Diving in Japan: The Full Guide to Diving in Japan
Scuba diving… in Japan?
Japan is known for samurais and sushi, but not for scuba diving.
It’s often overlooked in favor of more popular dive destinations like Thailand or the Philippines.
But if you take the opportunity to explore Japan’s waters you’ll be surprised.
With a bit of research and patience, ice diving, tropical diving and a huge range of marine life are all within easy reach for visitors and residents of Japan.
The diving here is spread out over Japan’s territory, so getting to all destinations in one trip is not a realistic option. But if you are intrigued by this overlooked archipelago, backpacking across Japan might introduce you to a lot of unique dive experiences.
General info about Japan & diving there
Because Japan is an archipelagic country with islands covering over 1800 miles (3,000km), there is a huge difference in water temperature between north and south.
Northern Japan (Hokkaido) tends to be cool or cold. Southern Japan (Kyushu and Okinawa) consists of hundreds of islands and islets in the very deep south of the Japanese archipelago. It’s warm year-round with temperatures around 68°F (20°C) in winter and 88°F (31°C) during the summer, making it ideal for crystal clear waters, white sand, and colorful fish.
Japan is also volcanic with a fascinating underwater topography such as steep vertical walls and interesting rock formations. A lot of the islands in southern Japan and south of the capital Tokyo were formed from volcanic eruptions, and as dive guides will explain, this is plain to see when you go diving.
Scuba Diving in Japan
The peak season for diving begins at the end of the rainy season in mid-July and runs until early to mid-September when the warm weather ends.
The offseason runs from December through March and April.
The Kuroshio Current also flows northward on the Pacific side of Japan and warms the seas as far north as Tokyo, usually around May.
Divers in Japan enjoy an array of sites offering a combination of drift diving, wreck diving and shore dives in a flourishing underwater world.
Diving Ishigaki Island, Okinawa
This island is most famous for the sheer number of manta rays that congregate or rather scramble, around a point called Manta Scramble.
At 33 feet (10m) with a garden of rocks spread out below, this site will have you constantly looking left and right as giant silhouettes swim past one after another in a spectacular show. The manta rays elegantly glide above you, swimming to and fro in strafing waves while feeding on plankton.
Read the full guide to Diving in Ishigaki Island.
Diving at Kerama Islands
An hour or so from Okinawa, the Kerama Islands are well worth the trip if you don’t mind a potential rough crossing.
This area is said to have some of the most prolific marine life in Okinawa with stunning coral formations and flora and fauna, not to mention the range of crustaceans, boxfish, and damselfish to name a few.
The bright blue seas are usually calm and the area is a good dive site for beginners.
If Island diving is interesting to you make sure to check out Amami Islands too.
Diving in Miyakojima
Miyakojima takes you away from coral formations and into a world of limestone caves, canyons and rock formations. Here it’s possible to swim through tunnels, short passageways and even out into a pitch-black dome where a misty sheet of vapor surrounds you as you pop your head up from the water.
On a clear day, the sun streams through the tunnels, a great chance to take some stunning photos.
Diving in Tokunoshima
Slightly north of Okinawa, diving becomes a bit more challenging. Divers can choose between diving with strong and unpredictable currents under a cluster of 3 rocks or a relaxing experience with Tokunoshima’s resident turtle that’s famous for his unusual mountain-like shell. He is curious around scuba divers and more than happy for you to take close up shots.
If you opt for the more challenging route, take a good look at the massive monoliths that are a great example of Japan’s volcanic geology.
Kozushima is the Macro diving paradise
For macro diving, you can’t go wrong on a summer visit to this island a little over 6 hours south of Tokyo on an overnight ferry. A tiny paradise that bubbled up from the Pacific Ocean a long time ago, there is a lot more to Kozushima than white sandy beaches. A vast assortment of sea slugs, nudibranchs, crabs and starfish awaits off the island’s main site for shore dives, while night dive fans should keep their eyes peeled for octopus, sea snakes and lobsters.
Diving in Miyakejima
Just south of Kozushima, the marine life here really comes alive in May when the Kuroshio Current approaches and squid begin to spawn.
