Floating in the sea while observing all kinds of marine life is thoroughly relaxing and makes snorkeling a fun and popular water activity for people of all ages. As Japan is surrounded by oceans, there are plenty of places where you can go snorkeling. In some areas the water is too cold throughout the year, but especially the southern half of Japan sees pleasant ocean temperatures for a large part of the year. Put on your rash guard and grab your snorkeling mask, life vest and fins (all of which can be purchased for a good price at any Donki) and start working your way through this bucket list of 10 amazing spots for snorkeling in Japan!
- 1. Hanari Island (near Tokashiki Island, Okinawa)
- 2. Okinoshima Beach (Chiba)
- 3. Hirizo Beach (Shizuoka)
- 4. Toshiki Beach (Oshima)
- 5. Sokodo Beach (Hachijojima)
- 6. Tomori Beach (Amami Oshima)
- 7. Chikura Grotto (Tanegashima)
- 8. Nakanoshima Beach (Miyakojima)
- 9. Manta Scramble (Ishigaki)
- 10. Gorilla Chop (Okinawa Main Island)
- General Safety Tips for Snorkeling
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1. Hanari Island (near Tokashiki Island, Okinawa)
Granted, it takes some time to get to Hanari Island (ハナリ島) in Okinawa as you’ll first have to get to Okinawa Main Island, then board a ferry from Naha to Tokashiki Island and finally take a short banana boat ride to this uninhabited island – but trust us when we say it’s worth it! When conditions are good, the sea is incredibly blue and clear, and the bottom is sandy and dotted with corals of different sizes. Near a rock sticking out the water is a small trench which is fun to swim above, and marine life is abundant. Just watch out for the titan triggerfish during their breeding season as they are quite defensive of their young. If you happen to meet one, just turn your fins towards it and swim away horizontally.
Recommended Tour: Snorkeling With Sea Turtles in Tokashiki Island’s Lagoon
2. Okinoshima Beach (Chiba)
You may not associate Tokyo’s neighboring prefecture, Chiba, with good snorkeling, but Okinoshima Beach (沖ノ島海水浴場) is actually a very decent spot within easy reach of the capital. The bottom is rocky near the coast and sandy for the most part once you get further out, and the water is clear when the conditions are right. Many octopuses live in the cracks of the underwater rocks, and you can find some corals and tropical fish as well. It’s fun to swim around the small peninsula to try and spot some octopuses as well as take in the beautiful coastline. Please note that this area is easiest to reach by car and that it’s a good idea to bring your own water bottles if you want to wash off the saltwater when you come out.
3. Hirizo Beach (Shizuoka)
Okinawa-level visibility and schools of smaller tropical fish can be found in Izu, a peninsula in southern Shizuoka which isn’t too far from Tokyo. At the peninsula’s southern tip you’ll find Hirizo Beach, a pebble beach which can only be reached by ferry from Nakagi Port. The ferry only operates between early July and late September, when the water is warm enough to swim. It is recommended to go either early or late in the season, and to avoid national holidays, as it can get rather crowded on the small beach. But when it is not, it’s a true paradise.
4. Toshiki Beach (Oshima)
Oshima is one of the islands south of Tokyo that belongs to the metropolitan area and are known as the Tokyo Islands. Oshima is one of the larger islands and is relatively easy to reach by ferry from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier. Once on the island, you can rent a car or bicycle to get around, although cycling is only recommended if you have at least a moderate level of fitness. Toshiki Beach (トウシキ遊泳場) is on the southern side of Oshima, and despite its name it’s not really a beach. It’s more of a rocky coast from where you can easily access the crystal-clear water. The area where most people snorkel is protected from the bigger waves, ensuring a nice snorkeling experience in calm waters.
5. Sokodo Beach (Hachijojima)
Hachijojima is another one of the Tokyo Islands and is famous for the many sea turtles and hammerhead sharks roaming the relatively warm waters surrounding the island. Sokodo Beach (底土海水浴場) in Mitsune village is a volcanic black sand beach that’s especially good for turtle sightings. You don’t have to go far from the shore to be able to see turtles, corals and many other forms of marine life in the clear water. There’s also free public showers, so everything for an awesome day of snorkeling is set!
