The Kansai region (also known as Kinki) is Japan’s cultural heartland, but also offers some solid diving options, especially around the Kii Peninsula, on the Pacific coast.
Wakayama Prefecture’s Kushimoto area, located at the southern tip of the Kii Peninsula, is under direct influence of the warm Kuroshio current, which brings warmer water to the area, and to the point of affecting the area’s climate, which is largely subtropical, and the warmest in Honshū.
Because of this, one can spot both temperate to cold water marine life and also species more commonly found in warmer, subtropical to tropical waters, including giant sponges and coral reefs formed by over 120 species of coral.
The arrival of a stronger flow of the Kuroshio in the spring to summer months leads to a general increase of underwater visibility (especially good in places like Wakayama Prefecture’s Susami) and of sightings of warm water/subtropical species around the entire Kii Peninsula area.
Manta rays and the occasional hammerhead sharks are also sometimes spotted in the summer months on this section of the Pacific coast.
The Kansai area also includes Hyōgo Prefecture, which faces three different seas: the Seto Inland Sea, the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean.
MAIN DIVING AREAS MENTIONED
- Kii Peninsula
– Kushimoto (Wakayama Prefecture)
– Tanabe (Wakayama Prefecture)
– Susami (Wakayama Prefecture)
– Owase (Mie Prefecture)
– Shirahama (Wakayama Prefecture)
– Koza river (Wakayama Prefecture)
– Mikimoto Pearl Island, Toba, (Mie
- Kumogahata / Kamogawa (Kyōto Urban Prefecture)
Sea of Japan and Seto inland Sea Coast
- Takeno (Hyōgo Prefecture)
DIVING HIGHLIGHTS AND ICONIC MARINE LIFE
CORAL REEFS AND TOPOGRAPHY
The Kansai area offers the possibility to dive healthy hard and soft coral reefs, with large sponges, anemones, and interesting topography.
Wakayama Prefecture’s Kushimoto is famous for having one of the largest colonies of hard coral tables (Acroporidae) in Japan.
Many sites also offer beautiful soft coral colonies, such as Alcyonaceas, notably in Wakayama and Mie Prefectures.
Still in Wakayama Prefecture, Tanabe is well known for its deep-water colonies of bright yellow anemones, the Halcurias levis Uchida, 2004
Topographical highlights include the Black Tunnel, an arch between two large rock formations, starting at 32 metres, also in Kushimoto (Advanced Open Water or equivalent certification / deep training required).
In Hyōgo Prefecture, the Takeno dive site offers the chance to dive a 25m wide and 15m high cave, with a 40m tunnel, that is only 5m wide at a point.
In Owase (Mie Pref.), a site called Gyosho features an artificial reef made of concrete blocks placed on the sandy bottom.
It is one of the most popular dive sites in the area, since the blocks attract a lot of life, mainly local reef fish and macro critters, but also seasonal migratory fish.
Koza River, in Kansai’s Wakayama Prefecture, is a good place to observe Japan’s endemic giant salamander (Andrias japonicus), which can grow to an impressive 1.5 m in size. It is best to aim for mating season, when the males are guarding the nests.
Another spot to see the salamanders is in Kyōto’s Kumogahata / Kamogawa river, during freshwater snorkelling trips.
It is possible to dive an purposedly sunk, largely intact 30m long tugboat, lying at 18m in Shirahama’s Edose area.
OTHER MARINE LIFE HIGHLIGHTS
Other Kansai highlights include macro critters, especially frogfish, nudibranchs, seahorses and gobies.
Carpet sharks such as the Japanese angel shark (Squatina japonicus), and the Japanese bullhead shark (Heterodontus japonicus) can be seen on nearly every dive at Koka dive sites in Mie Prefecture.
An underwater mail box was setup in in Wakayama Prefecture’s Susami Bay.
Divers can buy water-resistant postcards from a local store, write messages on them with an oil-based paint marker and post them underwater in red postbox.
A shop employee collects the postcard every few days, and takes them to the local post office for processing…
Mikimoto Pearl Island (not to be confused with Chūbu’s Mikomoto), in Mie Prefecture, is one of the first places where pearl aquaculture was developed, and offers the chance of seeing Ama professional female freedivers at work, and visit a dedicated museum
The other main places to see the Ama freedivers at work is the Toba / Ise-shima area, also in Mie Prefecture.
Some areas offer the possibility of spending time with the divers in their ama huts and tasting local seafood, or even organising a freediving session with them.
More on ama freedivers here.
Click here for more precise, detailed and practical information on diving in the Kansai region.