Descending to around 50 feet (15m), divers can sit on the sand and watch the squid deposit long white tubes containing plenty of eggs onto a cluster of tree branches. Nothing is more fun than lying close and watching the squid appear one by one.
Scuba diving in Osezaki
One of the closest dive sites to Tokyo also happens to be one of the most popular. With about 1000 kinds of creatures including moray eels and sea bass, Osezaki Bay is deep but ideal for dive training.
Concrete boulders at 5m are teeming with sea urchins at night, making it a perfect spot to practice buoyancy, while a collection of random objects such as car tires and rope are scattered over the sand – an ideal chance to practice search, rescue and underwater navigation. For those who don’t need training, there are some excellent drop-offs and shore dives close by.
Diving in Hachijojima
After a 12-hour journey south of Tokyo on the overnight ferry, a tiny mountain appears in the distance that looks very much like a mini Mt Fuji. This is Hachijojima, a quaint little volcanic island with black sandy beaches, warm water, and diverse marine life.
Turtles are often spotted but the fish to look for is the Yuzen or Wrought Iron Butterfly Fish. Because they’re endemic to Japan, seeing these metallic black and white species is a very special moment.
Ice Diving in Shiretoko Peninsula, Hokkaido
Not many of us fancy getting into the water when it’s snowing and freezing cold outside but this is where ice diving comes in.
In Japan, it’s more of a taster than an actual dive but it’s one of the most challenging and unusual opportunities divers like to take. There may not be much to the sites but you can see a few fish, sea urchins, starfish, and shrimp.
Keep your eyes peeled for the Clione or Sea Angel, sea slugs with a transparent body, wings, and cute ears.
Or simply look up and marvel at the boulders of ice above you.
Diving in Yoronto
It’s not often you get to see star-shaped sand but this is one of Yoronto’s most famous features. The sand is actually pieces of coral that wash up from the surrounding reefs and look very much like stars.
That’s just on the beaches. Underwater, another spectacular world waits to be visited. The most popular dive sites are between 25 and 50 feet (8-15m). With excellent visibility, they are home to clownfish, crabs, nudibranchs and colorful shrimps.
Take a dive torch with you if you want to meet them up close where they hide under the rocks.
Is Japan your next dive destination?
If you’ve tried diving in Japan share your favorite dive spot in the comments below!
Are you planning a dive trip to Japan? If you have questions regarding the diving or other Japan-related questions, feel free to ask questions below in the comments.
I’m delighted to have found your site! I have an opportunity to visit my nephew who will be working on a project for Tokyo Disneyland Aug-Oct. Learning that there’s great diving only makes the trip that much better! I’m traveling alone but AOW since ‘88; still, I want to go with a reputable dive operation for a day maybe two, warmest waters, not cold. I’m from California. Do you have any recommendations?
My husband and I are PADI Advanced Underwater Divers. We would like to do a Dry Suit course. Can you recommend any where in Okinawa that would do this in April? Thanks for your assistance.
I’m a retired U.S. military diver and NAUI instructor living and diving in Japan in Iwakuni (however, for the next year I’ll be in Tokyo), and I’ve been diving non-stop around Japan for the last three straight years. It’s exactly as the article says here. There is such a wide diversity of diving available – from locations and environments, to plant and wildlife – that Japan has some of the best diving on the planet available. Simply put, there’s something for everyone.
Places like Okinawa and other islands off southern Japan have waters that are generally very clam and perfect for beginners, while at the same time, can offer exciting wreaks and expansive reefs to explore. The Seto Inlet Sea is also typically very calm and has a few amazing wrecks, but offers challenging low-vis environments perfect for developing and fine-tuning advanced skills. Additionally, the waters in this area have an average tidal swing of 12ft and can be as much as 16ft, and the temperatures can range from 26c in the summer, to 10c in the winter. The famous Hornfels Fault offers an environment where warmer waters and temperate waters come together, bringing with it both warmer tropical species and colder water species in one place. There are tons of rivers with 10m of depth that offer great opportunities for drift dives with massive Koi fish. Hokkaido gets some of the heaviest snowfall on the planet, and with it, it’s not uncommon for sea ice to build up along the coasts, which offers an exciting and challenging form of technical diving. And let’s not forget some of the amazing higher-altitude lake and cave dives available on Honshu.
