The Kyūshū region is a vast and complex area, offering many excellent diving opportunities, with contrasting conditions.
In north Kyūshū, visibility changes radically in the summer months, reaching 20m, but is usually quite low (5m more so) in winter.
Kyūshū’s diving is increasingly sub-tropical as you head south, but the north-west areas also feature relatively warm water, heated by the Kuroshio’s Tsushima branch, which heads northwards along the west-coast of Japan’s main islands.
From an administrative point of view, the official region is actually Kyūshū and Okinawa, but we’ll separate these two major diving areas for clarity, focusing on the main island of Kyūshū and its surrounding islands.
We’ll also include the Satsunan islands, which are the northern islands of the Nansei archipelago administered by south Kyūshū’s Kagoshima Prefecture.
Historically, the Satsunan islands were considered part of the Ryū-Kyū, as part of a continuum, but are now excluded by a recent official redefinition of the term.
See here for more precise info on the Nansei island chain.
MAIN DIVING AREAS MENTIONED
- Okinoshima, Koi-no-ura, Shikanoshima, Iōjima islands (Fukuoka Prefecture )
- Gotō islands, Tsushima and Iki Islands (Nagasaki Prefecture)
- Karatsu (Saga Prefecture)
- Hazako (Oita Prefecture)
- Amakusa (Kumamoto Prefecture)
- Nichinan, Nobeoka (Miyazaki Prefecture)
- Sakurajima, Bonotsu, Yamakawaoki Kamise (Kagoshima Prefecture)
(Nansei Archipelago islands administered by Kagoshima prefecture)
- Ōsumi Islands (Yakushima, Tanegashima, Iōjima islands)
- Amami Islands (Amami Ōshima, Tokunoshima, Okinoerabujima, Yoron island/Yoron-tō)
- Tokara Islands (Kuchinoshima)
DIVING HIGHLIGHTS AND ICONIC MARINE LIFE
In general, dive sites of Kyūshū region offer a very special mix of temperate and subtropical diving, especially in the Gotō islands (Nagasaki Pref.) where you can see both cold water and warm marine life, including rather unique tropical species, along with colourful soft corals and hard coral colonies, brought by the Tsushima branch of the Kuroshio warm current.
Similarly, the Satsunan islands (Kagoshima Pref.) further south, especially Yoron Island (Yoron-tō) offer an interesting seasonal mix of species.
Amami Ōshima (Kagoshima Pref.) is also a good place to observe the white-spotted puffer fish (Torquigener albomaculosus ), made famous by a sequence in the BBC’s Blue Planet series, where we see it crafting beautiful circular design in the sandy seabed.
The oddly shaped Japanese horseshoe crab (Tachypleus tridentatus), an endangered crab species, is spotted in different areas, especially on Koi-no-ura island (Fukuoka Pref.).
It has blue blood, and it does somewhat look like something out of Ridley Scott’s Alien movie franchise…
SCHOOLING FISH, PELAGICS AND PREDATORS
Schooling fish and predatory action are a common feature of Kyūshū dive sites, especially on current-exposed offshore sites and remote islands. The main local predators are amberjacks, tuna, trevallies and mackerels.
On Shikanoshima island in northern Kyūshū (Fukuoka Pref.) large migratory fish such as greater amberjacks (Seriola dumerili) prey on big schools of Japanese horse mackerel (Trachurus japonicus).
Big schools and predatory action can also be seen on the remote island of Okinoshima (Fukuoka Pref.), which is a sacred Shinto island and off-limits to women to this day.
Diving is done around the island, which is reached by a two-hour boat ride which can be organised by city-based operators.
Schools of fish are also one of the highlights of Miyazaki and Kagoshima Prefecture’s numerous dive sites (especially areas exposed to currents at Kagoshima Prefecture’s Sakurajima or Bonotsu, famous for its schools of amberjacks, tunas or rainbow runners.
Big fish (but also sharks and rays) are also a strong feature of southern Satsunan Islands (Kagoshima Pref.), such as Amami Ōshima or the Tokara islands (Kuchinoshima) famous for schools of bigeye trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus), giant trevallies (Caranx ignobilis) and dogtooth tuna (Gymnosarda unicolor) and other large migratory species, found all the way down to neighbouring Okinawa islands.
Still in the Satsunan Islands, the Amami archipelago’s Okinoerabujima is famous for its big ball of bigeye trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus), which can be seen all year round.
Amami Ōshima is also famous for its large aggregations of Gilbert’s cardinal fish (Zoramia gilberti) found in large aggregations near coral reefs and sheltered lagoon bays.
SHARKS AND RAYS
Reef sharks, pelagic sharks and rays are commonly spotted from winter to spring and in the summer months, especially in the Satsunan Islands (especially in the Amami and Tokara islands…), commonly encountered all the way down to Okinawa.
There have also been sightings of small schools of oceanic black tip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini), spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari), baitballs and other types of pelagic actions in the spring months around the Tokara/Satsunan islands, especially on exploratory cruises.
Reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi) are regularly spotted in the Tokara islands, especially around Kuchinoshima, between the end of October to mid-May, and spotted eagle rays in the autumn months, and the occasional whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) have also occasionally been spotted.
Eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari), thresher sharks (Alopias pelagicus), hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini), and mola-mola/sunfish (Mola-mola) are also sometimes spotted in Miyazaki Prefecture’s Nichinan and Nobeoka areas, and hammerhead and thresher sharks are also sometimes spotted in Kagoshima’s Yamakawaoki Kamise area.
