Although Japan is not often considered a major scuba diving destination, the nation is actually a strato-volcanic island chain comprising over 2400 islands. With all of the water surrounding the mountainous islands, it’s certainly easy to understand why tourists have become fascinated with the diving opportunities in Japan.
There are roughly 4 main regions where scuba diving is most popular, although not all of these are easy to get to. The easily accessible sites include those around the Izu Peninsula and the Ryukyu Islands, whilst the more difficult ones to reach can be found surrounding the Ogasawara Group of Islands and Tsushima Island in the Korean Strait.
Of course Japan is most famous for the capital city of Tokyo, and visitors may want to take a few days and nights to explore all that this bustling city has to offer before departing for the islands and scuba diving hubs. Tokyo boasts fantastic nightlife with an array of flashy, neon signs, bars, restaurants and interesting entertainment available only in Japan. There are also high-speed trains, major traffic jams and over 13 million people living in the city. Quite simply, Tokyo is an experience unlike any other and is definitely one to add to your travelling bucket list.
Best Diving Destinations in Japan
The Izu Peninsula is one of the more popular dive destinations and is located close to Tokyo, easily accessible by a fast train that takes just less than an hour from Tokyo city. The Izu Peninsula forms part of the “home islands”, and dive sites in this area were some of the first underwater areas in Japan to be explored for recreational purposes such as scuba diving. As such, a number of resorts and dive shops are available, especially near the bustling metropolitan areas, and many visitors choose to make this area their first stop. The area is very popular with tourists and boasts dive sites off both sides of the peninsula, making diving one of the major activities. Diving in this region stretches all the way back to 1965, when Japan’s very first dive site was founded here near the town of Atami. The site was known as Izu Ocean Park and since then the Izu Peninsula has grown in popularity with divers from all over Japan and the world. Hot springs are also located nearby the peninsula and make for a relaxing afternoon after an exciting morning dive or two.
In general, these northern islands present a cool and temperate climate when compared to the warmer subtropical waters in the south. Depending on the season, divers may require a thick wetsuit to dive here, and some may even opt for a dry suit to ensure they remain warm and comfortable throughout the dive. There is plenty to do around Izu Peninsula including fantastic aquariums and museums.
To experience something truly unique and interesting, head to the small Bay of Toba located to the south east of the Izu Peninsula, off the shores of Mikimoto Island. Home to the first commercial pearl divers in Japan, this area has a pearl diving museum and even offers the chance to see these professional divers, who are traditionally female, search for treasure in the cool waters below. There are also a number of dive sites accessible for those wanting to personally experience this historic area and take a swim in the pearl divers’ footsteps.
Collectively known as the Ryukyu Islands, these southern islands form just one of Japan’s 47 provinces – known as the Okinawa Prefecture or province. This area is worlds apart from the mainland of Japan with all its bright lights and city structures. The Okinawa Prefecture boasts very warm waters and a pleasant sub-tropical climate and is fast becoming one of Japan’s major scuba diving destinations. Renowned for its abundance of marine life including many sea turtles, this area of Japan and the island of Okinawa specifically is a must-visit for sea turtle enthusiasts. Many divers choose to start their Okinawa experience with a dive at the Sunabe Seawall located offshore from the cement seawall. This dive is an easy introduction to diving in Japan with shallow depths, clear waters and pleasant temperatures.
Yonaguni is at the very south of this island group and is in fact the farthest inhabited island in all of Japan. Yonaguni Monument probably holds the title for the most famous dive site in Japan, as it was the site of a mysterious underwater discovery back in 1986. Divers from all over the world now flock to this area to explore the underwater ruins which still remain a mystery to many. Some believe these giant underwater structures were manmade and are the remains of an ancient civilization, while others just enjoy the mystery behind the sites which total more than 70. Unfortunately the area is only accessible to divers with a great deal of experience as there are usually strong currents. Yonaguni is also famous for large schools of hammerheads, so be sure to take your underwater camera along as there is plenty to see and experience at Yonaguni.
Although it can be difficult to reach due to its remote location between the Korean peninsula and mainland Japan, the island of Tsushima offers great diving in a unique underwater setting. Tsushima boasts the world’s coldest and most northern coral reef in the world, with newly discovered coral species that marine biologists and scientists had never seen before the summer of 2012 when they were first discovered. These corals are definitely worth the visit if you are a coral enthusiast, as the vast majority of the world’s divers will never even have seen some of these species, however you’ll need to brave the cold waters here and renting a dry suit comes highly recommended. With scuba diving only recently becoming a sport in Tshushima, divers have the chance to venture where not many have been and see what not many have seen. Once there on Tsushima, divers can also experience dive sites around the nearby island of Iki, which is another up-and-coming dive destination.
