- Diving in the “Shakotan Blue” waters in Shakotan Peninsula
- Drift ice diving in the Shiretoko Peninsula
- Freshwater diving in Lake Shikotsu
- Underwater forest diving in Hakodate Usujiri and Shiretoko Rausu
When people think of Hokkaido, they think of skiing and exciting winter activities. Hokkaido, however, is also the best place to dive if you want to explore biodiverse marine life.
What comes to mind when you think of Hokkaido? Most people imagine skiing, snowboarding, and participating in other exciting winter activities in this northern part of Japan. Hokkaido is also famous as a culinary destination. Food lovers can taste the different types of ramen, noodles, seafood, beer, and ice cream.
What most people don’t know is that Hokkaido is one of the best places to dive. From diving between drifting ice floes to seeing tiny fishes swim among corals and kelp, Hokkaido is a paradise for divers who love exploring various ocean sights. Its unique underwater views, sparkling blue waters, and towering rock formations add to the thrill. It is in Hokkaido where you can experience both wetsuit and drysuit diving and both freshwater and saltwater diving.
Welcome to Hokkaido—a diving paradise for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. Here is where you'll get to experience diving in crystal clear waters or among drifting ice floes. Check out the JAL's Hokkaido diving package, including what to see, where to go, what is included, and more.
・Destination: Sapporo and Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido
・Recommended season for this package: Summer
・Duration: Choose from 1 or 2 days
・Type of experience: Scuba diving, outdoor activities
・Travel style: Optional tour
・English-speaking assistance: Available
・Age requirement: 12+ years
・Cost: To be determined (per person)
・Private transportation to and from the dive site
・Private underwater guide
・Accommodations (2-days tour only)
・Accommodations: Included for a 2-day tour
・What you can see:
All year round:
・Variety of nudibranch
・Variety of shrimps and crabs
・Variety of macro marine life
December to April:
・Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus)
・Pacific giant octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini)
・Smooth lumpfish (Aptocyclus ventricosus/Pelagocyclus vitiazi)
If you are coming from Tokyo or Osaka, take a domestic flight to New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. With the JAL Japan Explorer Pass, you can easily travel from one city to another. When you’re in Hokkaido, public transportation is available, though it might not be able to take you to the more off-the-road destinations. Another option is to rent a car and take a road trip instead to see the different sights.
Located in western Hokkaido, the Shakotan Peninsula is a mountainous peninsula surrounded by sparkling waters, towering cliffs, and bright blue skies. Shakotan is one of the best well-kept wildlife and natural treasures in Hokkaido. Fishing is the area’s primary industry, and it is the best source of uni (sea urchin) in Japan. Locals from all over the island and tourists from all over the world flock to Shakotan during the summer months of June to August when they can enjoy the tasty sea urchin dishes.
At the tip of Shakotan Peninsula, just near the Shakotan Observation Deck and Shakotan Cape Lighthouse is Shimamui Beach. With the stunning colors of its waves, Shimamui Beach is often chosen as one of Japan’s 100 Most Beautiful Sea Shores. The waters change a lot depending on the season, providing a backdrop of rich blues and greens of different shades during all months of the year.
When you dive beneath the surface, you will see underwater landscapes unique to the area. Mysteriously-shaped volcanic rocks jut from the ocean floor, carved by the rugged waves typical of that part of the ocean. Some reach up to over 25 meters in terms of visibility when the day is clear and the waters are calm.
The Peninsula is part of Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-national Park. The sea of Shakotan is the only underwater national park in Hokkaido, making it a popular diving spot for both local and foreign divers.
The Shiretoko Peninsula, located in the northeast part of Hokkaido, is home to various wildlife, including brown bears, deer, and foxes in its forests. The Shiretoko National Park, located on the Peninsula, has some of the most beautiful and unspoiled natural sceneries. For outdoor lovers who cannot resist the call of the sea, Shiretoko Peninsula’s waters are like no other.
From January to March, ice starts to break in the Sea of Okhotsk, drifting gently towards the Shiretoko Peninsula. If you visit around this time, you will see the water surrounded by ice floes. You can observe this on a short boat cruise. The only way to get up close to the drifting ice, however, is by diving directly into the sea.
Drift ice diving in Japan is a vastly different experience from the usual wetsuit diving. In February, divers don dry suits and slip beneath the surface for a unique diving experience in this UNESCO World Heritage site. The water is cold—just a little above freezing—but the spectacular views are worth it.
In the Shiretoko Peninsula, you can experience the Oyashio current, a current that brings cold water from the Arctic, giving life to the underwater creatures. You’ll get to see a variety of cold-water fish, sea anemones, and the almost-transparent jellyfish-like creatures called cliones or sea angels. In one of the dive sites—Chashi-kotsuzaki—you’ll be able to spot large rocks that appear at 3.5 meters below sea level. Despite the cold, diving in the frigid waters is a calm and relaxing experience with its crystal clear and calm waters. When you look up, you can see the huge blocks of ice just floating above the surface.
