So what’s new?
This summer all eyes will be on David Beckham’s foot, which will hopefully be in the thick of the action at the World Cup Final, to be held at Japan’s Yokohama Stadium. The land of the rising sun may be famous for sumo, geisha and karate, but Japan’s Okinawan Islands also have some of the region’s most interesting diving, attracting legendary figures such as David Doubilet, Jacques Cousteau and Jacques Mayol.
Okinawa is Japan’s most southerly administrative district. The subtropical volcanic and limestone islands are ringed by coral reefs, while the Kuroshio current keeps the islands surrounded by warm, clear waters. There are plenty of hard and soft corals, lots of fish and the possibility of seeing mantas, whales and wrecks.
And how’s the diving?
Okinawa Island is the largest in the island chain, serving as both the commercial and diving hub. There is shore and boat diving available – with Japanese and English-speaking guides. The west coast has dozens of dive points where you can walk straight out onto the reef. In the shallows, you snorkel out over urchins and sea cucumbers, while being inspected by parrotfish and sergeant majors. A lot of the coral in these shallow waters has been bleached by the unusually warm water of recent years. Lionfish, sea snakes and cuttlefish are common sights, and fortunate divers can see turtles, reef sharks and stingrays. Entry points are from idyllic sandy beaches which provide perfect places to rest between dives.
The Keramas Islands are 90 minutes from Okinawa by ferry. Most visitors go there on day trips from Okinawa, while some stay at one of the hostels on the islands. A plethora of fish species surround huge tabletop and orange-red fan corals and visibility here is reliably good – 30m-plus. Further south are the Miyako and Yaeyama groups of islands, notably Ishigaki, which is famous for its mantas. Even further south is Yonaguni Island, renowned for the submerged Yonaguni structures – stone steps and tunnels which appear to have been engineered with perfect right angles. The archaeological jury is still out on the origin of these structures.
The only nitrox centres on Okinawa are on the American bases which are stationed on the island and are not available to non-military divers.
Accommodation any good?
Okinawa is one of the most popular holiday destinations for the Japanese and facilities reflect this. The accommodation ranges from the luxurious Busena Resort Hotel (where Blair, Clinton and Putin stayed for the 2000 G8 Summit) to budget hostels (around £12 a night). Restaurants on the island are varied, with both Western and Japanese food, and those serving traditional Okinawan dishes.
Tell us about the region
Okinawa has warm subtropical weather all year round. Mid-May to the end of June is the rainy season. However, from July to October the sunny weather is occasionally interspersed by typhoons, which churn up the water and drastically reduce visibility. The main dive season is from June to November, but it’s possible to dive all year round without needing more than a 5mm wetsuit. Okinawa’s local cultures are a mix of Japanese and Chinese. There are interesting castles and temples to visit, along with war monuments remembering the Battle of Okinawa, one of the Second World War’s most devastating conflicts.
It is possible to dive the wreck of the USS Emmons, which was sunk by kamikazes on 6 April 1945. The wreck was discovered in 2001 and is very intact with its anti-aircraft guns pointing out into the blue waters and bombs lined up on its deck. The upper part of the Emmons is at 37m, which means that bottom time is very limited. Most day trips (to sites such as the USS Emmons) cost around 12,000 yen (about £65) for two boat dives. Shore dives on the main island are easy and much cheaper
If you are looking for tropical diving with a twist, and a chance to experience a unique island culture, Okinawa may be ideal. If you really want to make the most of the region it’s worth going for two weeks. Japan is cheaper than it was to visit ten years ago but can still be expensive – don’t even dream about trying to get flights until World Cup fever has died down!
There are only a few English-speaking dive shops that are not exclusively for the use of the American marines. If you simply want to rent gear, tanks or go on a day trip then most Japanese shops will have no difficulties. If you want to do a course or have an English-speaking guide then DIVE’s recommendation is to contact Rich Ruth at Fathoms Dive shop. Most independent visitors arrange their own flights to Tokyo or Osaka, then connect with flights to Naha on Okinawa.