Scuba diving... in Japan?
Japan is known for samurais and sushi, but not for scuba diving.
But if you take the opportunity to explore Japan's waters and 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.
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.
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?
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