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Freediving in Amami’s Aqua Blue

Waters echoing with the song of whales

A single breath, free from equipment, into the deep blue sea. Freediving is about focusing on yourself in extreme conditions and cultivating your mind and body. More fans of this special sport are setting their eyes on a new destination in recent years: Amami.


An enchanting island for freedivers

Hold your breath and explore the deep underwater world free from equipment—freediving lures you into a state of underwater meditation and oneness with the ocean. Little wonder, then, that it’s steadily attracting more fans in recent years. Freedivers can swim as adeptly as fish, and they flock to Amami in quest of blissful moments outside of the competitive sport.

Yuki Muto is one such freediver. She has represented Japan in world championship tournaments and holds an official depth record of 62 meters in the Constant Weight with Fins (CTW) category. Yuki’s regular visits to Amami began about six years ago. She made her first trip with a friend, who invited her to join a swim with whales tour, and has come migrating back to Amami’s waters every year thereafter.

Yuki Muto on the way up from a dive—a blissful moment of oneness with the ocean

“I had gone swimming with dolphins in Mikurajima before, but whales were an entirely different story. They were a cut above the rest, a symbol of nature itself, and I felt humbled by their overwhelming presence. That’s what I found attractive about whales.”

Yuki lives in Hayama—a marine resort area in Kanagawa Prefecture—and knows the world’s oceans inside out. Yet even for her, Amami holds a special place in her heart.

“Amami is enchanting not only for the waters but also as an island that’s the sum of the people, the food, and the nature. The sea and the mountain, and the nature and the people—everything is well-proportioned and harmonious. I also like that Amami is simple and unspoiled. It’s a good match with freediving, where you use very little equipment and rely only on your body.”

In short, Amami just feels right, both underwater and on land. This sense of comfort persuaded another freediver to move to Amami permanently. Arisa, a Tokyo native, gained experience in freediving all around Asia and obtained instructor certification in 2019. She had planned to move to Bali and teach freediving there but was forced to give up the idea amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, she traveled up and down Japan in search of other waters, discovered Amami, fell in love, and moved here in 2021. The greatest reason she chose Amami as her new home was the wonderful waters.

Arisa—and her refreshing smile—in front of the fish shop where she works

“Amami’s waters are some of the most beautiful in the world. I usually dive in the gentle Oshima Strait, where it feels tremendously good to listen to the silence broken only by the sounds of the birds. Amami is still largely unexplored as a freediving destination, but I can’t think of any other spot as attractive as this.”

In the sport of freediving, the results are a mirror of the diver’s state of mind. Holding your breath in extreme conditions, conserving oxygen, and finishing the dive safely requires a calm mind above all else. To this end, it’s important to create and maintain comfort not only during training but also in all aspects of your daily life. This starts with the place you live, and Amami is the perfect place, says Arisa.

“Your whole lifestyle affects your performance. Right now, I’m totally stress free in the sense that I do only what I love both in work and in private. I’m careful about what I eat too, and in Amami, it’s easy to find food that you can trace back to the source, like the vegetables that the neighbors give me, and the fish that I catch myself. I feel I’m in a very good environment. My lifestyle was the opposite when I was working at a company in Tokyo. I was constantly stressed out. I can never go back to that.”

While working as a freediving instructor, Arisa also wanted to learn how to clean and cutfish. So she found work at Hoseimaru; a 100 year old fish shop seeped in tradition and respected by the locals for it’s high quality and fresh fish. She practices spearfishing, in part for training. And on her days off, she swims and dives into the depth of Amami’s waters. Arisa’s routine is comfortable and healthy for her mind and body. All is for freediving, and at the same time, thanks to freediving.

“Freediving is not so much about looking underwater but about looking within yourself. Diving is actually the best time to focus on me. I’ve learned so much about myself since I started freediving. That’s the part I love most.”

Diving in the beautiful waters while exploring the deepest sea of all—yourself. Amami’s divers are relishing this experience again today.

Arisa skin diving and taking in the colorful and picturesque underwater view
Photography | Yayoi Arimoto (portrait) Photo Courtesy of | Arisa, Yuki Muto Text | Yukiko Soda