryukyu Islands, my husband and I learned that the islands are strangely, prohibitively expensive for most Japanese citizens to visit, but foreign tourism is strongly encouraged with highly discounted flights. We took advantage of these promotions and booked three days in the Yaeyamas. We were officially in southern Japan to collect a native seaweed, as part of a large global science study to understand how Japanese seaweeds have become invasive throughout many parts of the U.S. and Europe.

While on mainland Japan, we may have felt like outsiders looking in on a culture wildly different from our own, once we landed on Ishigaki Island in the Yaeyamas, we felt right at home. This sub-tropical archipelago has an entirely different vibe from mainland Japan. Absent is the bustle of modern life – from bullet trains to flashing billboards.

Most people have heard of Okinawa Island – the site of a horrific World War II battle where scars and a U.S. military base still remain. But beauty and peace have ruled the islands for generations before and after the war. Here, the sky blurs into sea and magic can be found throughout – even the grains of sand are otherworldly and star-shaped skeletons of diminutive sea creatures called Foraminifera.


The star-shaped sands of Taketomi Island. Photo by Carolyn Sotka.

3 IMG_0895 copy

Views of Ishigaki Island from Taketomi Island in the Yaeyamas. Photo by Carolyn Sotka. 

Read more»

Wish You Were Here: Shika-no-shima (志賀島, Shika Island), Southern Japan


A tranquil view to gaze upon while taking a break from collecting sea snails, a local favorite and other shellfish. 

The fisher-maids at Shika,

So scanty is their leisure-time,

Gathering sea-weed, burning salt,

They seldom take the little combs

Out of their-toilet-cases.

– Ishikawa Kimiko

This poem was written in the 8th century about the fisher-people of Shikanoshima, an island off Hakata Bay in southwestern tip of Japan. The poem is part of ‘Man’yōshū’, one of the oldest existing collections of Japanese poetry; compiled sometime after 759 AD during the Nara period. Official trade with the island goes even further back to 57 AD with the discovery of a goal seal signifying relations with the Chinese Han Dynasty.

More than 1200 years later, this island is still home to a modest fishing village. Cloaked in mist, surrounded by camphor evergreen trees, layers of moss and seaweed – the island faces the Sea of Genkai and has witnessed a thousand years of war.

Hakata Bay and nearby waters cover the relics of Kublai Khan’s ships which were sunk by ‘kamikazes’ (meaning typhoon) during the attempted Mongolian invasion. The word kamikaze originates with these failed attacks and translates to ‘divine wind’.


In addition to ground warfare, the kamikazes were thought to halt the expansion of Mongolian empire into the Far East and later adopted as a term by Japanese pilot suicide missions during World War II.


Today, the island remains peaceful. Its’ vibe and seascape is quiet and semi-deserted, until a storm brings the momentary chaos. Reminiscent of the Northwest Pacific coast, the real estate is more than affordable, with very little is going on other than the daily life of the fishermen – as it has for generations; with seafood sold fresh daily at the local fish monger.


Our caravan of seaweed scientists brought to Shikanoshima to collect a seaweed native to Japan but invasive in the U.S..

If you are interested in other recent Scuttlefish articles about Japan see:

Wish You Were Here: The ‘Devil’s Washboard’, Southern JapanThis Weird Little Fish Was Discovered in a Japanese Fish Market. What Is It?; and Japan’s Aphrodisiac, Freediving Women of the Sea. -CS



This Weird Little Fish Was Discovered in a Japanese Fish Market. What Is It?


“This little guy I found at Mitsuhama market is too cute!” Photo: @kqzvm1Rug.

This week, Twitter user @kqzvm1Rug posted a picture of a strange but precious-looking little fish he found strolling through the fish market in Mitsuhama, Japan.

Japan’s marine biologists are scrambling to figure out what, exactly, the little goggle-eyed shark-like fish is, but have reported no progress toward identifying it as of yet.

Read more»

Wish You Were Here: The ‘Devil’s Washboard’, Southern Japan


The ‘Devil’s Washboard’ is not the name of a surf punk band nor is it a haunted road in Kansas where 7 teenagers perished in the 50’s. It is the most geologically unique feature I have ever seen on a coast, and lies on Aoshima Island in the far southeast corner of Japan, an area thought to be the birthplace of the first Emperor Jinmu.

The region has a subtropical feel brought by the Black Current (or Kuroshio Current) that flows up from the southern Pacific. The neat rows upon rows of evenly eroded rock look like a huge washboard that a giant monster would use such as  ‘Oni‘, a Japanese demon or devil and the inspiration behind the name.


The Japanese devil ‘Oni’ is an ogre-humanoid-like creature with wild hair and horns. Painting from 17th century.

I found it difficult to get answers on how the ‘Devil’s Washboard’–or the myth behind it–was formed, in part due to the language barrier that was especially evident in this corner of the country, where very few non-native tourists visit, and very few locals speak English.

When I returned to the States, I asked Dr. Leslie Sautter, a marine geologist and associate professor at the College of Charleston how it was likely formed. Her thoughts were that the formation appears to be the result of hundreds of layers of basalt from individual lava flows. These layers have either been tilted by tectonic activity or they formed atop the slope of a former volcano.

The space between the layers is probably marine sediment, which would point to the feature having been formed either underwater. The middle space is clearly less resistant to weathering and has eroded, yet it’s bracketed by the prominent ridges of stronger basalt layers and uniformly flattened by wave action.

The ‘Devil’s Washboard’ is completely hidden at high tide but at low tide the expanse is hard to capture in a single frame (see video below). The exposed rock, tide pools and rocky shores draw day-trippers and shellfish collectors who harvest a variety of marine invertebrates from the ragged edges.

Also to note: the area is a popular surf destination and just one of over 60 (named) spots along the entirety of Japan.


Read more»

This Wrecked Fishing Vessel Full of Live Yellowtail Jacks Discovered off Oregon Was Likely Set Adrift During Japan’s 2011 Tsunami


This fragmented fiberglass hull was discovered off Oregon on Thursday with 20 live yellowtail jacks aboard. It’s believed to have come from Japan. Photo: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department

Debris from Japan’s 15,000-casualty, $300 billion earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 began washing up along US shores in 2012, and the stream is far from over. This vessel, by the looks of it, was a small commercial fishing boat that was broken up and pulled out to sea. Four years later, it washed up along Oregon’s coast with 20 live Asian yellowtail jacks (S. l. aureovitta).

Read more»