Diving in Japan: The full guide to diving in Japan

Diving in Japan: The full guide to diving in Japan

Scuba diving in Okinawa, Japan

Takashi Usui

Japan is known for kimonos and sushi, not for scuba diving.

It’s often overlooked in favor of more popular dive destinations like Thailand or the Philippines.

But take a moment 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.

General info about Japan

Because Japan is an archipelagic country with islands covering over 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 20C in winter and 31C in 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.

The pleasures of diving in Japan

David Mckee

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 hot 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 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. As the manta rays glide above, swimming to and fro and feeding on plankton.

Read the full guide to Diving in Ishigaki Island.

Diving at Kerama Islands

Scuba diving in Japan

Bonnie Waycott

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

Diving the Miyakojima swim through in Japan

Bonnie Waycott

Miyakojima takes you away from coral formations and into a world of limestone caves 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 vapour 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

Diving in Tokunoshima, Japan

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 interested in divers and more than happy for you to take close up shots.

If you opt for the more challenging point, take a good look at the massive monoliths that are a great example of Japan's volcanic geology.

Kozushima is the Macro diving paradise

Diving the MAcro dive spot in Kozushima, Japan

Bonnie Waycott

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

Scuba diving in Japan

Amanda Nicholls

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 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

Osezaki Bay diving in Japan

Bonnie Waycott

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

Underwater macro photographing in Japan

Bonnie Waycott

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 a 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

Ice Diving in Japan

Bonnie Waycott

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.

Ice diving at Hokkaido, Japan

Bonnie Waycott

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.

Diving at Yoronto in Japan

Bonnie Waycott

That's just on the beaches, but underwater another spectacular world waits to be visited. The most popular dive sites are between 8 and 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.

Scuba diving in Japan

Bonnie Waycott

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.

About The Author

Bonnie Waycott

Bonnie is our diving in Japan expert! She was born in the UK and lived in Japan as a child. She became a certified diver four years ago in New Caledonia, and has been exploring Japan's waters ever since.

11 Comments

  1. Sandra huebner

    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?

    Great pictures!

    Reply
  2. Bonnie Waycott

    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!

    Reply
  3. Martin Jonson

    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!

    Reply
  4. Bonnie Waycott

    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!

    Reply
  5. Martin Jonson

    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.

    Reply
  6. CHARYN MCGINNIS

    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?

    Reply
  7. Siddharth Jayaswal

    Hey Bonnie,
    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?

    Reply
  8. Richard Klingbiel

    Are there any liveaboard dive boats serving Japan dive sites?

    Reply
  9. Bonnie Waycott

    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.

    Reply
  10. Lynda Pinto-Graf

    Hi Bonnie,

    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.

    Cheers
    Lynda

    Reply
    • Bonnie Waycott

      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: http://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.

      Best wishes,
      Bonnie

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