Ishigaki Island is where my diving adventures in Japan began.
What's so special about this place is not just the crystal clear blue water and picture perfect tropical reef.
It’s also the graceful manta ray that has one of the most visually striking appearances of any large marine animal.
Every year loads of divers head to Ishigaki Island just to see these harmless giants up close.
2000 kilometres south of Tokyo, Ishigaki Island is a heavenly retreat for those wishing to escape the big city for a few days. It's a chance to unwind by gliding over the reef with manta rays or exploring the white sandy beach of Kabira Bay.
Many visitors soon return for another piece of this Japanese diving paradise.
The name says it all. But at first glance there isn't anything special about Manta Scramble. Located just off Kabira Bay, it's one of Ishigaki Island's main dive points, 10m deep with rocks and coral heads here and there.
But this is where manta rays come to feed on plankton and be cleaned. So it's the place to be if you want a spectacular underwater show with figures drifting closer and closer and hovering overhead.
If photos are your thing, you can do more here than marvel at what's going on above you.
Below The Water
Okinawa offers some of Japan's best scuba diving and Ishigaki Island is no exception. It's surrounded by colourful coral and blue transparent water so the diving here is quite diverse. The variety and quantity of life is outstanding and some of the most striking species are found here, including little blennies and gobies that come together to form clouds of colour.
Between January and March, visitors are in for a treat as humpback whales migrate along the coast, jumping and playing in the warm Okinawan waters. All the while an endangered population of around 50 or fewer dugongs is said to survive off Okinawa.
Osaki Hanagoi Reef
My favourite dive spot is Osaki Hanagoi reef that takes its name from the anthias fish (hanagoi in Japanese). It's a sloping site that becomes rockier the deeper you go. It's full of anthias fish of course, as well as a variety of other colourful fish and moray eels that hide in every hole and remain on guard.
With almost no current, it's a relaxing experience for divers of all levels.
January is when the cuttlefish here spawn and as they deposit their eggs on the coral, they are perfectly happy to swim close to divers so keep your camera handy!
Mash I And Mash II
These points are named after huge mushroom-like coral structures at around 10 meters. Below is an aquarium-like world of table coral, star and brain coral that mix together to form a dense carpet that stretches for miles. Look out for sea snakes in search of food or a ray shaking off its sand camouflage as it emerges from the bottom.
Over the coral is a collection of sea anemones shielding varying kinds of clown fish with other species like spider crabs and trumpet fish very close by.
One of Ishigaki Island's most popular beaches, Kabira Bay is famous for its emerald water, fine white sand and black pearl industry.
If you're looking for something to do in between diving, you can tour the beach in glass-bottomed boats or simply lounge around by the water next to the verdant trees.
Getting And Staying There
There are direct flights with JAL and ANA that take about 3.5 hours from Tokyo’s Haneda airport. In March 2013 Ishigaki's Island's new airport opened, bringing more direct flights from regions across Japan and making the island a lot more accessible. Definitely good news for the keen diver!
The best place to stay is the city centre. I recommend the Hotel Grantia but there are other places offering basic accommodation.
You can hire a car next to the airport, 3,000yen for a 12-hour rental.
Have you dived in Ishigaki Island, Japan?
How was your dive? Would you recommend the diving to others? Maybe you could share some dive site tips in the comments below!