The Kii Peninsula, in the south of Kansai, offers some spectacular scuba sites for divers of all abilities. Its vibrant waters are home to a stunning variety of biodiversity, all within easy reach of the major cities. Diving is possible here all year round – the summer months have the advantage of warmer temperatures, while the winter sees exceptional underwater visibility. Discover more in this introduction to five destinations in Mie and Wakayama prefectures.
Shima city is located within the Ise-Shima National Park, and is known for its beautiful beaches and stunning coastline. The area’s other ocean-related claim to fame is the local ama – female free-divers who gather seaweed, pearls and shellfish using traditional techniques that date back thousands of years. While it is possible to dive with the ama, rest assured you can also enjoy modern scuba diving here with all the usual equipment!
Close to Shima is Ise city, home of Ise Jingu shrine. This is one of the most sacred Shinto shrines in Japan, and – despite being above water – is well worth including on your dive trip itinerary.
A small town in the south of Mie prefecture, Owase is known for its fisheries and beaches. Its coastal location also makes it fantastic for divers, with several dive spots situated just offshore. It’s possible to see coral, jellyfish, octopus, shrimp and various types of nudibranch, as well as the numerous species of fish that the area is famous for.
Owase is also a great place for accessing the Kumano Kodo trail, an ancient network of paths that extends across Osaka, Wakayama, Nara and Mie prefectures. The section that passes through Mie is known as the Iseji route, and runs from Ise Shrine all the way south to Wakayama.
Just a two-hour train ride from Osaka, Tanabe is home to some of the world’s most northern coral reefs thanks to the warming effect of the Kuroshio current. With numerous dive spots, divers can enjoy seeing an abundance of marine life, including gobies, sea squirts, crustaceans, and – in deeper waters – rare fluorescent sea anemones.
The second largest city in Wakayama, Tanabe is another key location for accessing the Kumano Kodo trail. From here, the Nakahechi and Ohechi routes lead east and south through the mountains towards the Kumano Sanzan – the three grand shrines of Kumano, the most important sites on the pilgrimage paths.
This seaside resort is famous for its onsen (hot springs) and the pristine 500-meter sandy beach from which it gets the name Shirahama, meaning ‘white beach’. This combination of fun and relaxation attracts visitors from all across the country, particularly during the hot summer months.
Shirahama also has plenty to offer beneath the water’s surface, with over 20 dive sites within a 15-minute boat ride of the shore. These range from beginner level to advanced, with a variety of different topographies and impressive biodiversity. One of the numerous highlights is the 28-meter-long sunken wreck of a tugboat that kaleidoscopic schools of fish now call home.
Kushimoto marks the southernmost point of Japan’s main island of Honshu, and is widely regarded as Kansai’s best diving spot. Its rich and vibrant waters support a stunning array of fish, plus over 120 species of coral and sponges.
One popular location is the Black Tunnel, an advanced diving point over 30 meters deep that boasts an incredible variety of sea creatures and an imposing arch covered in colorful sea fans. Freshwater diving is possible at Nukumi, a river site with plenty of miniature marine life such as shrimps and crabs. Back in the ocean, divers of all levels should head for the Glass World dive spot for the unmissable chance to swim alongside sea turtles.
For more information and to make arrangements for diving in these areas in English, you can contact the non-profit organization called the Japan Diving Experience.