Japan has become one of the trendiest travel destinations in the last decade. More and more, scuba divers visiting the land of the rising sun wonder how it would be possible to enjoy their passion in an archipelago which boasts almost 30,000 km of coastline. When you say Japan and scuba diving, the first destination that comes in mind is Okinawa. The subtropical islands are south of mainland Japan are often referred to as Japanese Hawaii. After spending two months exploring the different islands of the Okinawan Archipelago, here are my 5 favourite dive sites.
Kaitei Iseki “Underwater Monument”, Yonaguni Island
It is maybe the most famous dive site in Japan. A mysterious monolith, 100 m from the shore and 25 m deep, lies below the surface. Geological wonder or traces of an ancient alien civilisation? The underwater monument of Yonaguni became the source of many theories. What could have been overrated due to a too good marketing story was, in the end, one of the most fascinating dives I ever did. The only sure thing is that the underwater monument will get you thinking with its massive right angles, straight walls and carved figures. Due to the currents conditions, this dive is recommended to advanced divers only.
Manza Dream Hole, Okinawa Island
I know it’s confusing, there is an Okinawa Island in the Okinawa Archipelago. Home of the capital of the Prefecture, Naha, the island is the natural gate for scuba divers exploring dive sites of Okinawa for the first time. Of all the dives sites I tried in Okinawa Island, the ones around Cape Manzamo on the west coast were by far my favourites. At Manza Dream Hole, the dives start at 5 m deep with a densely populated healthy coral reef. Then a large hole appears in the centre of the reef. A chimney takes you down to 25 m. The tunnel exit is a bright blue window leading to the deepest part of the reef. This dive site is deep and requires perfect control of your buoyancy, so again only recommended to advanced divers.
Cape 7, Zamami Island
The Kerama Islands are a marine national park just an hour west from Naha. Of all the islands of this archipelago, Zamami has the most beautiful beaches, and this is where you have the highest chance to see turtles underwater. With excellent visibility and very little to no current, you will enjoy a mosaic of sand patches and coral reefs boasting with marine life such as spotted sweet-lips, tomato anemonefish, and fire dartfish.
Kabira Bay, Ishigaki Island
Ishigaki Island enjoys one of the highest encounter rates with manta rays in the world: it is manta season all year long! Depending on the winds, the dive centres go either north or south. However, among all the cleaning stations to be found around Ishigaki Island, “Manta City” in the superb Kabira Bay (one of the most beautiful beaches in Japan) will fill your manta dreams in the summer season from May to November. All levels of scuba divers can join.
Potato Reef, Taketomi Island
A bit out of the Okinawan scuba diving beaten path, I found the perfect spots for those of us who love going on a treasure hunt underwater to discover tiny critters. When you stay for 60 minutes at 12 m around a small coral pinnacle, it is usually a good sign! Nudibranchs, glassfish, ribbon eel, baby octopus, juvenile parrotfish, coral hawkfish: this dive is a must for all underwater photographers. Don’t forget your macro lens!
Florine is a PADI Divemaster and a Dive Travel blogger at World Adventure Divers. She dives in tropical to extreme cold waters, selecting her destinations when both adventure diving and cultural discoveries are part of the journey, and showing you how to do it without breaking the bank.