6. Tomori Beach (Amami Oshima)
Amami Oshima is the largest island of the Amami Islands located south of Kyushu and part of Kagoshima Prefecture. The color and clarity of the ocean around this island is comparable to that of Okinawa, but tourist numbers are decidedly lower. So if you like beach destinations that are a bit off the beaten path, Amami Oshima is a great choice. Tomori Beach (土盛海岸) features soft white sand, calm turquoise waters and shallow pools, making it a very pleasant beach to spend the whole day just lazing around with snorkeling breaks to discover the tropical sea life.
7. Chikura Grotto (Tanegashima)
Not many international tourists make it to Tanegashima as they tend to visit its more famous neighbor Yakushima, but they are missing out. Anyone interested in outer space and astronautics will love visiting the Tanegashima Space Center, Japan’s largest rocket launch complex, and history buffs will be interested in the Pistol Museum. But Tanegashima also has pristine subtropical nature to offer, with one of the best places to snorkel being the Chikura Grotto (千座の岩屋). As this cavern is located 500 meters from the beach, some people opt to kayak here. Visiting at low tide is best so you can enter the cave, so do check out a tide chart before you set out
8. Nakanoshima Beach (Miyakojima)
While Aragusuku Beach is probably the most famous beach for snorkeling in Miyakojima, Nakanoshima Beach (中の島海岸) on the small neighboring island of Irabu, which can be reached via a famous bridge, is exceptional. The fact that fewer people know about this beach definitely contributes to the place feeling like a true hidden gem. The sea is easy to enter from this beach, and you can enjoy numerous kinds of soft and hard corals as well as tropical fish. If you’re lucky, you may even meet some sea turtles!
Recommended Tour: Snorkel With Turtles in the Blue Sea of Miyakojima
9. Manta Scramble (Ishigaki)
The Manta Scramble is a famous underwater area close to the north-western tip of Ishigaki Island where manta rays often gather. The scramble is a so-called “cleaning station” where these majestic creatures get cleaned by cleaner fish, and watching the mantas in the deep blue sea as they hover around the cleaning station for up to 30 minutes, is an incredible experience. The area can only be reached by boat, so if you want to see the Manta Scramble you’ll have to book a snorkeling tour in order to get there safely.
Recommended Tour: Snorkel the Emerald Waters of Ishigaki Island
10. Gorilla Chop (Okinawa Main Island)
Named after a nearby rock that looks suspiciously similar to King Kong’s profile, this small beach is located in Okinawa’s beautiful Motobu area and is very popular with snorkelers and divers. With a convenient parking lot that features toilets and showers right next to the beach, Gorilla Chop (ゴリラチョップ) is a dream destination for snorkeling. The ocean floor gradually declines for the first 20 meters or so, making it a safe place to snorkel for kids as well. More experienced snorkelers will love the white sandy floor at around 5 meters depth with large rocks of coral scattered around and teeming with ocean life.
General Safety Tips for Snorkeling
The general rules to stay safe while snorkeling are the same as elsewhere. The safest way to go is to join a tour with a trained guide who knows the area well. Gear rental and access to showers and dressing rooms can be additional advantages of joining a tour. If you are an experienced snorkeler and would rather go independently, please make sure to follow these standard safety rules:
- Always go together with at least one other person and make sure a third party knows where you are going snorkeling
- Take note of the sea condition and don’t enter the water if conditions are unfavorable (bad weather, low visibility, strong currents, rip currents etc.)
- Don’t go too far out
- Always wear a life vest
- Use a very small amount of dishwashing detergent or anti-fog liquid to prevent your goggles from fogging up
- Wear a rash guard against sunburn
- Wear a wetsuit if the water is chilly or if there are a lot of sharp corals or rocks
- Wear marine shoes
- Use coral-friendly sunscreen
- Don’t touch any marine life for their safety and your own
And of course: don’t forget to have fun!
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Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.
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