Tappizaki (Tappi Zaki) is located on the northwestern tip of the Aomori Prefecture’s Tsugaru Peninsula where the Japan Sea enters the Tsugaru Strait between Honshu and Hokkaido. The cape itself rises to several hundred meters above the sea and is home to a modern-day lighthouse adjacent to some old Japanese Imperial Navy observation posts.
The rocky coastline in this area is punctuated by deep grottos, canyons, and ancient beaches. A current of 8 to 10 knots runs from the south as the warm currents of the Japan Sea meet the cooler waters of the Pacific Ocean in the Tsugaru Strait. While the current would seem to make diving here hazardous, it runs well offshore, deflected by the Kodomari Peninsula to the south and around recessed coves that are home to the best diving in the Aomori Prefecture.
The current brings with it warm plankton-rich waters and incredible visibility during the late-summer months of August and September. Beautiful red, orange and yellow gorgonian sea fans adorn the walls of the many underwater grottos and feather star crinoids are everywhere. Diving here is well suited for all experience levels but care should be taken to avoid leaving the sheltered areas and straying into the current.
As stated, the best months for diving here are August and September, but favorable weather can extend diving well into late-October with temperatures still remaining above 17 degrees (20 has even been recorded into early November!) Take care in checking the weather conditions before making the trip to Tappizaki. The Japan Sea becomes rough when the wind blows from the west or northwest and waves disturb the visibility and make entries hazardous.
Aside from the diving, the coastal scenery in this area is well worth the time getting here. Rustic fishing villages so well described by the famous Japanese novelist Dazai line the road to Tappizaki from Aomori. On a clear day the lookout point at the lighthouse offers a spectacular view across the Tsugaru Strait and Hokkaido to the north, as well as the Kodomari Peninsula to the south.
Sunsets are equally beautiful as the warm evening light falls on the grass-covered hills and rocky cliffs. For those that have any energy left after diving, the Seikan Tunnel Museum offers unique exhibits and even a journey down a service tunnel 150 meters beneath the floor of the ocean you were just diving in. Restaurants in the area offer a delicious “Tappi Ramen” consisting of a mix of fish and shellfish from the local area.
Warm currents bring nutrients and plankton to feed the abundant gorgonian sea fans and other marine life of the area. Tappizaki is best known for these sea fan corals, known as Isobana in Japanese. Their colors vary from mostly brilliant red to orange and yellow. Nudibranchs and feather star crinoids are common, along with bright-colored starfish and ever-present beds of kelp.
In late-September and October large schools of Yellowtail Mackerel have been known to come into shallow waters just outside the breakwaters, along with large schools of Stripped Mullet and Herring. Diver will frequently encounter the Sheepshead Wrasse in October. They are hard to miss with their large bulbous forehead and protruding lower jaw.
TAPPIZAKI ARCH AND CANYONS
Every diver in the Aomori Prefecture knows the Arch at Tappizaki! The dive site is at the base of the Tappizaki Campground and an easy 150 meters from the beach. A pair of cement breakwaters create a sheltered lagoon for swimmers and snorkelers to enjoy and there is even a water slide from the campground down into the lagoon.
Enter at the base of the steps to the right of the water slide bottom and exit the lagoon in the center of the breakwaters. Set your compass to 250 degrees and snorkel out until the rocks beneath you come to within 1 to 2 meters of the surface, at the shallowest point the arch will be directly beneath you and you can descend on either side.
The bottom of the arch is at 17 meters and the inverted “V” shape invites many fish and marine animals to make their homes in the dark recesses. Swim through and follow the rock walls of the many canyons around the arch. On your way back if you have time (and air of course) go to the rocks South of the Southern breakwater, about 25 meters from the southern end of the cement. At a depth of not even 8 meters there is a large dome-tent shaped cave in the rock face. The room has an opening in the roof and in the vertical face, and it is about 3 meters circular by 3 meters high. It really does resemble a dome tent!
As you dive Tappizaki you’ll notice signs that this entire area was once above the water level. Over 20,000 years ago, when the seas were over 140 meters lower than today, wind and water erosion carved the many unique (and now) underwater features.
HORONAI POINT AND SOSUS CABLES
Located about 1 kilometer to the South of the Tappizaki Campground, Horonai is a small man-made bay enclosed by natural rock on one side and cement tetrapods and boulders on the other. The beach make an excellent entry point and you can follow the cables straight out until they vanish into the gravel bottom at the 60 foot level.
As you follow these cold-war relics, peer into the many rock overhangs and crevices along the way, they are full of life! To dive Horonai Point swim out of the bay and turn to the North around the tetrapods. Follow the rocks northward about 30 meters and descend. From here stay just to the left of the underwater rock wall and follow it out to sea. Depths bottom out at 48 feet and when you round the point you’ll be surprised at the density of the crinoids and sea fan coral that carpets the rock faces.
About 20 meters south of the point you’ll come to a triangular crevice cave large enough for two divers to enter. The cave goes back into the rocks only 3 meters and at the end is open vertically so you can look up to the surface. Bring a light though, it gets rather dark inside unless you’re right by the entrance or under the shaft opening.
Tappizaki is located at the very northwestern tip of the Tsugaru Peninsula and is part of Tsugaru Quasi-National Park; approximately 1 ½ by car from Aomori City. If you’re traveling by rail you can get as far as Imabetsu before transferring to JR bus lines. The closest stop to the campground or Horonai is at the Seikan Tunnel Museum, you’ll have to do the rest on foot. Driving is recommended.
Divers and campers generally stay at the Tappizaki Campground right at the dive site. The campground features terraced tent pads on the side of a hill overlooking the Japan Sea. There are also 5 cabins available to rent, as well as 5 large fully-furnished bungalows with parking garages. Shower and bathroom facilities, as well as areas for campfires and dish washing make this a campground “with amenities”.
If you’re diving to the south at Horonai there is a wonderful Japanese family-owned hotel right on the water and only 10 meters from the entry point. They offer Japanese-style accommodations that include meals. They cater mostly to divers and fishermen, so hanging wet dive gear outside is acceptable practice.
Tourism Contacts for Tappizaki Cape of the Tsugaru Peninsula
Tappi Zaki Seaside Park (Tappizaki camp site)
54 Minmaya-tatsuhama, Sotogahama town (Sotogahama-machi), Higashitsugaru District (Higashitsugaru-gun), Aomori Prefecture 030-1711, Japan
Hotel Tappi/ Tappizaki Onsen (Hot Springs Spa)
54-274 Minmaya-tatsuhama, Sotogahama town (Sotogahama-machi), Higashitsugaru District (Higashitsugaru-gun), Aomori Prefecture 030-1711, Japan Tel: 0174-38-2011 Fax: 0174-38-2105
Seikan Tunnel Museum
Seikan Tunnel is the longest in the world where connecting Honshu and Hokkaido. Experience 140m below sea level by the cable car. 99 Minmaya-tatsuhama, Sotogahama, Higashitsugaru District, Aomori Prefecture, Japan Tel: 0174-38-2301 Fax: 0174-38-2303
Tappizaki Tourist Office
59-12 Minmaya-tatsuhama, Sotogahama, Higashitsugaru District, Aomori Prefecture, Japan TEL/FAX: 0174-31-8025 (Tappizaki Tourist Office), 0174-31-1228 (Sotogahama Chamber of Commerce), 0174-37-2001 [Sotogahama town (Sotogahama-machi) Tourist Office, Minmaya Branch office]