Japan may not be at the top of your snorkeling bucket list, but can you imagine what its 6800 islands, from the chilly north to the tropical south, have to offer? Japan boasts diverse marine habitats and a vast array of sea life. The subtropical Okinawan islands, in particular, are abundant with pristine coral reefs. Here, snorkelers can get up-close to manta rays, clownfish, sea turtles, reef sharks, angelfish and sea snakes and many more. Japan just might be the snorkeling world's best-kept secret!
The most popular snorkeling destinations on Japanese main islands are Hokkaido (especially the Shiretoko Peninsula, famous for ice diving) and Honshū (in particular the Izu Peninsula and the Izu Islands, just a few hours drive from Tokyo, and the Kii Peninsula, further southwest on the island).
If you want to get off the beaten track, head for the Ogasawara Islands. Located more than 600 miles (1 000km) south of Tokyo, they were designated a UNESCO World Natural Heritage in 2011. Also known as the “Galápagos of the Orient”, the Ogasawara Islands are famous for their rich biodiversity and high endemism.
Under the surface of the sea, you’ll come face to face with sea turtles and sharks, but be sure to keep an eye out for the wrought iron butterflyfish, and endemic specie which can only be found in the Izu and Ogasawara Islands.
But for the best snorkeling in Japan, reach the south part of this island country and the Okinawan Islands, the ‘Hawaii’ of Japan. In this subtropical paradise, you will find the best reef snorkeling of the region.
On Okinawa’s main island, many spots are accessible from the shore (like Cape Maeda) and represent some of the easiest options. Nevertheless, you’ll have to head for the Kerama Islands (Tokashiki, Zamami), the Miyako Islands of the Ryukyu Islands (Ishigaki) to live the best experience in the archipelago.
The climate on mainland Japan is temperate, with cold winters and hot summers, from June to September. Outside these months, snorkeling is limited by cooler water temperatures.
Okinawa archipelago is the only place in Japan where you can go snorkeling all year round. It has humid subtropical weather, with no dry season. Summers (May to October) are hot and wet, and the temperature rarely goes above 86°F/30°C.
The rest of the year, the climate is drier and still remains warm and comfortable, at above 68°F/20°C during the daytime. The temperature of Okinawa”s coastal waters ranges from around 65°F/18°C in winter to about 84°F/29°C in the summer.
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Frequently sighted at Ama Beach at high tide; occasionally seen at Furuzamami Beach
Found in all Okinawa reef areas; common at Furuzamami and Aharen
Found in all Okinawa reef areas; abundant at Furuzamami Beach
Frequently sighted chasing on Furuzamami Beach reef
Common on all reef spots
Fringing reef with a vibrant marine life
Level: Free shore access
Seagrass meadows with sea turtles and small coral gardens
Shallow fringing reef with colorful fish and sea snakes
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