Diving Okinawa

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Okinawa, Japan

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Country: Japan  Area: Japan

Water Temp: 21 - 30°C (70 - 86°F)

Visibility: 10 - 40m (33 - 131 ft)

Depth Range: 10 - 50m (33 - 164 ft)

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The Okinawa Prefecture is an archipelago in southern Japan that covers the southern two thirds of the Ryukyu Islands.

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The islands are divided into three geographical archipelagos called the Okinawa Islands, the Miyako Islands and the Yeyama Islands. The Kuroshio Current runs north from the Philippines through the waters surrounding Okinawa, and brings with it an enormous variety of marine life. With over 200 reef-building corals, this is one of the largest coral habitats worldwide, and is often compared to the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands. In addition to the rich marine eco-system, the area has played a significant role throughout the Second World War, resulting in numerous wreck dive opportunities.

The main island of Okinawa acts as the primary base for divers exploring the region, with an abundance of sites accessible from the shore and by boat. 49 of the islands are inhabited, while the other 111 are completely uninhabited. In addition to the phenomenal dive sites, the islands themselves prove to be an interesting place to visit. Having been home to the Ryukyu Kingdom, the culture throughout these islands differs dramatically from the remainder of Japan. The islands offer great diversity in terms of food, art, music and drink – in addition to numerous war memorials and historical centres.

Okinawa! Credit

The Okinawa Prefecture is an impressive collection of 160 islands spanning over 1000km, offering endless opportunities and variety for divers. The archipelago is home to two particularly famous dive sites: the USS Emmons Shipwreck and the underwater ruins in Yonaguni. The first is a 90m American military vessel that sank during a kamikaze attack in the Second World War The latter is an underwater ruin, speculated to pre-date all known archaeological discoveries. Additionally, these islands attract guests with their vibrant coral, rich marine life, prolific mammals, numerous wrecks and impressive geographic features. With sites that cater to all levels of expertise, scuba diving in the Okinawa is an incredible (and often overlooked) diving destination.

At the most Southern islands in the Okinawa prefecture, the ability to be able to see Manta Rays means that Ishigaki Island a popular diving destination. Mantas aside - Ishigaki is a beautiful island to visit with generally clear waters, some nice beaches and a pleasant tropical feel.

Blotched Foxface, Credit

Climate

Sub tropical, high humidity, ocasional typhoons in the summer, rainy season is in May

While it is possible to dive Okinawa year round, the peak diving season in Okinawa spans from mid-July to early September. December to March is the off-season, given the prevalence of typhoons and cooler temperatures. The water temperatures vary between 20C and 30C year round.

Dwarf Goby, Credit

More broadly, the winter months are among the coolest. Days are often cloud covered with temperatures reaching an average high of 20 degrees Celsius. Spring (March – April) is an ideal time for visiting, with warm temperatures and dry days. The rainy season begins in late April/May and lasts through to June, though rain is relatively sporadic on the islands during this period. Summers in Okinawa are often hot and humid, and is among the most popular time to visit. In September, the islands are typically hit by a series of strong typhoons before drying up in October and November.

Sea Star, Credit

Marine Conservation

The Okinawa prefecture is home to some of the world’s rarest and most endangered species, both on land and in ocean. As such, the area has inspired significant research and conservation efforts which have helped protect and restore this delicate ecosystem. 19% of the total area is protected through various national parks, including the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, the Okinawa Kaigan and Okinawa Senseki National Parks and Irabu, Kumejima and Tonaki Prefectural Natural Parks. 

A series of innovative non-profits are active throughout the region, working to fuse conservation initiatives with local populations. Notable among them is the Okinawa Coral Reef  initiative that has recently conducted an elaborate set of interviews with individuals working in the area.  Other organizations work to conserve and protect particular specieis, including the prolific dugong and sea turtle populations in the region. Numerous on land initiatives that protect the Iriomote Cat, the world’s rarest and most endangered cat.

Blue Damselfish, Credit

Companies and universities lead numerous research projects in the area as well, with particular emphasis being placed on the study of coral bleaching.   

 
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Wildlife Calendar

       
       
       
                                     
       
                       
       
       
       

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Shore Diving

The shoreline fluctuates between rocky coasts and white sand beaches, giving great variety for shore dives. Sunabe Sea Wall is by far the most accessible, and offers divers mountains of beautifully coloured soft coral. Cape Maeda is also accessible by shore, and has a famous underwater cave. Many dive operators will also run tours to the southern part of Okinawa to access more remote dive sites off the shoreline.

Check this big fellow out! Turtle in Okinawa Credit

Day Trip Diving

The islands surrounding Okinawa offer endless boat diving opportunities. Most tours will spend a day around the Kerama island group, which has impressive coral and a thriving marine life population. With over 100 dive sites only an hour’s boat-ride from Okinawa, these islands offer endless exploration. A highlight in this area is following old telephone cables to a reef dotted with garden eels, Green Chromis damselfish, Coral Troup and Leaf Scorpion fish. Between November and March there is the added bonus of watching humpbacks migrate through the region.

Heteroconger Hassi (a kind of Garden Eel) Credit

For wreck divers, the USS Emmons Shipwreck is a popular destination. The ship was destroyed by a Japanese kamikaze aircraft attack during the Second World War and was allegedly sunk by the US to avoid drifting into Japanese territory. The 90m wreck is typically explored over two dives at a depth of 36 – 45m. Throughout the entire region, it is also possible to find other smaller wrecks in addition to ammunition and weapons.

