Tsugaru Channel and Oceans Seven Through Haruyuki Ishii’s Eyes

Tsugaru Channel and Oceans Seven Through Haruyuki Ishii’s Eyes

Important note: We’re deeply distressed about the Tsugaru situation and are actively investigating. This post is a crucial part of our ongoing inquiry, which we believe is essential to share immediately. Our dedication is to further our research, accumulate ample data, and ensure the broader community is well-informed before we initiate solution-focused discussions. Challenges such as WOWSA’s recent leadership transition and language barriers exist. We hope this post will enhance our collective understanding. Note: Ocean Navi isn’t affiliated with WOWSA, and Openwaterpedia, the original advocate of Oceans Seven, is no longer a WOWSA asset.

Given the difficulties numerous open water swimmers have encountered this year while attempting the Tsugaru Strait with the Tsugaru Channel Swimming Association (TCSA), we’ve undertaken some research. During this research, we came across a blog, “How to Swim the Earth”. The blog has posts by Miyuki Fujita and is managed by Haruyuki Ishii (Tora) who manages the Tradion Swimming Club for disabled swimmers for 50 years. There are many articles mentioning Haruyuki Ishii and the establishment of the Tsugaru Strait Swimming Association (TSSA) in 2011. It is very interesting to see the beginnings of Oceans Seven and the Tsugaru Strait.

Please note the mention of WOWSA in this context refers to the organization when it was solely run by Steven Munatones, prior to 2019. Since May 2023, Munatones is no longer affiliated with WOWSA. Munatones was instrumental in forming the Tsugaru Channel Swimming Association (TCSA). He drafted the rules for the strait in 2010 and progressively included Yuko Matsuzaki and Masayuki Moriya as co-founders of Ocean-navi. As it stands in 2023, we have yet to uncover details about any possible associations between these founders, or the specifics of when Steven Munatones left the TCSA.

June 2010

Section 4: WOWSA and the Tsugaru Strait

In a blog post dated June 5, 2010, the authors seem taken aback by the sudden international interest in the Tsugaru Strait due to the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) including it as one of the major straits for open water swimming..

He wrote:

“Now, according to the ‘World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA),’ there are seven major straits in the world that open water swimmers aspire to conquer. These seven straits are collectively referred to as the ‘Ocean’s Seven.’ Oh, the Tsugaru Strait is one of the Ocean’s Seven, and it seems the inquiry contact for that is me. (I wonder since when?) No wonder I’ve been receiving many inquiries from overseas about the Tsugaru Strait. Also, a common question from overseas swimmers is, ‘I want to swim from Korea to Japan.”

“As far as I know, the first swimmer to swim from Korea to Japan was the late Cho O-Ryong from Korea (known as the “Asian Seal”). In August 1980, he swam from Busan (Korea) to Tsushima (Japan) in 13 hours and 16 minutes. He also successfully crossed the English Channel in 1982, completing it in 9 hours and 35 minutes. The first swimmer to swim from Japan to Korea was my colleague, M. He swam from Tsushima to Busan in July 1991, taking 23 hours and 20 minutes.”

December 2011

Part 2: The Ocean’s Seven 

“1. The Ocean’s Seven (Trends in Worldwide Strait Swimming)

The Ocean’s Seven (The Ocean’s Seven: O7) is as follows:

The Ocean’s Seven – in order of difficulty:

  • North (Irish) Channel: between Ireland and Scotland -Distance: 33.7km, Water Temperature: 12ºC, Swimming Period: July to September
  • Cook Strait: between North Island and South Island, New Zealand-Distance: 26km, Water Temperature: 14-19ºC, Swimming Period: November to May
  • Molokai (Ka’iwi) Channel: between the west coast of Molokai Island and the east coast of Oahu, Hawaii-Distance: 41.8km
  • English Channel: between the UK and France-Distance: 34km, Water Temperature: 16-18℃, Swimming Period: June to September
  • Catalina Channel: between Santa Catalina Island and Los Angeles-Distance: 33.7km, Water Temperature: central part 16℃, Swimming Period: June to September
  • Tsugaru Strait: between Honshu and Hokkaido, Japan-Distance: 19.5km, Water Temperature: 16-20ºC, Swimming Period: July to August
  • Strait of Gibraltar: between Spain and Morocco-Distance: 14.4km, Water Temperature: 18-22℃, Swimming Period: June to October”

“This was announced by the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) based in the US in 2008, and it states “there are seven major straits in the world that ocean swimmers around the world aspire to, and we call them the ‘Ocean’s Seven'”.

