Japanese Giant Salamanders, Japan (Part 2)

We had a bit of time before our flight back to Canada so we thought we would share more of our photos of this very photogenic Japanese Giant Salamander. Please enjoy!

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Japanese Giant Salamanders, Japan

During the last two days we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with the Japanese Giant Salamanders in the mountain rivers of Japan in the Gifu area. These salamanders can reach 1.5 metres (5 feet) in length and weigh up to 25 kg (55pounds). They generally hide under rocks and in crevices but if you are patient you may have a chance to photograph them in the open for a brief period of time. Tricia had just that situation and is busy getting some excellent photos.

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We would like to extend our thanks and sincere appreciation to Ito Yoshihiro, our salamander expert and guide. He spends numerous hours learning and studying them and was willing to share his expertise with us. Great job Ito-san! Also, thanks to Andy, of Big Fish Expeditions, for organizing this trip.

Larry, Tricia & Ito

As you can see there is a wide variety of colours which is partly dependant on age. It is believed that they can live up to 80 years in the wild.  It seems a bit surreal to have driven into the mountains of Japan, prepared our cameras, put on our wetsuits and spent time in the river interacting with these interesting creatures. It was a nice change from photographing sharks.

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Sharks, Rays & Marine Life in Chiba Peninsula, Japan

From our perspective, Banded Houndsharks are the main attraction of the reef we spent 3 days diving on. Of course there is always other life on a reef. Three rays we were able to photograph were the Red Stingray, the Thornback Ray and the Japanese Butterfly Ray. The Banded Houndshark and the Red Stingray hang out together competing for the same food source. These two look like they are best buds!

Shark & Ray

A couple of  unusual fish that we came across were the Guitar Fish and the Asian Sheepheads Wrasse. Of course there are always the Moray Eels.

If it wasn’t for the sharks we would have spent more time photographing the reef. The underwater strobes bring out some of the bright colours of the marine life.


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Sharks of Chiba Peninsula, Japan

Chiba Peninsula in Japan is home to numerous varieties of shark. Banded Houndsharks, seen in the video of our last post, are the most numerous in the location where we are diving. We have seen hundreds on most of our dives.  Big Fish Expeditions has organized this trip and the local dive company we are diving with is Ito Diving Service Bommie (known as Bommies) and is owned by Kan Shiota. Kan has been indispensable assisting us on every dive. Here Kan is giving the dive briefing along with Kenji Ichimura. Kenji has been part of our group from the beginning and has acted as chauffeur, dive guide, and most important, our interpreter. Meals and menus would have been a challenge without him so thanks Kenji!Kan & Kenji (2)

The dive boat behind us (photo below) is just a short 5-minute ride to the dive site. The gear gets packed up after the dive and is ready to go back to the shop. Amazing what you can store in these tiny pickup trucks!


Of course, the highlight of the trip is the Banded Houndsharks. There are literally hundreds of these beautiful sharks at this site. Although typically shy, they will come near you, if you stay in one place. Tricia, as you can see is making some new friends.

Tricia with Banded Houndsharks

However, their generally shy and cautious nature can change in a moment when food is around. There can be a hundred in a feeding frenzy all jostling for position. It is a bit surreal to swim through them when this is going on but they are only interested in the food, not divers.

Feeding Frenzy

In amongst the Banded Houndsharks are curious & often pushy Red Stingrays who we felt a number of times brushing against our heads. It is interesting to see the vibrant yellow markings on the underside of their body. As Larry swims off to locate some more sharks I captured this picture.

Larry & Red Stingray


Shark Scramble

Mission accomplished! We came to Japan to photograph Banded Houndsharks and wow did this dive ever deliver! Watch this video clip to experience a bit of what we saw on our dives today.


Tokyo Grand Full Day Tour Part 2: Afternoon

Our afternoon started off with a visit to the historic Hama-rikyu gardens, an Edo era garden. There are no koi (Japanese carp) in this pond because it is adjacent to the sea so salt water enters in with the tides and Koi are fresh water fish. This garden was much more impressive than the Imperial Palace East Garden we visited in the morning.

The Japanese Black Pine are prominently displayed throughout the gardens. Derek, our son, is involved with Bonsai which is the art of keeping large trees in miniature form through root and branch trimming. He has a number of these Japanese Black Pines which is one of the most sought after tree species for bonsai. It was nice to see so many old specimens in their native Japan, including a 300 year old Japanese Black Pine.


The contrast of old Japan versus modern Japan is vividly seen here. The peaceful gardens are surrounded by modern skyscrapers overlooking these historic gardens. Tokyo is a city of 12 million people which constitutes about 10% of Japan’s population.

Next on the agenda was a 40 minute boat ride from the port of Tokyo up to Asakusa. From here we walked to the Asakusa Kannon Temple, one of the finest Buddhist temples in Japan. There were thousands of people on the temple grounds and the surrounding shopping areas.


The 5-storey pagoda is impressive and the main temple is equally as beautiful, especially the area of worship.



Next stop on our trip is the Chiba Peninsula to photograph sharks. This is the main reason for our trip to Japan and we are looking forward to photographing a number of shark and ray species that are endemic to central Japan.


Tokyo Grand Full Day Tour (Part 1: Morning)

To make the most of our limited time in Tokyo, we did the Tokyo Grand Full Day Tour offered by Japan Gray Line . It was a fantastic way to learn about Tokyo & some of Japan’s history.  We were picked up at our hotel at 7:50 am & dropped off at 6:45 pm so was a long & eventful day.  Here are some of the morning highlights.

The Shinto religion is one of Japan’s major religions along with Buddhism. We spent time at the Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine which is dedicated to Emperor Meiji, the first emperor of modern Japan. Two traditional Japanese weddings were taking place while we walked the grounds and we were able to snap a few photos of each. The first wedding appears to be much more traditional and the wedding dress is simply spectacular. The bride was wearing a white wedding kimono called “uchikake” with a white headdress.

The bride in the second wedding looks less traditional and the wedding procession was unique for us to observe. We found both of these Japanese weddings fascinating.

The grounds of the Meiji Shrine contain many gates and buildings. The buildings are surrounded by over 100,000 planted trees making this a very picturesque site.

We then went to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace, the home of the Emperor & Empress of Japan. Unfortunately, they were unavailable to have tea with us – perhaps next time! It is a 250 acre fortress surrounded by a moat. To get into the garden, you to through two gates and then past the old samurai warrior guard hut.

Here are a few photos of the extensive gardens:



We were treated with a traditional Japanese lunch. Although we were unsure of what some things were it was all very tasty.  Here is Tricia waiting patiently for me to finish taking pictures so she can dig in with her newly acquired chopstick skills.

Our next post will cover what we saw and experienced in the afternoon.