THE STRANGE RU­INS OF YON­A­GUNI: JA­PAN’S AT­LANTIS?

Asian Diver (English) - - Contents - Text by Bon­nie Way­cott Im­ages cour­tesy of Yon­a­guni Div­ing Service

Text by Bon­nie Way­cott

Im­ages by var­i­ous con­trib­u­tors Some­body get In­di­ana Jones a scuba set! Just off the coast of Ja­pan a mys­te­ri­ous stone struc­ture could be ev­i­dence of an an­cient civil­i­sa­tion

In the deep blue sea off Ok­i­nawa’s Yon­a­guni Is­land lies a stone struc­ture of epic pro­por­tions. But is it nat­u­ral or man­made? Mys­tery, his­tory, mythol­ogy and ge­ol­ogy all come to­gether at this enig­matic un­der­wa­ter struc­ture off Ja­pan – the Yon­a­guni Mon­u­ment – that raises more ques­tions than it an­swers. Does this un­der­wa­ter struc­ture pro­vide ev­i­dence of a so­phis­ti­cated, an­cient civil­i­sa­tion? Or have years and years of seis­mic ac­tiv­ity given way to a bizarre nat­u­ral for­ma­tion?

YON­A­GUNI, 100 KILO­ME­TRES from Tai­wan and 2,900 kilo­me­tres from Tokyo, is dot­ted with green sugar cane fields, trop­i­cal scrub, and grassy patches of land grazed by the tiny Yon­a­guni horse. With stun­ning look­outs, white sandy beaches and colos­sal rocky cliffs fall­ing into the clear blue-green seas, the is­land also hap­pens to be Ja­pan’s western­most in­hab­ited place and the last in the chain of Ryukyu Is­lands in Ok­i­nawa pre­fec­ture. One small town, two very small vil­lages and two shel­tered har­bours form the hu­man ad­di­tion to the is­land, while co­ral bom­mies rest in the shal­low wa­ter. Ben­e­fit­ting from the full brunt of the Kuroshio Cur­rent, it’s known for sword­fish, tuna, gi­ant cut­tle­fish, bar­racuda and schools of ham­mer­head sharks that gather in the waters to breed dur­ing the win­ter – so ubiq­ui­tous, in fact, that divers travel from all over the world for a chance to swim with them.

MYS­TERY UN­DER­WA­TER

But un­der­neath the clear blue waters lies some­thing else, a mys­tery of epic pro­por­tions, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. Yon­a­guni is fa­mous for some mys­te­ri­ous un­der­wa­ter ru­ins called the Yon­a­guni Mon­u­ment, and the mys­tery comes from the fact that no­body knows what they re­ally are, when they were built or by whom. Their ex­is­tence has led to count­less de­bates, and nei­ther the Ja­panese Agency for Cul­tural Af­fairs nor the govern­ment of Ok­i­nawa Pre­fec­ture recog­nises the ru­ins as im­por­tant cul­tural arte­facts. In fact, no govern­ment re­search or preser­va­tion work has been car­ried out on them.

Fif­teen min­utes away from Yon­a­guni’s har­bour, the seas can be mildly rough with fairly strong cur­rents, and the break­ing waves look like dark, roil­ing storm clouds cre­at­ing the per­fect at­mos­phere for some­thing strange and mys­te­ri­ous. Here, where the ru­ins are, the stones (sand­stone and mud­stone dat­ing back to around 20 mil­lion years ago) are cleft at sharp an­gles and there are other shapes like arches and steps, waist-high pas­sage­ways and con­i­cal bor­ings in the rocks. The main fea­ture, the “Mon­u­ment”, is rec­tan­gu­lar, with its top about five me­tres below sea level.

What is known, how­ever, is that the ru­ins were dis­cov­ered in 1987 by a lo­cal fish­er­man named Ki­hachiro Aratake, who hap­pened to be div­ing for ham­mer­heads

in the hope of find­ing a new spot to show tourists the huge sharks. In­stead, he came across some­thing even more ex­cit­ing, and felt shiv­ers up his spine as he back-rolled on top of an enor­mous pyra­mi­dal struc­ture that be­gan rel­a­tively close to the sur­face be­fore its walls plunged into the deep. Aratake, who now runs his own dive cen­tre, Sou-Wes Yon­a­guni, was con­vinced that he had dis­cov­ered the re­mains of an an­cient civil­i­sa­tion, and named the dive point Iseki Hanto, or “Ru­ins Point”, from the struc­ture’s re­sem­blance to an old pyra­mid-like tem­ple.

Word then spread across the is­land, as Aratake be­gan to seek the ad­vice of ex­perts. As the ru­ins were vis­ited by divers more often and their struc­ture mapped out, fur­ther dis­cov­er­ies were made, such as arched en­trances and carv­ings, nar­row pas­sage­ways and match­ing obelisks that seemed per­fectly aligned. Over the fol­low­ing years ex­perts de­scended upon the site to de­ter­mine whether the struc­ture was nat­u­ral or man-made. Yet to this day, it re­mains a great, un­solved mys­tery.

He felt shiv­ers up his spine as he back-rolled on top of an enour­mous pyra­mi­dal struc­ture

NAT­U­RAL OR AR­TI­FI­CIAL?