MACRO DIVING, ODD AND RARE CRITTERS
The Kyūshū region offer very good macro diving with gobies and blennies, jawfish, and many species of nudibranchs and seahorses, along with the occasional spotting of pigmy seahorses at Yakushima’s Nagata and Otsuse sites.
Miyazaki Prefecture’s Nobeoka area is famous for its great variety of frogfish, and Kagoshima’s Sakurajima area offers solid macro life, including anthias normally seen in much deeper water.
Turtles are very common especially in the Satsunan Islands (Kagoshima Pref.), notably on the island of Yakushima, Okinoerabujima and Yoron but also in Oita Prefecture’s Hazako, and Miyazaki Prefecture’s Nobeoka, the beaches of which are all seasonal turtle nesting sites (usually end of May to end of July).
The Amami islands’ Tokunoshima, is home to a famous green turtle with a mountain-shaped shell nicknamed Yama-chan (Yama is mountain in Japanese), that has been entertaining divers in the shallows for over 10 years…
SPAWNING EVENTS AND AGGREGATIONS
The are many seasonal squid spawning events around Kyūshū, including bigfin reef squid (Sepioteuthis lessoniana) in the spring months on Miyazaki Prefecture dive sites.
WHALES AND OTHER CETACEANS
Amami Ōshima or the Tokara islands offer good seasonal whale watching of migratory humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and also Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera brydei)) or bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), but the main hotspot is a little further south, in Okinawa’s Kerama islands.
Kyūshū’s dolphin watching – is mostly done around the Amami or Tokara islands, but also up north. A large pod of wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) live around the Amakusa islands in Kumamoto Prefecture, and dolphin-watching tours are organised around the scenic group of 1,200 islands.
AN “UNDERWATER AURORA BOREALIS”
Bioluminescent algae forming an “underwater aurora borealis”, visible near Iōjima in the Satsunan islands, (Kagoshima Pref.), a unique phenomenon best viewed in autumn, when the visibility is good and a powerful Kuroshio warm current brings the right nutrients and conditions.
For adventurous coral enthusiasts, the island of Tsushima (Nagasaki Pref.), between the main islands of Japan and Korea in the Korea strait, is said to host the world’s most northern, cold water shallow coral reef in the world, made up of coral species discover in summer 1992.
The water there is generally cold, and diving activities have only just picked up, just like on the neighbouring island of Iki (Nagasaki Pref.),, which also harbours similar coral, along with good macro life and large schools of fish.
Coral-wise, the subtropical waters of Miyazaki Prefecture’s Nichinan are also famous for the beauty of its soft coral reefs, whereas the Nobeoka area is said to have one of Japan’s largest stony coral reef (Dendrophylliidae Gray)
REMARKABLE UNDERWATER TOPOGRAPHY
Kyūshū dive sites offer great volcanic topography, notably around Kagoshima’s famous active volcano island, Sakurajima, which also offers dynamic underwater features, including a drop-off to 200m+, made by lava flows from recent eruptions.
Similarly, Okinoshima (Fukuoka Pref.) along with many other Kyūshū dive sites offer exciting volcanic terrain underwater.
Kagoshima’s Bonotsu area is said to offer the best underwater visibility in Kyūshū, with an average of 15m+, reaching 30m+ in the winter months.
Yoron Island, which has no rivers and is surrounded by very deep water, also generally offers great, 20 to 35m+ underwater visibility and dynamic volcanic terrain.
There is the option to do some wreck diving at multiple sites in the Kyūshū areas, including the Gotō islands (Nagasaki Pref.), which feature a 100m long shipwreck in the Shimogoto area, said to be on of the the largest in Japan.
Other sites, especially in the Satsunan islands offer great shipwrecks or sunken WW2 airplanes.
Yakushima island (Kagoshima Pref.) has a famous sunken Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane for divers to explore at 20m (Zero-sen point, Isso).
Karatsu, in Saga Prefecture, is famous for its sometimes violent weather and currents, which led to many shipwrecks in the past.
Local cargo was mainly porcelain and chinaware, remainder of which are sometimes spotted on local dive sites.
Yoron island also has an purposely sunk wreck, lying at just over 30 m depth, often visited by schools of tuna and trevallies, along with a (slightly kitsch) Greek-style man made structure.
Good drift diving options are found at Kagoshima’s Tanegashima Island, and in other areas in the Satsunan islands (especially around the Ōsumi and Tokara islands).
Liveaboard diving is not common in Japan, however there seems to be some movement around the Nansei Islands, with cruises offered (maybe under the influence of the current Covid-19 restrictions on international travel) around closely connected island groups in Okinawa and also around Kyūshū’s Satsunan Islands.
One operator Stingray Cruises, are organising boat trips and short liveaboard cruises around northern Kyūshū’s Genkai Sea and Saikai area (islands of Okinoshima, Iki islands, and Gotō islands), as well as south Kyūshū’s Satsunan Islands.
Their Satsunan Island operations, Tokara Discovery Cruises, offer 3, 4, 5 and 7 night exploratory cruises around the Tokara islands / Satsunan archipelago area, but for logistical reasons, this is probably still off-the-map for non-Japanese speakers.
Click here for more precise, detailed and practical information on diving in the Kyūshū region.