Surrounded by 29,751 km (18,486 mi) of coastline, the sixth longest in the world, Japan has plenty of opportunities for exploring the world under the sea. From snowy Hokkaido to subtropical Okinawa, Japan’s seas are a treasure trove for both experienced and beginner divers. Dive and take a look at the colorful sea creatures and explore the culinary delights that each area has to offer.
All major regions of Japan, from snowy Hokkaido in the north to subtropical Okinawa in the deep south, are treasure troves for diving. With a range of climates, the flora and fauna vary greatly, offering divers something different in each location.
Although there are some remote areas such as Okinawa that are far away from major cities, many of these diving spots are easily accessible from Tokyo, Nagoya or Osaka. As such, it makes a diving side trip (or main trip) possible when coming to Japan.
A few access-friendly locations, such as Shima in Mie Prefecture, Hayama in Kanagawa Prefecture and Tanabe in Wakayama Prefecture, make great diving stops for your journey in Japan.
For those more inclined for a farther away adventure, Okinawa’s Ishigakijima and Yonagunijima islands offer some breathtaking underwater scenery while Japan’s major northern island, Hokkaido, is teeming with sub-arctic sea creatures.
Japan has geographic advantages not seen in other countries. With its long coastline, thousands of islands, and range of climates, the Japanese archipelago is surrounded by two ocean currents that nourish marine life. The Oyashio (Parental Current) makes its way down from the cold Russian waters in the north and the Kuroshio (Black Current) travels up from the warmer waters of Okinawa.
This combination of warm and cold currents saturates the oceans with life as the Oyashio current is nutrient-rich. With a total of 33,629 species of marine life, Japan is a biodiversity hotspot for diving, so it’s easy to see why anybody would want to dive in Japan.
The westernmost island in Japan, almost reaching Taiwan, Yonagunijima Island is isolated from the rest of Okinawa. Underneath the water is a mysterious atmosphere, quite unlike anything you might have seen before: the Yonaguni Underwater Ruins. Explore the underwater world with local diving operators and gaze at the Atlantis-like structure. For wildlife, check out the hammerhead sharks and manta rays as they swim by.
Between Yonagunijima and Okinawa’s main island, lies the popular tourist destination, Ishigakijima Island. Teeming with regular tourist attractions and natural wonders, the island is a great place to dive and explore the world under the sea. Check out the diving operators in Kabira Bay, one of the island’s most popular spots. Manta rays can be seen throughout the year.
Sitting on the northeastern most edge of Hokkaido, Shiretoko Peninsula and its surroundings are worth visiting for the breathtaking views, winter phenomenon of drift ice, abundant wildlife and tasty seafood. Diving here offers potential views of seals and other cold-water sea life.
Tucked away in the southern part of Mie Prefecture, Shima is located in Ise-Shima National Park. The area has a rugged coastline with islands dotting the landscape, providing the perfect environment for diving activities.
Mie Prefecture is famous throughout Japan for ama, or women divers, who have a long history dating back around 5,000 years ago.
With only around 660 ama divers left in the country, the tradition is dying out. Although the ama traditionally dove into the waters with no more than a loincloth back in the day, visiting Shima will give you an opportunity to learn more about this unique traditional diving group.
There are plenty of opportunities for modern diving, with all the right equipment and a wetsuit. Diving operators such as Aristo Divers* (pictured above) and Sango Dive Station 35*, which is closer to Koushirahama Beach, a beach on the east side of the park. These operators offer first time experience diving with instructors and diving lessons. For more details, check out each diving center’s website for detailed information on times, classes, rentals, sea creatures you might be able to see, and reviews.
Here in Shima, you will find an array of sea creatures such as fish, crabs, and sea urchins that lay on the seafloor.
After spending a day admiring the sea and its abundant sea life, try a taste of what the sea has to offer. Mie prefecture is famous throughout Japan for Ise-ebi or spiny lobster.
Ise-Shima National Park has many restaurants that provide food caught by the ama. One such restaurant is Ama Hut, Hachiman Kamado, a seaside restaurant known for its culinary seafood delights and cultural entertainment.
The deluxe seafood set features a hearty meal consisting of clams, fish, lobster, turban shells and sides of miso soup with crab leg and rice. The seafood has an exuberant fresh taste that is quite unforgettable.
Located in the southern area of Wakayama Prefecture, Tanabe is nestled next to Wakayama’s famous beach area, Shirahama. With multiple diving operators in the area and beautiful beaches lining the coastline, Tanabe makes for the perfect summer getaway.
Operators such as L-Dive*, Tanabe Diving Service* or Sun Marine Scuba Diving Service* all offer different packages for experienced and beginners alike. To find out which place is the right one for you, check out the websites for more details.
Deep sea creatures such as the neon-yellow sea anemone or the Japanese Chromodoris, a colorful sea slug, are commonly found in the waters of Tanabe.
Warty frogfish have beautiful white and orange patterns on their bodies, making them potentially easy to spot while diving.
Tanabe has plenty of well-known foods and agricultural products, such as mikan and plums, but in terms of seafood shirasu is one of its famous exports. Shirasu (known as whitebait in English), as pictured above, are small fish less than 2cm long and are often used as a topping on rice for a hearty seafood meal.
Fresh shirasu is hard to come by in big cities like Tokyo or anywhere inland, so come to Tanabe to get a fresh taste of this Japanese seafood delicacy.
Another well-known seafood export from Tanabe are isagi or grunt fish in English. Caught all year round, isagi are a versatile fish that can be eaten as sashimi, fried or steamed. Visit the local restaurants to see if isagi is on the menu.
Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture
Although Kamakura and Enoshima get most of the attention from tourists, quiet and peaceful Hayama boasts one of the closest diving spots to Tokyo. Less than 1.5 hours by train, Hayama’s jagged coastline offers picturesque views and an ocean filled with colorful ocean life. Hayama is a Natural Monument designated area with a lush seaweed forest. It’s wide range of nudibranch lures many underwater photographers from all around the region.
A short hop away from Tokyo, Hayama is the perfect seaside break from more urban explorations up north in Yokohama or Tokyo.
There are a few diving operators in the area, most notably Hayama Diving Service* and Zushi Hayama Diving Resort*. For those interested in the pricing and packages of each place, be sure to click the links and check out the details.
Dive in Hayama and you will come across colorful sea life such as frogfish and fringehead blenny.
Hayama is famous for products such as shirasu, mikan as with other places, but Hayama is also known for wakame, a type of seaweed (pictured above) that goes well with miso soup, wakame soup and as a side dish. Check out the local restaurants for local offerings.
Although Hayama has a reputation for being a seaside getaway and for its wakame, the town is also famous for Hayama gyu or Hayama beef in Japanese. Juicy and tender, Hayama beef has rich, bold flavors that contrast with more subtle Japanese accompaniments such as rice or miso soup. There are numerous restaurants in the area that offer Hayama beef, check online for details and menus.
Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture
Japan’s long coastline, numerous islands, and geographic advantages make it a great location for exploring the world under the sea. Shima with its cultural background in diving with the ama, Tanabe with colorful sea life and Hayama with its convenient location to Tokyo all make them great spots to start a diving adventure.
These three places though, are only a small fraction of the areas in Japan that offer great diving spots. Research online to find the best place that resonates with you and your diving and cultural interests. The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) website is a great place to start. With culture in each location, delicious local seafood, and stunning sea life from a range of climates, Japan is the ultimate diving destination.
I’m a freelance translator and writer working in the media and entertainment industries. I enjoy photography and travel.