All-in-all, if you have a chance to dive in Japan, do it. There’s something for everyone here, at all skill levels. So if it’s not on your diving bucket-list, it should be. 🙂
Retired U.S. military diver and NAUI instructor from Iwakuni, Yamaguchi, now living in Tokyo for the next year. Japan has so much to offer for diving, just as the article says, and the diversity of life in varied waters is unlike any place else I’ve ever been around the world. If you haven’t dove in Japan, it’s a must that I’d highly recommend for your bucket list.
We will be visiting family in Kagoshima, Kyushu in early April 2020. We want to combine a scuba diving holiday whilst we are there. Ideally we are looking for a hotel that has a PADI dive centre on site or very nearby. Can you recommend anywhere suitable, we are flexible and can drive anywhere on the island. Have previously dived on Ishigaki in the Okinawa islands.
Are you able to put me in contact with some companies providing tours in and around Okinawa? I tried to find a few online but I didn’t hear back.
Thanks so much for the info and cool pics!
Hi Bonnie ,
Thank you for such a nice article.
I am planning to do scuba diving in izu. Coudl you Please let know which is the best beach to do and the best diving clubs ?
What a nice website!
I’m planning to go to Japan from 22th of april to 18th of may. I will like to combine a roundtrip with some sunbathing AND DIVING. Is it to off season to dive at that time? If not, what time do you recommend and at what place? I’ve been looking at Ishigaki, Hateruma, Yonaguni, Yoron, Amanioshima og Miyako…
So excited for you’re respond!
Me and my wife are heading to Japan in early April for a two week holiday.
We live in FNQ Australia and use to work on the dive boats.
We are travelling around the country and hoping to fit a days diving in somewhere.
Where would you recommend to go for a dive?
Very excited to hear from you.
In 1983 I befriended the owner of the MAC Co. Ltd. a PADI SCUBA shop in Aomori Prefecture. Our friendship led to the forming of a SCUBA club at Misawa AB and many pleasant trips. Does anyone know if the shop or owner are still around?
I just found this article, and am already travelling in japan. Since you seem to be in the know about the diving in japan do you have any recommendations on english speaking dive centers in the south of honshu? Or even divecenters that have great service and do nice dives where I can get by with my broken japanese?
I wil be around for 2 more weeks.
thanks in advance 🙂
I´m living in Japan for a few years and since last year I start to work in a dive site called Izu Oceanic Park, also know as I.O.P. located on Eastern Izu Peninsula. I saw that Bonnie posted many of amazing dive sites around Japan, but nothing about this place, which is perfect for who wants to get dive but do not have time enough to go to Okinawa or another island around. The place is very rich in Marine Life such as soft coral, nudibranchs, wrasse, turtles, few sharks, frogfish, guitar fish and so on. Takes around 2 and half hour by car or train from Tokyo. If you want more information about the place call me up. Thanks a lot. And Bonnie, let me know if you have interest to upload some review in your website.
Thank you for your comment. I’m afraid I’m not sure what you mean by your question. Are you looking for recent statistics on how popular diving is in Japan, among Japanese or non-Japanese? What is it for? I can certainly find out how to get hold of some if that’s the case, let me know.
Would you be able to point me to any information that indicates how popular scuba diving is in Japan? Seems like South Koreans are more into it. thanks- Jay
Thank you for your comment! Okinawa in March is a great choice. The water temperature will be around 21C – 23C, which for some people is cold so you might want to prepare a 5mm wetsuit and 3mm hood / vest. There won’t be any monsoons at that time, the rainy season there doesn’t start until around early May. Do you know which part of Okinawa you would like to go to? Ishigaki Island has two English-speaking dive shops (Prime Scuba Ishigaki and Umicoza) and is famous for manta rays. If you are staying on the main island, there are trips to the Kerama Islands available with Reef Encounters, run by an American guy, or if your diving is advanced and you want something like currents, drift diving etc, Reef Encounters can take you to Yonaguni (famous for underwater ruins and hammerheads) or there is a dive shop there called Yonaguni Diving Service, which has limited English.
