Far below Japan lies a chain of semi-tropical islands, Okinawa and the Southwest Islands. A tropical paradise only a quick 2-3 hour flight from the main airports within Japan (Tokyo, Osaka). Most flights fly directly to Okinawa’s capital city, Naha. The city was flattened during WWII, however it has rebuilt and is a thriving city with an interesting cultural mix of Japanese, American and Ryukyu influences, an interesting location to end your dive trip and pick up some tropical souvenirs.
There are many dive shops scattered around the main Okinawa Island, and it is highly recommended to hire a car to get around. Driving is laid back and courteous as expected by the Japanese people. The majority of dive shops are small local shops catered to Japanese only, however there is an increasing number of English friendly shops, some catering to training the troops based at the American military base, and others to an increasing number of English tourists making their way south. For my trip I was based at Onna Village, diving with Piranha Divers. We had some newish divers with us on the boat, so we headed out to Cape Manza, just a quick 10 minute boat ride from the marina in Onna. We were diving in April, which is still very early in the season and the water was a mild 24 ºC. We checked out 3 different sites during the day, returning to the marina in between for a toilet stop, tank refresh and food.
Cape Manza offered a wide range of interesting sites, the most dropping to around 22 metres, from a large reef with channels between you could swim through, to overhangs hiding small white tip reef sharks. There is also some great reef swim-throughs, known as the Dreamhole and mini dreamhole. These sites offered a steep descent into the reef, with small swim-throughs on the way out. A tight squeeze making buoyancy control crucial through the 22m descent. My favourite site of the day was Nakayukui Point, which featured a reef leading down to a large sandy bottom where a massive abandoned fishing net eerily stretched out across the bottom. It was teeming with marine life, including a green turtle carrying two remora. This site was loaded with black and white sea snakes, which added to the eerie environment. Highlights of the dives were the variety of nudibranch species, large crinoids, variety of coral species and colourful clams. For those into wrecks, there is also the dive site of the USS Emmons, an intact warship from the end of WWII which lies in 45m of water, which you can explore the length of over a couple of dives.
For those with extra time, it would be worth taking a boat/plane and exploring the Kerama Islands, home to 248 species of corals creating some of the best reefs in Asia. The majority of the islands are uninhabited with crystal clear water, and Humpback whales make their migration every winter.
If you do not speak Japanese do not fear, Japan is becoming increasingly foreigner friendly, and the majority of train stations, bus stops and airports have English signage, and staff on hand that speak English. Air travel to Japan is becoming increasingly cheaper, so watch out for deals when planning your next dive escape! Above water there is a ton of things to see and do – from checking out the WWII history in Naha city, to eating taco rice by the beach listening to the traditional shansin (3-string guitar), or exploring the attractions at Okinawa world (including impressive underground limestone caves Gyokusendo, and Habu (snake) park). I spent 5 days exploring the island, but I could go back for two weeks at least to allow time to explore the other islands and of course get more diving in!
• Japan allows discounted internal air travel for foreign visitors to their country, if tickets are purchased prior to arrival into Japan, known as the “Visit Japan Fare”.
• Get in touch with dive shops prior to arrival – out of the main dive season they may not have boats going out every day, and its best to check what sites they can access at a given season.
• Dive rental gear is of high quality, so if you need to save space rental packages are available.
• AirBnBs are a great accommodation option on the island if you have your own wheels, otherwise the majority of accommodation is expensive beach resorts, which are often extremely packed.