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Diving in Okinawa

A subtropical, world-class diving destination, Okinawa’s crystal-clear waters allow divers to truly appreciate its stunning underwater seascapes.

Diving in Okinawa

Quick facts

Located at the southwestern tip of the Japanese archipelago, Okinawa is comprised of 160 islands, 49 of which are inhabited, spreading 1000 kilometres/620 miles from east to west and 400 kilometres/250 miles from north to south. Okinawa’s proximity to Southeast Asia once made it an important trading hub; now, the region is growing in popularity as a dive destination for Chinese and Korean tourists due to its beauty and close proximity to Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul. The best way to describe Okinawa is chanpuru, a Japanese word that translates to “mixed culture.” Chanpuru is used to describe the amalgamation of traditions that make up Okinawa – a mixture of Ryukyu, Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian and American cultures; chanpuru is also the best word to describe the seas of Okinawa. A subtropical, world-class diving destination, Okinawa’s crystal-clear waters allow divers to truly appreciate its stunning underwater seascapes. Caves, tunnels, drops and wrecks are all commonplace, and the endless opportunities to explore are what makes the diving in Okinawa so addictive. From the mysterious ruins of Yonaguni and the scattered remnants of from WWII, to the Manta Scramble of Ishigaki Island and the schools of gigantic hammerhead shark at Kume Island, Okinawa is a diver’s delight.

Recommended training

Okinawa’s crystal-clear waters and large selection of dive sites make it an ideal location to learn to dive in the PADI Open Water Diver course; the abundance of shallow dives and marine life make it a relaxing and wondrous experience for first-time divers. If you’re already PADI certified, look to take the PADI Deep Diver, PADI Boat Diver and PADI Drift Diver courses to make the most of Okinawa’s sea currents and deeper sites. From May through June, Okinawa experiences coral spawning, a truly magical experience by night – consider the PADI Night Diver specialty if you’re traveling during this season. To completely immerse yourself in the culture and water of Okinawa, consider becoming a PADI Pro by taking the PADI Divemaster course or becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor.

When to go

Okinawa’s subtropical climate keeps it comfortable and temperate year-round. During winter, temperatures rarely drop below 10° C/50° F, and during summer you’ll feel comfortable in a shade when the sea breeze blows. Don’t forget to bring sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s strong rays. The southern islands, such as Miyako and Ishigaki, tend to be 1-2° C/2-4° F warmer than Okinawa Island.

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Yosuji-no-ne, Okinawa (main island) – This dive site is named after the yosuji, or blue-banded snapper that inhabit this spot in large schools at depths of 24 metres/80 feet. Here, divers will find luminous cardinalfish, sea goldies and schooling bannerfish, which like to group around rocks at depths of 16 metres/50 feet. USS Emmons, Okinawa (main island) – This Gleaves-class destroyer was sunk in a kamikaze attack in April 1945, killing 60 American crew and five Japanese pilots. Suitable only for experienced divers, Emmons sits between 36 to 45 metres/120 to 150 feet and is still property of the United States Navy. At this fascinating site, divers will get to see the ship’s cannons, screws, ammunition, machine guns and the helmet of a soldier. Yonaguni Monument, Yonaguni Island – This amazing formation is located off the westernmost coast of Japan. Controversy surround the ruins, also referred to as the “Yonaguni Pyramid,” as experts disagree whether the formations are man-made relics of an ancient sunken civilization or naturally occurring geological structures. The mysterious site sits approximately 30 metres/100 feet beneath the surface and features step-like rocks and formations that look like footpaths and amphitheaters. Aside from the geological scenery, Yonaguni is also on the migration path for hammerhead sharks, which pass through in numbers from November through June. Tonbara, Kume Island – This point has a dramatic underwater landscape of large rocks covered in corals. After making their way around the huge rock reef to Tonbara Rock, divers can find large fish such as giant trevally, dogtooth tuna and bigeye trevally. During winter, hammerhead sharks also visit this area. Fudensachi, Aguni Island – Affected by the Kuroshio Current, also known as the “Black Tide,” diving at Aguni Island is recommended only for strong swimmers and experienced divers due to its strong currents. During summer, thousands of bigeye trevally and dogtooth tuna migrate pass Aguni. Other common visitors include horse-eye jacks, tuna, Napoleon fish, sharks and hawksbill turtles. Yabiji, Miyako Island – This dive spot is only exposed to the open air once a year, which has caused it to earn the nickname “Phantasmal Island.” The reef shelf has a depth of six metres/20 feet to 10 metres/33 feet, and is covered in its entirety with table corals and branch-shaped corals on which colorful fish and crustaceans live. Divers may also chance upon a manta ray! Ishizaki Manta Scramble, Ishigaki Island - Also known as “Manta Point,” manta rays are frequent visitors in this area. Hovering gracefully above the coral reef, this is truly an awesome site to behold – suitable for divers of all levels, Manta Point ranges in depth from eight to 16 metres/25 to 50 feet. Although mantas visit year-round, they are most commonly seen from July through September.

What to see

Thanks to the subtropical temperatures, Okinawa has a rich diversity and many marine species can be found year-round including: anthias, butterflyfish, boxfish, pufferfish, clownfish, moray eels, octopuses, cuttlefish, sea turtles and manta rays. Divers frequently report seeing large schools of dogtooth tuna and bigeye trevally. During winter, humpback whales visit the seas of Okinawa to breed; however, during this season there is a high possibility of encountering vessels.


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Most likely sightingsPossible sightings


Okinawa has a subtropical/tropical climate. Unlike the other Japanese subtropical/tropical islands such as Ogasawara Islands, Amami Islands and Tokara Islands, there are frequent flights from all the major cities of Japan, which helps Okinawa being one of the major tourist destinations for the Japanese. Most people come to Okinawa for the sun and beaches. Even in midwinter, when many areas of the mainland Japan teeter around the freezing point, temperatures rarely dip below 15°C in Okinawa. For more adventurous types, the vast yet almost uninhabited island of Iriomote is covered in dense jungle.Churaumi Aquarium is a world class aquarium located on the Motobu peninsula. Attractions include one of the world’s largest tanks with huge whale sharks and manta rays. The aquarium is located in Ocean Expo Park with a beautiful public facility called Emerald Beach. The Okinawa archipelago is known as one of the world's best diving destinations, having a number of coral species and marine lives as large as those in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. You can find over 400 types of corals, 5 types of sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks and many kinds of tropical fish. particular highlights include the gorgeous reefs surrounding the Kerama Islands, the manta rays of Miyako and Ishigaki and the hammerhead sharks and underwater ruins of Yonaguni. beware of the typhoons during June-November and the north wind that may frequently close diving sites in the north Snorkeling is better on the small islands than on Okinawa Island. Especially Tokashiki is ideal for a day trip from Naha with ferries leaving in the morning and returning in the evening.

Other attractions

Above the waves, make sure you experience and enjoy the Okinawan culture. Head down to a local restaurant where you can listen to a sanshin (traditional three-stringed instrument) and watch ryukyu-buyo (traditional dance). You’ll also get to taste some traditional Okinawan cuisine and the local tropical fruits. While on the main island of Okinawa, make sure you visit the beautiful Shuri Castle, the palace of Ryukyu Kingdom, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the mesmerizing limestone Gyokusendo Caves. Okinawa’s white sandy beaches and pristine waters are superb for relaxing and snorkeling.

Getting there

The main gateway into Okinawa is Naha International Airport (OKA). It has direct international flights from Taipei, Taichung, Seoul, Busan, Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. Naha is also a domestic hub to outlying Okinawan islands including Ishigaki, Yonaguni, Miyako and Kume.
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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