Other sources of information are two diving clubs in Tokyo, Discovery Divers Tokyo run by Jim Goddard and Dive Zone Tokyo run by Ben Wouters. Both have Facebook pages. I believe Ben has dived off Yonaguni several times and might have more up-to-date info.
Let me know if there is anything else I can help you with!
Its a good sharing tips up there. Anyway how does the off season gonna be like? Will there be monsoon during the off season? Coz I might be planning to visit Okinawa on the first week of march 2018. What are your thought about this?
Hi Angel, where in Japan are you based or will you be visiting during the period you mentioned? I would say the best area to check out at that time of year (if you are not a dry suit fan and feel like somewhere warmer) is Okinawa. I can put you in touch with English-speaking dive shops on Ishigaki (Prime Scuba Ishigaki and Umicoza), Kerama Islands (Reef Encounters on the Okinawa mainland) and Yonaguni (Yonaguni Diving Service, which has limited English, or Reef Encounters). Yonaguni’s diving is mainly drift diving as currents are strong.
If you are in Tokyo, Discovery Divers Tokyo, an English-speaking dive club in the city, might be organising some day trips to areas such as the Izu Peninsula. You will need a dry suit. Its sister club, Kansai Divers, is based in Kobe (in case you are in Osaka area), and there might be some trips to Wakayama Prefecture, including Kushimoto, but am not sure. Kansai Divers can be found on Facebook and the guy running the group should know about the ice diving season, although this runs from Jan to Mar, not the period you mentioned.
Hope the above helps, let me know if you have any further questions and happy diving 🙂
What are some dive options for Dec 18-25, 2017? I have full dive suit suitable for ice diving to 10oC. Thank you!
Hi, I have not planned the trip yet, I will definitely be going to Tokyo and Kyoto but the rest is still to be decided, so I can still add cities well known for scuba (if it is affordable to travel there) like Okinawa.
Hi Jess, thank you for your message. Absolutely, can you tell me where in Japan you will be? I can suggest Discovery Divers Tokyo (you can find them on Facebook), Dive Zone Tokyo (also on Facebook), or some dive shops on Okinawa’s Ishigaki island that have English-speaking staff. Let me know!
COMMENT Hi Matt, thanks for your message and sorry for this late reply. Have you been able to sort something out for your July/August dives? I would recommend contacting Jim Goddard at Discovery Divers Tokyo (you can find them on Facebook). They do a lot of training and weekend trips in the summer near Tokyo, and can cater to English speakers. They are also a very fun group. Are you planning on going to the Tokyo area?
It’s definitely possible to train in Japan but it depends on what you are after. Thailand has more beautiful ocean with much more diverse marine life. Japan emphasises safety a lot more. Depending on where you go, marine life/visibility may not be as good as Thailand, but there are some wonderful places such as Okinawa. There you can get in touch with Kouichirou Chiwata at Prime Scuba Ishigaki on Ishigaki Island. Hope this helps, drop me a line if you need more info!
Hi, I am interested in finishing my open water certification through referral diving in Japan. Do you know if there are any PADI operators, also would need English speakers. Thanks so much!
You are right about Japan offering a lot of nudibranchs. While I am not familiar with mainland Japan, Okinawa is full of them. In the summer months when it gets warmer, they can be found deeper, so the area around Cape Manza, which offers wall diving, is an excellent location. There are a few English speaking shops in the area, including Onna Sensui.
Hi I am a diver I would love to scuba diving off the coast of Japan
Thanks for help
i just discovered your page. and i’m so happy to finally found somebody who i can ask for some advice. hope you can help me. Always wanted to come to Japan. Even thought it’s not gonna be a dive holiday i want to do some dives too. My interest is directed towards the nudibranches. And i know, Japan has to offer a lot of them. Since time is limited i’m not sure if i can make it to Okinawa. But i heard if Izu Oceanic Park. Do you think i can find a dive shop in Izu who will take me to such nudi places or should i better go to Kozushima. Greatful for any other advice you can give me. Many thanks in advance
COMMENT Hi Lynda, thank you for your comment and apologies for the late reply. You’ve made a great choice, the Kerama Islands are absolutely stunning. Unfortunately the last I heard, there weren’t any English-speaking staff/dive shops on Aka island itself, but there is a shop called Reef Encounters, whose owner, Doug Bennett, organises dive trips to the Kerama Islands. It may be possible to meet him on Aka Island and dive with him from there. His website is here: https://www.reefencounters.org/staff.html
Have you been able to make contact with the dive shops on Aka Island? Do you need any help there? Let me know if there is anything I can do.
