Okinawa is the southernmost Japanese prefecture comprising more than 150 islands in the East China Sea. About two-thirds of the Ryukyu Islands, a chain of islands that stretch southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan, are encompassed by Okinawa. With so many islands to explore, each offering different diving experiences, the question is not “Is it worth diving here?” but “What should I see first?”
The Okinawa archipelago is a popular diving destination for Japanese divers but still unknown for the rest of the world. These islands have gradually become what is known as the Japanese Hawaii due to their subtropical climate and median air temperature of 23° C/74° F.
Most of the dive sites in Okinawa are located in the Keramashoto National Park and around Onna Village, in the mainland island of Okinawa. The Keramashoto National Park covers an archipelago of over 30 islands and attracts numerous visitors with its superb “Kerama blue” waters, a variety of coral and fish species, and gorgeous sandy beaches.
Overall, the number of coral species and marine animals that live in Okinawa is as large as those found in the Great Barrier Reef. More than 400 species of coral, five species of sea turtles, along with bucket-list creatures like whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, and manta rays live in this idyllic destination.
The Yonaguni Monument, one of the most mysterious dive sites in the world. Photo by Vincent Lou
Divers can explore the waters of Okinawa year-round, but beware of the typhoons that affect the region from June to September. Typhoons usually sweep the southern islands first and move towards the south mainland, central, and north regions towards fall. If you plan on traveling during this period, check the weather forecast first.
The water temperature in the Okinawa region ranges from 21° C/ 70° F in February to 30° C/ 86° F in mid-July.
From minimal to strong depending on location.
Visibility ranges from 10 to 40 meters (33 - 130 feet) depending on location.
Some of the best diving destinations can be found right off the main island, which is the gate for scuba divers exploring the archipelago. Okinawa Island has over 10 dive sites and the most popular one is located off Cape Maeda - the Blue Cave, a scenic drop off with lots of marine life inside. Excellent dive sites can also be found at Cape Zanpa, Manza, and Seragaki.
Dream Hole and the nearby Mini Dream off Cape Manza are two beautiful dives made up of diverse and healthy corals. Both feature “chimneys” that descend through the reef, the only difference being the size – the chimney at Dream Hole takes you down to 25 meters/82 feet whereas the chimney at Mini Dream at only 15 meters/50 feet.
Yonaguni Island is home to the most famous dive site in Japan – the Kaitei Iseki, a mysterious underwater monument. There are a number of theories explaining how the monument came to be. This monolithic structure made of layers of sandstone is said a remnant of the mythical lost continent of Mu. Others believe it may be a remnant of an ancient country named Yamatai. Some geologists, however, claim the monument was formed by natural process. Regardless of how the Yonaguni monument came to be, one thing's for sure: it is one of the most unique dive sites on Earth.
Miyako is a real playground for advanced divers. The island is made entirely of coral limestone, which is easily eroded by seawater. This led to the creation of various landforms and, as such, Miyako became famous for its tunnels and passageways. There are many interesting cave dive sites around the island worth exploring. Another highlight here is the huge coral reef group known as Yabiji, which consists of over 100 coral reefs.
One of the most sought-after dive locations in Japan, Chichijima is the place to go if you want to see manta rays, bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, and even sperm whales. Sand tigers can also be spotted here. The reef system around the island is in excellent condition, with healthy coral growth and a large diversity of marine animals.