“This has also been featured in The Wall Street Journal, an influential daily newspaper published in New York, USA. Since then, ocean swimmers around the world have been aiming to become O7 Masters. However, as of November 2011, there were no O7 Masters yet.

“In addition, WOWSA mentioned in the introduction of the Tsugaru Strait that “One of the high hurdles to swim the Tsugaru is the language barrier. Almost no English is understood in Tsugaru”

“A bigger problem is that “the Tsugaru Strait is the only one of the O7 where there is no association for swimming”. Therefore, ocean swimmers aiming to be O7 Masters must find some kind of organization in Japan on their own, contact them independently to obtain information, and prepare a swimming environment. Moreover, in Japan where English is not understood, they have to carry out necessary procedures from information mostly in Japanese. Even in Japanese, the information is scarce.”

“That’s why people like me, who are not good at English, are also contacted, and Eri from New York and Nao from Fukui are enthusiastic about creating a “Tsugaru Swim Association”.

“This year, Penny from Australia, who visited Japan, was one of them. She independently contacted me.”

“Penny has conquered all the straits except for the North Channel (Irish Channel) and the Tsugaru Strait. Another way to say it is that if she succeeds in Tsugaru, she would become “the world’s first ocean swimmer to put a checkmate on O7”.

“A slightly funny one was Anna (Sweden), who was with me in Gozo. In September, while Penny and others were staying in Hakodate, Anna called me and asked, “Hey, if I go to Japan now, will you let me swim in Tsugaru?” Anna couldn’t swim the North Channel due to bad weather.”

“I think that the inclusion of the Tsugaru Strait in WOWSA’s O7 has been a major force in pushing the Hakodate City Council to establish the Tsugaru Strait Long-Distance Swimming Association.”

December 2011

(Tsugaru Preliminary Visit: 6/28 – 7/1)

“With the help of Mr. Nakamura, the manager of Moi, we were able to meet with Mr. Yoshida, a member of the Hakodate City Council. The conversation proceeded smoothly, and the maritime safety offices also recommended establishing an association, which facilitated the planning of this year’s swim. We also got in touch with another boatman named “Monowaki-san” through Mr. Ataka’s introduction for the preparation of the second boat.”

“Thanks to Kin-chan’s annual swims in Tsugaru until last year, our credibility speaks for itself. We owe Kin-chan a lot in this regard. The situation is now completely different from when we first came to swim Tsugaru. Although he succeeded only four times (still the most by a Japanese and globally), there have been failures too. Sometimes he had to return without being able to swim due to bad weather. However, his annual visits, proper discussions, and the submission of notifications have been highly valued.”

“However, it seems that Penny and others receive a warmer welcome because they are foreigners. (Actually, last year, Nick (UK: Nicholas Cederwell) also attempted and failed to swim, but he wasn’t welcomed either. Well, he didn’t make any effort to establish an association… Perhaps this could have been another achievement.)”

December 2011

Tsugaru Strait Swimming Association

“We have established the ‘Tsugaru Strait Swimming Association.’ Currently, the website is only in English, but we will create a Japanese page soon. We kindly ask for your support.

This association provides support and recognition for swimmers who wish to cross the Tsugaru Strait. We are currently working on various procedures to obtain corporate status. This year, in September, Penny from Australia swam across the Tsugaru Strait.”

May 2012

Inspection of the ‘Tsugaru Strait Swimming Association’ by the Lord of Shonan

“I had missed an important point about the Oceans Seven. It’s about the rules for swimming across the channels. Basically, the rules for channel swims seem to follow the traditional rules set by the English Channel Swimming Association, a pioneer in channel crossing swims. When swimming solo, only normal swimsuits and swim caps are allowed, and applying oils to the body is permitted, but wetsuits or any other aids are not allowed. Touching the support boat by the swimmer is also considered “assistance” and is prohibited.”

