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“Divanese” gets divers through language barriers

By: John Chandler

Date Posted: 2001-07-13

Not long ago I took a meritorious day off and went diving. It was just one of those “Me” days when I wanted to go diving and not lead the dive, not teach anything, and not direct anything. IT WAS GREAT! What was best of all was that I was able to also renew a long time friendship with the owner, and captain, of the boat I was diving from. That my friends, and dive buddies, is where this story begins.

May I introduce you to Mr. Aokawa, of Aokowa’s Diving Service. More affectionately, and respectfully, referred to as “Papa-san” by about one thousand foreigner divers on Okinawa. Papa-san is one of the few boat captains who freely accept American divers on to his boat “Dae-Maru.” While other boats do not reject American Divers it can be very hard to coordinate with boat captains and owners since most boats are on charter to certain dive shops. Papa-san does this too but he seems to always have at least one open seat and a welcome hand for a Gaijin who wants to get wet. Today was no different. Stepping on board at 9:05 a.m., we headed for the Kerama Islands. This is where the story gets FUN!

I usually dive in the company of ten or more friends and students but today I was the only American on the boat. What is really interesting here is that I, and regrettably so, only speak enough Japanese to get across the street and say good night. But there I was amid six other wonderful divers all heading to the Keramas with same anticipation that children have on Christmas Eve. We were all thinking the same wonderful thoughts about how great the diving would soon be, except I was thinking in English and my dive buddies were thinking in Japanese. This is where the story is really leading us!

It seems that we divers have developed an international language all our own. It appears to be part sign language, part sound effect language (a syllabic derivative), and mostly a prayer that I can understand at least one word, and build from there. However, I find we DO HAVE and international language that I call “Divanese.” While “Divanese” may not be taught in language academies I know for a fact that it is taught by all dive instructors, both Okinawan and American. On our trip this day we all warmed up and introduced ourselves then opened up our dive books, dive guides, and fish identification books. At that point the “Divanese” began to really cross-pollinate our fun. We began to rapidly point at this and that and then size them. Using maps we were able to locate where we had seen that fish or eel and indicate just how big it really was. (Just like fishermen the size is always larger at the telling!).

Papa-san captains what could be the fastest dive boat in the East China Sea. Our trip to the Kerama took one hour and 15 minutes. We dove a great dive in the bay between Gishippu and Tokashiki then had a really relaxingly lazy lunch. Our second dive was one of my favorites on Okinawa. We dove the cables at Ariga on Tokashiki which was just a short motoring around from Gishippu. The sea fan garden at Ariga amazed Makoto, my new Okinawan dive buddy, who told me that he had never seen the "Ariga Umiuchiwa Point" before and was very happy to have finally dived on it. I did not know the Japanese word for sea fan until Makoto instructed me to call them “umiuchiwa!” We saw some great “umiuchiwa that day and our joy did not have a language barrier. You could see the amazement in his eyes while we glided through that coral garden at Ariga’s “umiuchiwa point.”

Diving is a great way to expand a vocabulary, meet people and learn that “Divanese” is really an international language here on Okinawa. If you would like to leave the long reef walk on the beach for a day you may want to try and book a dive with my old friend Papa-san too! Have a me day and you will enjoy the cultural exchange and Okinawan courtesy that Aokowa-san is famous for. If you do not have a good command of the Japanese language and want to learn more about “Divanese” you may want to call Fathoms Dive Shop at 090 8766-0868. Rich can book you a seat, or if you do speak just a bit of Japanese call the Crew-B dive shop on Highway 58 at 098-936-4045 or Aokawa’s Diving Service at 098-936-0413. Have a great dive and I will be see you at the dock in Chatan. I am the bald guy preparing to use his “Divansese” study guide.

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