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Explore the best places to go diving in Japan

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Planet Earth is covered with fantastic diving destinations. From crystal-clear mountain lakes to warm tropical coral reefs, your options for underwater exploration are seemingly endless. Few areas offer nearly all types of diving in a single location; however, the small country of Japan does just that. From the icy cold north to the warm, tropical south, Japan covers just about every type of diving known to man.

Ice Diving
Image copyright: SSI

Divers in Japan can explore everything from reefs to caves and even glaciers. Since Japan covers an area of 3000 km, the climate and water temperatures vary significantly from region to region. As a result, each area has its own unique ecosystem, offering a wide variety of scuba dives, from ice diving in the north’s Hokkaido to tropical diving in the south’s world-famous Okinawa. Come to Japan and experience all four seasons, not just above the water but below it as well.

Sea to Sky

Starting from north to south, here is our list of the best places to dive in Japan.

Shiretoko Peninsula, Hokkaido.

Often referred to as ‘the wild north, Japan’s Hokkaido region is a nature lover’s paradise. Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost and second-largest island, with the least development. Home to four distinct seasons, this volcano-covered island offers fantastic winter skiing, beautiful summer hiking, refreshing geothermal springs (called onsen), and excellent cold-water diving year-round. This cold water is rich in nutrients that attract large marine animals like whales, dolphins, and seals for spectacular encounters and healthy kelp forests, which create beautiful underwater scenery.

Liquid Diving

The Shiretoko Peninsula is one of the most famous areas in Hokkaido to go diving and is labelled as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Once you see the beauty this area offers, you will know why! Bring your dry suit, as diving the Sea of Okhotsk is not for the faint of heart; however, you will be rewarded with some of the most unique diving on the planet. From January through March each year, divers can experience the famous drifting sea ice flowing south from Siberia, just off the peninsula. Amongst the breathtaking ice floes, you can catch a glimpse of the elusive sea angel and a plethora of colorful nudibranchs.  

School of Fish
Photo by karen kayser on Unsplash


Thanks to its proximity to the capital city of Tokyo, Chiba is easily accessible, which makes it a popular place to go diving in Japan. The Boso Peninsula of Chiba sticks out into the Pacific Ocean, making it a popular destination for not just scuba diving but other watersport activities like surfing, fishing, kayaking, and more. Chiba is easy to reach as it is home to Japan’s largest international airport and just a ferry ride across the harbor from Tokyo.

Tokyo, Japan
Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

Chiba offers a unique marine environment where warm, clear water from the south collides with the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the north, offering divers an exciting mix of tropical and cold-water marine life encounters. Divers of all certification levels will enjoy the numerous banded hound sharks that patrol these waters, giant sheepshead, the Japanese red stingray, and a colorful variety of nudibranchs and other macro life. If you’re lucky, you might see a butterfly ray or bullhead shark on one of your dives in Chiba. 

Izu Peninsula

Just south of Chiba lies the Izu Peninsula, another easily accessible dive destination from Tokyo. Visitors to the region can hop on an overnight ferry from Tokyo and be greeted with spectacular mountainous coastlines the following day or take the 45-minute bullet train to Atami. This resort area is popular for its beautiful beaches, stunning topography, refreshing hot springs, and mild climate.

The Izu Peninsula is well-known for having the best shore diving in mainland Japan and offers great diving on both the west and east sides of the peninsula. In the Mikomoto area, divers can encounter schools of hammerhead sharks. Throughout the region, you will find the native cherry bass swimming amongst billowing soft corals and the occasional sea turtle. Photographers enjoy this region’s micro marine life, including frogfish, nudibranchs, blennies, and seahorses. Adventure divers will also love the unusual rock formations, giving divers in the Izu Peninsula exciting caves, caverns, and tunnels to explore.

Iriomote Island, Okinawa Sea
Iriomote Island, Okinawa Sea
Photo by Hiroko Yoshii on Unsplash

Ogasawara Islands

Moving from Japan’s mainland to the far southeast, you will find a cluster of 30 isolated islands known as the Ogasawara Islands (or Bonin Islands in English). Due to its remote location, the Ogasawara Islands have witnessed similar evolutionary processes on land and in the sea as seen in the Galapagos Islands, housing many endemic species. Due to its unique ecosystem, the sub-tropical Ogasawara Islands are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors can only access the two inhabited cities of Chichijima and Hahajima by a 24-hour ferry ride from Tokyo.

However, the long commute to these remote islands is well worth it. Divers will be greeted with exciting marine life encounters. Sand tiger sharks congregate in the Futami port and are particularly easy to see on night dives when they like to hunt. Daytime divers have a strong probability of running into a pod of spinner or bottlenose dolphins, and between February and April, you may see humpback whales. The entire region is covered in healthy brain, starburst, cauliflower, and frogspawn coral species and colorful fish abound. Diving in Japan’s Ogasawara Islands is a true once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Yoron Island

Commonly known as Yoronjima, Yoron Island is Japan’s hidden paradise, and once you catch a glimpse of this island’s white-sand beaches and azure-blue waters, you’ll know why. With an average temperature of 22 degrees Celsius year-round, Yoron Island draws tourists of all types. Those looking to “get away” will enjoy its relaxed atmosphere, and adventurers will love the diving, kayaking, and exploring this island offers. Located just north of Okinawa in Japan’s Amami region, Yoronjima is a quaint subtropical island surrounded by cobalt seas and fringing coral reefs.