My husband and I will be in Japan Aug 4-Aug 26. We have one week reserved for diving and are planning to stay on Aka Island in the Kerama Islands. Are there dives shops with English speakers in their staff on Aka Island. We chose the island because it’s smaller and to get away from the big hotels/resorts on Okinawa. However, it looks like there are way more dive shops on Okinawa. From searching the internet, it seems like there are two shops on Aka Island, do you know anything about them? Do you know if any of the Okinawa shops pick up from Aka (i know most of them do day trips to Kerama)?
Any info, would be much appreciated.
Hi Richard, unfortunately there are zero liveaboards operating out of Japan, and as far as I know other liveaboards do not stop here. I can recommend a liveaboard in the Similan Islands that works with a dive shop on Kozushima and caters to Japanese divers, but it’s not exactly Japan diving I know! Let me know if I can help you further.
Are there any liveaboard dive boats serving Japan dive sites?
Im travelling to Japan from India from August 26th- September 16th 2016. Im primarily going to be spending my time in the Osaka and Tokyo region.
I wanted to get some beach/island time and do some diving. Supposedly the best places for diving okinawa and ogasawara are either too far or will take too much time out of my itinerary to get done.
Can you help me out with some recommendations of places that have brilliant diving and can be accessed easily from either osaka or tokyo? Have you heard of diving on shinkine-jima island? is it any good?
I’m going to be in Tokyo 6/29/16 – 7/11/16 and would love to get in at least one day of diving while there. I’m traveling with and visiting family so taking more than one day away from them likely wouldn’t go over well. I found several pages that referenced diving on the Izu peninsula. Any recommendations for operators and sites? I’ll need to rent most of the equipment as it doesn’t seem practical to bring a full set of gear for one day of diving. I will bring my mask, dive computer, a skin and possibly my regulator. Do you know which type of regulator connections are used there, DIN or yoke?
Hi Martin, thanks for commenting! Am delighted you’re interested in Japan, it’s a great place to dive and there is a lot going on here. Hope you are able to visit!
So now you got me really interesting in Japan, and the diving is really cool diving. Now it’s just about planning a trip and going for a clean up dive(or a couple). I’m really excited, I have to look for flights now. Thanks!
Hi Sandra, thank you for commenting! Where are you based? You might want to check out Inside Japan Tours in the UK for tours to the Okinawa area, otherwise I can put you in touch with some English-speaking groups out here. The diving here is surprisingly interesting, it’s just not that very well known. Hope you are enjoying some great dives too!
I really want to go diving in Japan now! I newer knew Japan had this much cool diving, to be honest all I knew Japan for was Sushi and killing whales and dolphins in the cove(shame on you).
This looks really good! Do you know if there’s and overseas providers of a fully equipped tour, with full accommodation, transport and diving?
Hi Bonnie, thanks for a great guide. I’ve spend most of my day checking flights and opportunities. I might have to wait a year but I’m coming to Japan for sure! I never thought Japan as a place for such great diving.
Any chance we can dive end of March in Japan.?
I am visiting tokyo with my 2 daughters fm March 28 to April 7.
Is it still very cold?
Thanks for the great article 🙂
I’m visiting Japan in July/August and hoping to do some training (as never scuba dived before). Would you think this is possible in Japan or better to do in Thailand etc?
I don’t speak Japanese so an English speaking shop would maybe be best?
I am going to Japan from the 14. October to the first of November. I am going to live around Tokyo. I love freediving, so I hoped that some of you had some experiences about some nice, easy accessable spots, which can be visited in one day or an afternoon or so. I can dive to depths of maximum 20 meters. Unfortunately I don’t have unlimited space for diving-equipment in the suitcase. Any recomendations of locatoins and gear to bring would be very nice.