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Diving in Hokkaido

Dip under the ice floes for a magical ice diving experience with sea angels in Hokkaido.

Diving in Hokkaido

Quick facts

Diving in Hokkaido mostly happens at the Shiretoko Peninsula that protrudes into the Sea of Okhotsk and in Lake Shikotsu which is in the town of Sapporo. The Shiretoko Peninsula is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and diving usually takes place in February to March when the sea ice is just beginning to break up and ice floes appear off the coast of the peninsula.

Ice diving is certainly not for the faint-hearted but it is rewarding and a very unique experience. A basic open water certification is sufficient but there is likely to be a strict brief about procedures and safety measures before diving. Donning a drysuit, you are likely to dive for less than half an hour and only go as deep as 49ft (15m) as water temperatures are below 37˚F (3˚C). Visibility underneath the ice floes is about 66ft (20m) and on a bright sunny day, the underwater scene is surreal with the sunshine penetrating the ceiling of ice and cute little cliones, or sea angels, flittering about.

Diving in Lake Shikotsu, a caldera lake, is another interesting experience as the lake is known as the clearest lake in Japan. Most of the dive operators can be found at the west side of the lake and it is possible to dive there on a year-round basis as the lake does not freeze over during winter. A good time to pick is during salmon season where you can see spawning of red salmon which have made their way upriver into the lake.

When to go

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Water temperature

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What to see

At first glance, it appears as if there isn’t much to see when ice diving off the coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula but after a closer look, especially right under the ice floes, divers will be delighted. The most interesting creature to look out for is the clione. The clione is a small floating sea slug that is translucent and appears to have wings thus it is often referred to as a sea angel. Besides the clione, there are small jellyfish and plankton floating about, sea stars, anemones, and even some small shrimp. At the lake, there isn’t much underwater life to see except for red salmon during spawning season.


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The island of Hokkaido lies to the north of Japan, close to Russia, and is the second largest island of the country. The island is mountainous and has five volcanoes which are considered active. The largest city on Hokkaido is Sapporo and the island is the least developed of Japan, boasting many national parks and beautiful pristine forests.

Hokkaido was home to the Ainu, Nivkh, and Orok people long before Japanese and Russians arrived to the island. Wars were fought between the Japanese and Ainu people over the 13th to 17th century and during the 19th century, the interest turned protecting the island from Russian invasion. In the 20th century during World War II, there were air and sea attacks on the island resulting in wreckage sinking along the southern coast of Hokkaido.

Today, tourism is an important part of Hokkaido’s economy because of its beautiful parks with lakes, forests, mountains and cool climate. The island makes for a wonderful summer escape and is a draw for winter sports enthusiasts with places like Niseko and also great festivals like the Sapporo Snow Festival every year in February.

Other attractions

From April to October, go whale watching for dolphins, whales or to see sea birds. Winter time is perfect to visit Sapporo for the festival and also for snow sports in Niseko. Other than that, visit hot springs, taste Japan’s culinary delights and go sightseeing in the city or nature parks.

Getting there

Use the train networks to get to Sapporo or take short internal flights from within Japan. There are also international flights directly to Sapporo from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, China and also Russia. From Sapporo, there are trains to get you to the Shiretoko Peninsula and driving is also an option.


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Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.

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