Another difficult to reach destination, but one that is well worth the effort, is that of the Bonin Islands and the Ogasawara Group of Islands situated far into the Pacific. A 24-hour ferry ride is required from Tokyo Bay to reach Chichijima, the main island of this long island chain north of the Mariana Trench. The islands are actually giant underwater mountains of the Pacific, and although travelling to these islands may not be the easiest or the quickest trip you’ll ever make, it is guaranteed to be worth it. Upon arrival in the clear and warm waters of the Pacific it will be clear that you’ve entered scuba diving paradise, and the long trip will be entirely forgotten as soon as you submerge under the water and see the array of fantastic marine life on display. The area even hosts a number of endemic marine species such as the brightly coloured Japanese pygmy angel fish.
The best dive spots in the area are situated close to Chichijima, where the warm waters boast a number of sites including the wreck site of the Daimi Maru. Located in the main harbour of Chichijima, the wreck lies at a relatively shallow depth of 33 metres and presents a great opportunity to explore this historic vessel. Nearby Chichijima is the small island of Minamjima, known for its famous arch, stunning beaches and great diving opportunities. The Ogasawara Group of Islands includes the world-famous island of Iwojima which played a significant role and was made famous during WWII.
The islands also present fantastic whale sighting opportunities as they are located along the migration path of the enormous Sperm Whale and Humpback Whale. It is possible to see and even hear these magnificent creatures underwater at certain times of the year.
Getting to Japan
Tokyo is well connected internationally thanks to its two international airports, numerous regional airports, trains and ferries. For visitors coming from abroad, most flights will land at the Narita International Airport, whilst Tokyo International (or Haneda Airport as it is otherwise known) receives many of the domestic flights to and from Tokyo. As there are so many possible locations to scuba dive, visitors can reach these various destinations in a number of ways. The quickest way to reach most of the cities and islands is by a short hop flight, sometimes routing through mainland Asia or Taiwan to reach some of the islands in the south.
It is relatively easy to reach one of Japan’s most sought-after diving destinations, the island of Okinawa south of the mainland, as one simply takes a hop flight from Tokyo to Okinawa’s Naha Airport. Unfortunately, not all of the islands have airports such as the remote Ogasawara Islands located far into the Pacific Ocean. To get to these islands, one would need to take a ferry from Tokyo that takes more than 24 hours. Once there, however, the spectacular diving will make the long ferry ride worth it. The ferry only does this route on certain days of the week, so it is best to check the schedules when planning your journey.
Where to Stay in Japan
Where you decide to stay in Japan depends entirely on where you plan to dive, but thanks to the recent surge in popularity of scuba diving as a sport, many of the major diving areas now boast comfortable dive resorts and accommodation to suit a range of budgets. As short internal flights are relatively easy to arrange, it might be possible to explore a number of the Japanese diving regions if you have the time for it.
Japan is home to a number of great dive shops scattered all over the popular diving regions. Many of these dive shops are owned or operated by English speakers, which is of course extremely helpful for visitors looking to arrange dives and ask in-depth questions about certain sites. Many of these established dive shops will offer dive training, equipment hire and tours all around their specific region, assisting to arrange boat trips, qualified and knowledgeable dive instructors and helpful guides to truly make your diving experience in Japan a great one. Visitors are recommended to do a quick web search when planning their diving trip to Japan as many of these dive shops have comprehensive websites telling you where they are located and which sites they travel to.
When to Visit Japan
Although temperatures vary from north to south, Japan tends to experience 4 distinct seasons. The winter months are December, January and February and tend to be quite dry, mild and pleasant in the south, with sunny days and temperatures rarely dropping below 0°C even on the coldest of days. The northern regions experience a far harsher winter, however, with regular snowfall bringing great opportunities to ski but offering less than pleasant conditions for scuba divers.
Spring is a great time of year in Japan and runs from March to May. The famous Japanese cherry blossoms can be seen during these months, and the weather is warm but has yet to reach the hot and humid temperatures of summer. Spring also tends to be quite a dry season, so it often proves to be the most popular time to visit for all tourists and not just scuba divers. If you are planning to visit Japan in the Spring, be sure to avoid the last week in April and the first week in May as this is Golden Week, the longest holiday of the entire year when everybody travels elsewhere in Japan. Prices are likely to increase during this time as there is a high demand for accommodation. If you want to experience Golden Week for yourself, however, be sure to book far in advance to avoid disappointment.
Japan experiences hot and humid summers with temperatures high in the 30°C range. Water temperatures are of course also warmer during the summer months from June to August, and can reach up to 31°C in the southern-most islands, which may feel as if you are diving in bath water! Summer is clearly a great time for divers to explore the many dive sites on offer, although it would be best to try and avoid the 3-4 week rainy season which comes with the high temperatures of summer. It is during this rainy period that Japanese farmers plant their rice for the following season.
Autumn in Japan is also pleasant but temperatures cool quite rapidly to between 8 and 10°C. Autumn is experienced in the months of September, October and November.