When you think of scuba diving hot spots, Japan might not be the first place that comes to mind. But with its subtropical climate and vast marine life, the entire archipelago offers an undiscovered series of diving gems.
Well, undiscovered for tourists, that is. Scuba diving in Japan is extremely popular: The country has the second-highest number of certified divers in the world after the United States. And with locales like Okinawa, perched on the East China Sea, it’s easy to see why.
The largest island in the Okinawa Islands archipelago (which contains three smaller island groups), Okinawa Island boasts coral reefs and upwards of 200 species of marine life. Depending on when and where you dive, you could see manta rays, whale sharks, hammerheads or humpback whales.
The tropical waters of Okinawa offer flawless visibility, stretching more than 130 feet in some areas. With a year-round average temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the warmer water (averaging 85 in the summer and 71 in the winter) is super hospitable to swimmers. Divers should be mindful of typhoon season, between July and October, when weather conditions can cause dives to be postponed or cancelled. Flexibility in travel plans is key – for example, you may want to plan a diving excursion early in your trip to allow for postponement due to strong winds or currents.
How to get there
It’s easy to include a trip to Okinawa Island as part of your larger stay in Japan. ANA offers flexible domestic flights to Naha, the island’s largest city, for passengers who live outside of the country and have an international return ticket. In that case, travelers only have to book three days in advance, making it possible to work around the weather.
Once on the island, transportation is available by local bus or the “limousine bus” service that links the Naha Airport to local luxury resorts. Divers don’t have to be guests of the hotels in order to take it, and since it makes fewer stops, the service cuts your travel time between the town center and the incredible dive spots in the area.
Where to dive
Okinawa has hundreds of dive shops where you can go to rent gear and schedule an underwater excursion with a guide. While there are some shops with only Japanese-speaking staff, there are also plenty of crews that speak fluent English, like Piranha Divers Okinawa in the Kunigami District and Reef Encounters, an American-based shop in Chatan.
Many of the best dive spots are only a short drive or boat ride from the main island. One of the island’s most popular spots is the Manza Dream Hole, right off the main island’s west coast. The dive begins down a 25-meter hole, goes through a horizonal cave and opens up to a chamber spinning with schools of thousands of fish. Another popular spot is Zampa Point, a 100-foot vertical sea wall in a mild current that’s full of caves, swim-throughs and sea horses.
Beyond the main island of Okinawa, neighboring islands such as Miyakojima and Ishigaki also make for excellent diving. With such diverse marine life and welcoming warm water, Okinawa is worth the extra trip for an epic scuba diving experience.