September 2015

Criticism of WOWSA’s Handling of Tsugaru Strait Crossings

In a blog post dated September 21, 2015, There is disapproval of the practices of an association registered with WOWSA for Tsugaru Strait crossings. The critique centers on a perceived lack of structure and regulation in the swims organized by this association.

“A certain group that swims this route has been registered as the only ‘World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA)’-recognized association supporting Tsugaru Strait crossings. However, this association seems to allow ‘anything goes’ swimming. Anything goes? Does that mean no rules? Anyone can swim however they want, and wetsuit usage is allowed freely? At least for the Tsugaru Strait, which is also registered in the ‘Oceans Seven,’ there should be no ‘no rules.’ Moreover, I’ve heard that they fix the swimming date months in advance. The backup day is said to be the following day. I find this strange too. Even weather forecasters cannot predict events several months ahead, so why would they fix a specific date? Isn’t that peculiar?”

“I hope it becomes more like Dover Strait crossings, with proper rules, for the development of Japanese open water swimmers and to gain respect from swimmers worldwide.”*


September 2015

They suggest a route and rules set by the “Tsugaru Strait Swimming Club,” which involve more challenging courses and tighter restrictions on swimwear, participation order, and weather conditions. 

“The “Tsugaru Strait Swimming Club,” led by Tora-sensei, starts on the Shimokita Peninsula side, from the famous tuna port of Ooma, about 15 km south of Saivillage on the Shimokita Peninsula, and swims against the flow of the Tsugaru Strait, gradually catching the main current towards Toinohama, Hakodate, following Tora-sensei’s chosen route.”

“The narrowest part of the Tsugaru Strait is between Ooma, Aomori, and Shioshiri, Hokkaido. Though the distance is about 18 km, if swimmers try to swim straight towards Hokkaido, they will be carried into the Pacific Ocean, and they won’t be able to reach Hokkaido. It’s extremely demanding, challenging, and interesting, a truly “suitable for open water swimmers” route.”

“Moreover, they follow the rules similar to the established Dover Strait crossings. Specifically, they swim with a team of four, with each swimmer taking turns for one hour. Only normal swimwear and a regular swim cap are allowed. The order must not be changed, and there is no skipping of turns.”

“Similarly, they choose days with good sea conditions, usually within a week of a neap tide.”

“I asked the boat captain who will support this swim, “Which route between the Shimokita Peninsula and Hokkaido is more challenging?” The captain firmly replied, “The Shimokita Peninsula start is more challenging.”

March 2023

In a recent post about Tsugaru Preparations and Andy Donaldson

“The most recent solo swim across the Tsugaru Strait that I supported was on September 11, 2016, when American female swimmer Elizabeth Fry (Liz: born in 1959) succeeded in completing it in 15 hours and 48 minutes, crossing the eastern route (between Oma and Shiogama).”

“After that, there were inquiries from swimmers interested in crossing Tsugaru, but either I was away in Dover or the inquiries were not clear. Eventually, starting from 2020, the situation became intertwined with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Last December of the previous year (2022), I received a message from Liz. She asked if I could take care of Andrew Donaldson (Andy: born in 1991), a male swimmer from Scotland, now residing in Australia, and a swimming buddy of hers. Andy is interested in swimming the Tsugaru Strait next year (2023).”

And Andy wants to go straight through the western Tsugaru Strait (Tatsuhi to Shirakami). Generally, you swim along the Tsugaru Strait on the tide that flows from the Sea of ​​Japan to the Pacific Ocean. But Andy wants to swim the straight line of the bold arrow. 

“The most commonly used route to cross the Tsugaru Strait involves riding the tide flowing from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific Ocean. This route typically follows a more indirect path. In the diagram referred to in the blog post, it’s suggested that these typical routes are represented by the narrower arrows labeled A, B, and C. These are the routes that the author has mostly supported in the past.”

“However, the swimmer Andrew Donaldson (Andy) wants to take a different approach. He plans to swim a direct route across the Tsugaru Strait, which is represented by a thicker arrow in the diagram. This is described as an interesting choice, presumably because it’s less commonly used and may present different challenges than the more typical routes.”

(will be continued)

Note: We can not confirm the accuracy of the translation from Japanese to English using Google Translate.

Photo credits: Swimming Around the World Main photo: Penny Palfrey and Haruyuki Ishii

Sources: Haruyuki Ishii Facebook

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