Scuba Diving in Japan?!
Okay, so Japan may not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of scuba diving. But in fact, the country has over 2,000 dive spots. And with the Japanese archipelago ranging from the sub-tropical Okinawa to the almost arctic cold of northern Hokkaido, there is sure to be something for every kind of diver. In particular, in addition to warm weather all year round and equally warm people, the southern island prefecture of Okinawa provides world-class scuba diving.
Hatoma Island, Okinawa Prefecture
Because it's only an hour by train from central Tokyo, Izu Peninsula is the most popular dive destination on the mainland. It includes both Japan's first dive spot - Izu Oceanic Park, on the east coast - and the best on the main island of Honshu - Osezaki, on the west coast. A wide variety of shore, harbor and boat dives are available from the many coastal towns. The area is actually more famous for its onsen or hot spring, resorts. So you can enjoy soaking in a therapeutic, steaming hot bath after a day's diving in less than tropical waters. For destinations further down the peninsula, a two-day trip from Tokyo is advisable and you'll need to travel by road to reach most of them. Some of the more popular spots are Futo (known for its eagle rays), Kumomi (with its great view of Mt. Fuji on a clear day) and the tiny island of Mikomoto, which has deep, clear water and big fish, but also strong currents and is only for experienced divers.
Officially part of Tokyo and part of the Fuji Hakone Izu national park, this chain of seven islands starts with the main island of Oshima, located in the mouth of Tokyo Bay and about 2 hours by ferry from the city. Residents of the island of Miyakejima were evacuated in 2000 following volcanic activity and a considerable part of the island remains uninhabitable.
Also officially part of Tokyo, the Ogasawara Islands stretch a whopping 1,850km south of the city. Moving that far south, of course the water becomes considerably warmer and clearer, making this an ideal dive destination for those looking for something longer than a day trip.
A three-hour flight from Tokyo (two from Osaka), Okinawa is Japan's version of a tropical paradise. It's the country's southern-most prefecture and has a history and culture quite different to that of the mainland. A wonderful holiday destination at just about any time of year, it's also got the best scuba diving in Japan. The US military has most of its Japanese forces concentrated in Okinawa, with the result that English is widely spoken and western-style entertainment is plentiful in areas near the bases.
The Okinawan people are famous for their hospitality and the climate is good year-round (though typhoons do pass through in season). The prefecture is made up of several clusters of islands, including the Yonaguni islands, home to what many people think to be a sunken city or civilization at Isseki point. Okinawa saw the most intense warfare of WWII but most ship wrecks are in water too deep for recreational diving, the only exception being the USS Emmons, a destroyer escort sunk off the Kerama Islands. The Keramas are the closest to the mainland and also offer the best dive spots in the region, about 100 in all, with crystal clear water and amazing coral formations. Other top spots for diving are on the main island of Okinawa, Ishigaki, Iriomote and Yonaguni islands.
Hokkaido and Northern Japan
If ice diving is your thing, the Sea of Okhotsk off the coast of Hokkaido offers spectacular ice drifts. Other popular spots for dry suit diving in northern Japan include the Sea of Japan island of Sado in Niigata Prefecture and the coast of the Tsugaru Peninsula in Aomori Prefecture.
Iriomote Island's "Last Paradise"
Coral off Hatoma Island