The Ultimate Guide
HokkaidoHow to get there
A Must-do Bucket List Dive in Winter
Hokkaido is mostly known among tourists as a skiing destination during the winter months, but why not add diving in Shakotan to your to-do list while visiting Hokkaido? Shakotan is roughly 3 hours away from Sapporo via train/bus. Of course, you can also drive by car to Shakotan from Sapporo if you feel comfortable driving in deep powder snow. (Note: You should not ski or snowboard immediately after diving, as there is a risk of decompression sickness)
A Day of Diving in Shakotan
Diving in Hokkaido is still not as well known even among the Japanese.
The winter coastlines of snow-covered gorges are majestic and picturesque, and there is much thrill and excitement awaiting visitors underwater as well. One must, however, be prepared for some harsh conditions: temperatures are well below freezing on land and can be between 4-8 degrees Celsius underwater. There is also heavy and incessant snow and choppy waves on the ocean surface. But beyond these difficult conditions lies great reward; winter diving allows you an exclusive chance to see Steller sea lions and giant octopuses—big animals that will get your adrenaline rushing for sure.
Dive shops may have some challenges communicating in English, but they do welcome guests from overseas.
Head to Sapporo, Hokkaido1
Sapporo New Chitose airport will most likely be your point of disembarkation within Hokkaido. Take a direct flight from Tokyo Haneda airport to Sapporo, which will only take 1.5 hours.
Head to Shakotan2
Shakotan can be reached either by bus or by a combination of train and bus. Either option will take about 3 hours from Sapporo over a distance of around 80 km.
By bus: From the airport, go to Sapporo Eki Mae Bus Terminal. There will be a bus that runs to Otaru Eki Mae bus terminal every 20 minutes. After riding for about an hour, get off at Otaru Eki Mae. From Otaru, you need to wait for the bus that heads to Bikuni. Hop on that bus and ride for about an hour and 20 minutes until you reach Bikuni Funama, which is in Shakotan. Staff from the dive shop (Aquacat Horomui) will pick you up here. The drive to the dive shop will take another 20 minutes.
Get ready to dive! After gearing up warmly at the dive shop, you will walk over to the harbor, less than 5 minutes away from the shop.
10:00 – 1st Dive4
The boat will leave the harbor roughly around 10:00, depending on ocean conditions. After a short 10-minute boat ride, you will find yourself underwater, swimming along the coastal ridges. During the winter months, you will be searching for the giant octopuses that hide underneath rocks—adults can reach 2-3 meters in length! However, also be on the lookout for the sea lions that could swing by for a surprise visit at any moment!
Enjoy a 30-40 min dive, stop for safety at 5 meters, and exit the water.
Once you are back at the harbor, change your scuba tank and leave your gear for the next dive. Go back inside the dive shop for lunch and prepare yourself for the next dive.
Strolling around outside the dive shop to enjoy the surrounding nature and beauty is one great way to spend this time.
13:30 – 2nd Dive6
Besides looking out for big animals like the giant octopus and sea lions, divers should not forget that there are also beautiful macro subjects that hide within the reefs of Shakotan.
Wash your equipment, take a shower, change clothes, and have another snack.
If you did not see any sea lions underwater, you might have a chance to see them along the cliffs or near the harbor.
The dive shop will then bring you back to the bus station at Bikuni, from where you can choose to head back to Sapporo or spend a night in Otaru. Typically, you will be heading back to the bus station between 4-5:00 pm.