TOKASHIKI, Okinawa - At a depth of 4.5 meters, I struggled in a state of weightlessness, which I hadn't experienced for some time. When my soles finally touched the seafloor, I regained my composure sufficiently to take a look around.
The water seemed to be a deeper shade of blue the farther out I looked. In that world of total silence, I was mesmerized by the vivid red and yellow fish darting around rocks and in and out of coral reefs. Occasionally, sunlight would reach the white sand on the bottom of the ocean. It was like being inside a painting of natural colors.
Spellbound by the beautiful landscape, I found myself forgetting about the earache I experienced because of the water pressure.
I was at a diving spot off the Tokashiku Beach on Tokashiki Island, one of Kerama Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.
Though I'm no die-hard outdoor type, I've been drawn to the mysterious, overwhelming power of nature since I was young.
In March, the islands were designated as Japan's 31st national park, the first designation of its kind in 27 years. To see the park's blue ocean for myself, I signed up for a diving session for the first time in several years, this one aimed at unlicensed divers.
I left Tokyo for Naha early in the morning. From Naha's Tomari Port, a high-speed boat service to the island runs only twice a day, in the morning and the late afternoon. When I arrived at my inn on the island, the sun was setting.
The next morning, I headed to the beach for the diving session.
It was late March. The water was a bit cold, but I gasped when I saw how clear it was. When I glanced over at the ocean from the beach, its color seemed to be slowly alternating between shades of green and blue, probably because of changing sunlight conditions.
I traveled to the diving spot with Masatoshi Akiyama, 44, my diving instructor. I strapped on an oxygen tank and began my dive, gripping a mooring cable as I went. With Akiyama leading the way, I crept forward on the ocean floor.
Akiyama told me the names of fish we saw there by drawing each of them on a whiteboard-spangled emperor, clown anemone fish, yellowstripe goatfish and more. Time passed very quickly.