Most people who wish to go diving in Sapporo do so in Lake Shikotsu. It is a caldera lake—a body of water formed from the collapse of the earth after volcanic activity. Lake Shikotsu is located in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, just 30 minutes away from New Chitose Airport. The lake boasts of one of the clearest waters in Japan—shimmering under the sun’s rays. Underneath, you can experience a completely different world. You may be able to spot fish such as kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, and brown trout. On some occasions in the summer, you might even be able to see the natural monument water flower Chitose Baikamo as it bursts into bloom.
Licensed divers can also explore the waters in the winter. Shikotsu is known as Japan’s northernmost unfrozen lake as it somehow manages to resist freezing even in Hokkaido’s extreme cold. If a portion of the ice does freeze, it is still possible to cut a hole and enter the water to go scuba diving.
Beyond the fascinating sea creatures that you can see when you explore beneath the surface, there are other things to observe too. In Hakodate’s Usujiri site, you can see underwater forests made of kelp.
Usujiri has an ancient history that goes back 7,000 years. The kelp forest nurtures the marine life underneath the waves, giving balance to its environment. In the winter, the water can reach a near-freezing point, but the temperature is warm in the summer months.
Shiretoko Rausu is another diving site that features a kelp forest. The water is filled with nutrients that come from the mountains. When you dive in the fall, you can see salmon and trout come close to the shores. In the winter, you can also see drifting ice.
Hokkaido is an area teeming with marine life and different creatures unique to its waters. Some of Hokkaido’s waters have the most diverse whale populations in northeast Asia. Hokkaido is also the best spot for watching orcas in East Asia.
The Sea of Okhotsk alone is home to 13 species of whales. In Shiretoko, you can often see sperm whales and Baird's beaked whales. If you travel in the spring and summer, you might be able to catch a glimpse of minke whales when they visit in those seasons. In the winter, Utoro’s waters are filled with drift ice—attracting wildlife from plankton to whales. From April to the end of May, you may be able to see and swim with dolphins in the Shakotan Peninsula.
Beneath the waters, you can see a variety of sea life, depending on where you dive. The Shakotan Peninsula and Shiretoko Peninsula shrimps, crabs, nudibranch, and macro marine life—the perfect destination for macro photographers who want to take shots of these tiny creatures.
If you dive in Shakotan in the winter, you may see lumpsuckers, atka mackerel, giant octopuses, and even catch a glimpse of sea lions onshore. Shiretoko and Usujiri have clione (sea angel) in the winter and lumpsucker in the spring and summer seasons. Lake Shikotsu’s calm waters are home to local fish, such as white-spotted chars, dusky triple tooth gobies, and kokanee salmon. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to spot tiny shrimp.
While scuba diving is an activity often associated with sun-kissed waters and warm months, you can dive in Hokkaido the whole year round. When you should go depends on what you want to see.
If you want to see the magical water known as Shakotan Blue, schedule a trip to the Shakotan Peninsula in the summer months. You may even be able to swim with dolphins and spot some whales while diving.
For those who cannot get enough diving and underwater sights in the summer, try diving in the winter, specifically in the Shiretoko Peninsula. Don a dry suit and slip beneath floes of ice to access the depths underneath. If you want to go on a boat dive, the Shakotan Peninsula is the only place offering boat dives in the winter.
Booking with JAL for your diving package ensures a hassle-free experience. You don’t have to worry about finding a tour guide, booking your transportation to and from the hotel, and more. You can just fly in and enjoy your stay and tour.
Aside from Hokkaido, Japan has other diving sites that are just as spectacular and give a unique and wonderful experience.
If you are traveling through Tokyo and some nearby destinations, there are several diving hotspots just a few hours away from the city. Check out Ito in Chiba Prefecture. It is a quaint fishing village with a dive site known as Shark City due to the different kinds of sharks you can see when you dive in the waters. Mikomoto Island in Shizuoka Prefecture also has different kinds of shark species.
Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture to the south of Japan is a diver’s paradise with its beautiful beaches, colorful reefs, and crystal clear waters. The highlight of your dive is the manta rays that frequent the waters and feed on plankton. Okinawa has other well-known scuba diving islands, including the main island, Miyako, and surrounding islands, Iriomote, Kerama, and Yonaguni.
For macro divers who want to see the smaller sea creatures, you can check out Jogashima in Kanagawa, Osezaki in Shizuoka, and Kushimoto in Wakayama. You may see several large schools of fish, shrimps, crabs, nudibranch, clouded salamanders, lumpfish, and more.
Amami Island and Yagoshima Island are small islands belonging to Kagoshima Prefecture. While they are famous for their beautiful, peaceful nature views, from lush forests to towering mountains, these islands have their share of pristine beaches and stunning diving spots.
There’s a lot in Hokkaido waiting for you to discover—from stunning blue waters in the summer to drifting floes of ice in the winter. Whether the excitement of diving in saltwater appeals to you or you prefer the calmer currents of freshwater dives, there is a bit of something when you go diving in Hokkaido. Whether spring, summer, autumn, or winter, you can dive in Hokkaido’s waters the whole year-round.
Book with JAL and get a fantastic, unforgettable diving experience.