With much of the island lying within the protected borders of the Amami Gunto National Park, Yoronjima diving is pristine, and fish life is abundant. Divers of all certification levels will enjoy the interesting underwater topography adorned with beautiful arches, fun swim-throughs, and narrow passageways. Macro life includes frogfish, sea horses, pipefish, Christmas tree worms, and many nudibranchs. Larger marine life encounters include sea turtles, squid, huge schools of tuna, triggerfish, bluestripe snappers, and much more!

Okinawa Island

Okinawa is one of Japan’s most popular diving destinations. As the fifth largest island in Japan, it is home to over 1.3 million people, yet it is the least populated of Japan’s five main islands. Tourists will discover raw natural beauty and rich cultural heritage when they visit Okinawa and its surrounding islands. On land, you can explore beautiful sand beaches in secluded coves, castle ruins, and amazing cuisine.

Underwater, Okinawa boasts warm, crystal-clear waters bursting with vibrant coral reefs. Divers flock here every year to witness the beauty of Okinawa both above and below the surface. While diving, you will see nearly 200 different species of hard and soft corals that are home to many fish species, as well as octopus, cuttlefish, squid, and reef sharks. During the winter months, whales migrate through these waters, and you can often hear them singing during your dive. The USS Emmons is an excellent wreck dive, and Hedodom Cave is an exciting dive site accessible via an underwater passageway. 

Kerama Islands

Just a short boat ride from Okinawa’s main island lies a pristine archipelago set against lush green mountains with world-class diving, beautiful beaches, and diverse wildlife. The Kerama Islands are protected by the Keramashoto National Park, which engulfs these 30+ islets that are home to biodiverse flora and fauna on land and in the sea. Spend your days snorkeling, diving, and whale watching in the surrounding turquoise waters, or hiking through the dramatic mountainous landscape. Then, waste the remainder of the day relaxing on one of the many white sand beaches.

Diving enthusiasts will be greeted underwater with spectacular views of vibrant coral formations swarming with schools of tropical fish. As one of Japan’s premier diving destinations, the Kerama Islands are renowned for offering exceptional visibility, warm water, and incredible marine biodiversity. With over 60 dive sites to explore, ranging from shallow coral gardens to dramatic drop-offs and intricate cave systems, Open Water divers and Advanced Open Water divers alike will enjoy year-round diving throughout these enchanting islands.

Ishigaki Island, Hirakubo, Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan
Ishigaki Island, Hirakubo, Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan
Photo by Vladimir Haltakov on Unsplash

Ishigaki Island

Often rated as hosting the best diving in Japan, Ishigaki Island sits in the far southwest region of the country in the emerald waters of the Pacific. Tourists flock here year-round for the incredible views, soft sandy beaches, and world-class snorkeling, diving, and surfing. June through October are the best months to visit this idyllic dive destination.

Thanks to Ishigaki’s incredibly high number of manta cleaning stations, this island has become one of the best places in the world to dive with manta rays. These cleaning stations attract hundreds of mantas every year, with the most famous site being Manta Scramble in Kabira Bay. Due to its shallow depth and excellent visibility, this site is a great place for snorkelers and divers alike to encounter manta rays. During the breeding season, you can see over a dozen mantas waiting their turn to get cleaned.

Akita, Japan
Akita, Japan
Photo by Michael Sum on Unsplash

Yonaguni Island

Underwater ruins, tropical waters, and hammerheads galore – this sums up diving on Yonaguni Island. The westernmost inhabited island of Japan, Yonaguni Island sits just offshore from Taiwan between the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea, making it a tropical paradise. Far from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, this quiet island attracts those searching for beautiful coastlines and magnificent beaches year-round. Between dives, you can find breathtaking sites on many of Yonaguni’s excellent hiking trails.

Underwater, however, is where the real adventure begins. Diving on Yonaguni Island is sure to amaze even the most skeptical diver. If you visit from November to June, hammerhead sharks form large schools and can be seen daily. The underwater landscape is captivating, with unique geological features thought by some to be man-made structures dating back thousands of years. The most notable site is the Yonaguni Monument, where you can explore this mysterious underwater monolith. Other exciting encounters include barracuda, manta rays, marlin, and whale, tiger, and bull sharks. Diving Japan’s Yonaguni Island is always full of adventure.

Diving in Japan is not usually what draws tourists to this culturally rich destination, but it should, as Japan features some spectacular options. Every season of the year offers a unique diving experience throughout Japan’s vast and diverse country. No matter your diving experience level, you will find some incredible adventures, both above and below the surface.



About Author

For more than 45 years, SSI has provided training, scuba diving certification, and educational resources for divers, dive instructors, dive centers and resorts around the world. Started in 1970, SSI has expanded to include more than 30 Service Centers, is represented in more than 110 countries with over 2,800 International locations, and has materials printed in more than 30 languages. SSI is the name to trust in the diving world, and we attribute that success to our uncompromising standards and focused methodology.

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