The southern island of Yonaguni is a popular destination that attracts visitors with its impressive and mysterious underwater ruins. The ruins are found near the southern point of the island under 5 – 40 meters of water. The origins of this settlement are highly speculated. Geologists frequently debate whether they are the result of unique erosion or a society that dates back 12,000 years, predating all known archaeological structures.  This area also boasts enormous schools off Big Eye Trevally, Barracuda, Dogtooth Tuna, Turtles and Cuttlefish. From January to March, there are also large populations of hammerhead sharks in the region, with groups as big as 100.

Divers explore a gulley in Okinawa, Credit

Liveaboard Diving

Liveaboard tours do run through the region, however day boat tours are more common with the local operators.

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How to Get there

Easy to reach from mainland Japan, Hongkong, Taiwan rest of China and Korea, Naha has an international terminal for direct flights.

The capital of Okinawa, Naha, is connected by air to major Japanese cities and is the easiest and most affordable way to access the islands. A wide variety of budget airlines, including SkyMark JetStar, Air Asia Japan and Peach Aviation, offer the cheapest tickets between Tokyo and Naha.

Other cities in the islands, including Myako and Ishigaki, are also connected to Japan by air but for a considerably higher price.

The ease of flying between the islands has led to the termination of most of the ferry routes between the islands. It is possible to boat with A-Line Ferry from either Kagoshima, Osaka or Tokyo however service is limited and time consuming.

Divers Cruise alongside a sea wall, Credit

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Where to Eat & Drink

Plenty of those on every corner of the street in Okinawa, to many to list here, usually very inexpensive local food and some more expensive places for tourists but easy to be seen.

Okinawa Soba, Credit

Okinawan cuisine is dramatically different from classic Japanese fare, and is readily available throughout the island.  There is a distinct Taiwanese influence on cooking styles on the islands, and pork is heavily featured in most dishes. Residents often pride themselves on their ability to consume nearly every aspect of a pig. Inexpensive local restaurants are often the best places to experience the unique flavour of the island, though there are plenty of American fast food chains for those seeking a bit of familiarity.  Other ingredients unique from the Japanese mainland include bitter melon, purple yam, mango, papaya, pineapple and dragon fruit. Dark cane sugar is also very popular and is eaten both naturally and incorporated into candies and pastries.

Shuri Castle, Credit

 

 Awamori is a popular local alcohol brewed from Thai jasmine rice. The liquor is infamously strong, with some varieties containing up to 60% alcohol. It is possible to visit a local distillery to learn more about the specific production. For a less alcoholic alternative, there are numerous microbreweries on the islands, and Orion is the staple local beer. The nightlife itself is busy within Naha and Okinawa city, and offers anything from traditional Okinawan folk music through to American rock.

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Other Activities

While the beach is the primary draw for most visitors, these islands have a very rich and unique history that is worth learning about during your stay.

The islands were initially the hoe of the Ryukyu Kingdom who existed independent of Japan. Unfortunately, because of Japanese colonization and World War II, much of this rich cultural history was eliminated. Today, it is possible to visit the preserved village of Taketomi in southern Yaeyama where components of the Ryukyu culture remain. For those interested in the militarized history of the island, numerous sites (Peace Memorial Park and Himeyuri Monument) pay tribute to the role played during the second world war. The ongoing American military presence in Naha further illustrates this region’s military significance.

Hizushi Beach, Aka Island, Okinawa, Credit

If interested in shopping, the Hamby Flea Market opens on weekend nights and is full of a wide variety of food stands and shops. Open late into the evening, this is a great spot to absorb a growingly multicultural town.

For those interested in the distinctive local pottery, Yachimun no Sato is well worth a visit. Numerous talented local potters have made this village of traditional Ryukyu-style homes their co-operative. Walking through the wooded village and perusing the various shops with handmade bowls, dishes and sculptures gives insight into this lost culture.

Finally, the Churami Aquarium and Shurijo Castle Park are popular on land activities for visitors. The aquarium is among the largest in the world, and has a spectacular acryclic glass panelled tank.

Water sports are also very popular in the area. A small sailing community has formed in recent years, with boats cruising and racing to the Kerama islands.

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Tips

The islands in Okinawa are as safe – if not safer – than mainland Japan. There is a high quality central hospital in Naha, which includes a decompression chamber. Do be sure to travel with health insurance that covers scuba diving when visiting.

Into the river, Credit

Most visitors recommend avoiding the main city of Naha. It has become a large city and is dominated by the American military, which makes for a noisy stay. It is possible to stay on the southern island of Yonaguni, though it is a challenge to access and becomes fairly expensive. It can be accessed either by air or ferryboat (and is likely worth the additional cost!).

Do avoid the “Whaleshark dive” in Yomitan as overly expensive and as they are not very well cared for, small cage, not enough food, untrained staff.

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Any Recommendations for good DIve Apps

I'm trying to find some good dive apps to both use and review ?

There are so many I thought id find out what other people are using first and what you think of them.

Ideally I'm looking for : a log book but ideally with map features, a good community or local buddy finder , a good reliable dive planner and maybe a good fish id or reef life one?

Be great to know what everyone else uses and finds helpful :)

4

Morgan Bennett

0 votes

DiveBoard is probably the better online/mobile app for logging dives.. I use them and I think it works pretty well.. plenty of room for advanced geekery if you are in to that too!

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Ann Challenor

0 votes

cool, thanks I will check it out :)

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