for National Geographic News
Submerged stone structures lying just below the waters off Yonaguni Jima are actually the ruins of a Japanese Atlantis—an ancient city sunk by an earthquake about 2,000 years ago.
That's the belief of Masaaki Kimura, a marine geologist at the University of the Ryukyus in Japan who has been diving at the site to measure and map its formations for more than 15 years.
Each time he returns to the dive boat, Kimura said, he is more convinced than ever that below him rest the remains of a 5,000-year-old city.
"The largest structure looks like a complicated, monolithic, stepped pyramid that rises from a depth of 25 meters [82 feet]," said Kimura, who presented his latest theories about the site at a scientific conference in June.
But like other stories of sunken cities, Kimura's claims have attracted controversy.
"I'm not convinced that any of the major features or structures are manmade steps or terraces, but that they're all natural," said Robert Schoch, a professor of science and mathematics at Boston University who has dived at the site.
"It's basic geology and classic stratigraphy for sandstones, which tend to break along planes and give you these very straight edges, particularly in an area with lots of faults and tectonic activity."
And neither the Japanese government's Agency for Cultural Affairs nor the government of Okinawa Prefecture recognize the remains off Yonaguni as an important cultural property, said agency spokesperson Emiko Ishida.
Neither of the government groups has carried out research or preservation work on the sites, she added, instead leaving any such efforts to professors and other interested individuals.
Yonaguni Jima is an island that lies near the southern tip of Japan's Ryukyu archipelago, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) off the eastern coast of Taiwan (see map).
A local diver first noticed the Yonaguni formations in 1986, after which a promontory on the island was unofficially renamed Iseki Hanto, or Ruins Point.
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