The ru­ins di­vide their view­ers into scep­tics and be­liev­ers. Ini­tially, it was sug­gested that the ru­ins were built around 10,000 years ago when the area was above sea level. In­deed, some ar­gue that they are the re­mains of Mu, a lost civil­i­sa­tion of myth­i­cal pro­por­tions and Asia’s equiv­a­lent of At­lantis. One per­son who main­tains this is Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus Kimura Masaaki, a marine ge­ol­o­gist and pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of the Ryukyus on Ok­i­nawa’s main is­land. He

be­lieves that the struc­ture is ev­i­dence of an an­cient civil­i­sa­tion, a huge con­ti­nent that ex­isted in the West Pa­cific Ocean, which Ok­i­nawa was once a part of. He also be­lieves they are the re­mains of a city that could have sunk due to seis­mic events. Since 1992, Pro­fes­sor Kimura has vis­ited the ru­ins over 100 times to gather rock and co­ral al­gae sam­ples for test­ing and to take pho­to­graphs. He has iden­ti­fied 10 struc­tures off Yon­a­guni and a fur­ther five re­lated for­ma­tions off the main is­land of Ok­i­nawa, and be­lieves the ru­ins re­sem­ble gusuku, or cas­tles, of the 14th and 15th cen­turies. He also claims to have found tools from the ru­ins, and rocks bear­ing carved sym­bols, while fea­tures such as the flat par­al­lel faces, sharp edges and right an­gles also point to a con­clu­sion that the ru­ins could be man-made.

But Dr. Robert Schoch, a ge­ol­o­gist and Pro­fes­sor of sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics at Bos­ton Univer­sity, is con­vinced oth­er­wise. Ac­cord­ing to his web­site, he be­lieves that the Yon­a­guni ru­ins are a nat­u­ral rock for­ma­tion. In 1997 he led an ex­pe­di­tion to the is­land with the Morien In­sti­tute, an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal non-profit re­search group, and wrote in his book, Voices of the Rocks, that he was not con­vinced that the fea­tures or struc­tures of the ru­ins are man-made steps or ter­races. He has also an­a­lysed sam­ples of the ru­ins and refers to ba­sic ge­ol­ogy and clas­sic stratig­ra­phy for sand­stones, which tend to break along planes and give very straight edges in ar­eas with plenty of faults and tec­tonic ac­tiv­ity such as Yon­a­guni, which is in a very earth­quake-prone area. There is also some ev­i­dence on the is­land, in­clud­ing tombs and struc­tures that have been carved from the bedrock, that in­deed in­di­cate that Yon­a­guni was once a site of an­cient hu­man habi­ta­tion, and

Some ar­gue that they are the re­mains of Mu, a lost civil­i­sa­tion of myth­i­cal pro­por­tions and Asia's equiv­a­lent of At­lantis

Dr. Schoch sug­gests that in an­cient times hu­mans on the is­land may have mod­i­fied, used or en­hanced the nat­u­ral rock struc­ture in some way.

UN­SOLVED MYS­TERY

Will we ever dis­cover the an­swer? Some say that there is some­thing quite al­tar­like about the ru­ins, and al­though it is dif­fi­cult to cast a vote ei­ther way, star­ing at the vast for­ma­tions un­der­wa­ter it is easy to sense some­thing mys­te­ri­ous, much big­ger than man and be­yond the or­di­nary. In­deed, the is­land has an­cient grave­yards over­look­ing the ocean, where each tomb looks just like a unique piece of art. There are also obelisks in­scribed in ar­chaic Ja­panese, caves high up on the cliffs and rocky pin­na­cles in the sea. And yet tec­tonic in­sta­bil­ity is huge in Ja­pan. Ly­ing just next to the spot where the Pa­cific Plate and Philip­pine Sea Plate con­verge, 10 per­cent of the world’s ac­tive vol­ca­noes can be found in Ja­pan, mak­ing se­vere earth­quakes a usual phe­nom­e­non. Could the frac­tured sand­stone bedrock around Yon­a­guni, the cracked and piled ter­rain, be caused by nat­u­ral seis­mic ac­tiv­ity? His­tory and mys­tery come to­gether here; stone weath­ers into art or back again into rock.

At the south­ern­most tip of the is­land, where the oceans are filled with pow­er­ful cur­rents and the surges and gnaws of the fe­ro­cious waves, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more strangely dra­matic and mys­te­ri­ous dive site. Mean­while, the de­bate sur­round­ing the ru­ins goes on...

The Yon­a­guni for­ma­tion is un­can­nily ge­o­met­ri­cally reg­u­lar and rem­i­nis­cent of the re­mains of many other an­cient civil­i­sa­tions from around the world

LEFT The site is made up of a va­ri­ety of fa­mil­iar for­ma­tions like arches, obelisks, pas­sage­ways and bore holes

Bon­nie Way­cott was born in the UK and be­came in­ter­ested in the sea af­ter learn­ing to snorkel off the Ja­pan Sea coast near her mother’s home­town. She be­came a cer­ti­fied diver four years ago and has been ex­plor­ing Ja­pan’s waters ever since. Based in Tokyo, she writes for div­ing-re­lated web­sites in Ja­pan and abroad, while main­tain­ing her blog Ris­ing Bub­bles, a com­pre­hen­sive guide to Ja­pan’s div­ing scene.

LEFT PAGE Could an­cient hu­mans liv­ing on the is­land be­fore a seis­mic shift, have al­tered a pre­ex­ist­ing nat­u­ral for­ma­tion?

LEFT Divers pre­pare to descend on the Yon­a­guni Mon­u­ment to de­cide for them­selves whether or not the struc­ture is nat­u­ral or man-made

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