Diving with the Gentle Giant of Japan
Updated: Feb 27
As a newbie diver, I was always hoping to see big creature of the ocean such as whale shark, manta ray, whales or sunfish. And in May 2018, when I visited Okinawa to pay a visit to a local Japanese friend, I found out that the best diving spot in Japan is just nearby island of Ishigaki. What more, Ishigaki have the reputation for the easiest spot in the world to have a close encounter with Manta Ray, one of the biggest sea creature in the ocean with wingspan of up to 7m.
Ishigaki Island is located about 400km from the main island of Okinawa. In fact, it is actually closer to Taiwan (300km) compared to other Japanese cities. Unlike any other prefecture in Japan, Okinawa (Ishigaki Island included) has a subtropical climate which makes diving here a pleasant experience. There are many domestic flights to Ishigaki from major Japanese cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Naha. Currently, New Ishigaki Airport (新石垣空港 - Shin Ishigaki Kuko) served only international flight from Hong Kong and Taipei.
Dive with Manta
Ishigaki is one of the locations where the chances to dive with Manta is among the highest in the world. Yes, you can also dive with Manta in other dive spots (such as Nusa Penida, Indonesia), however, the relative calm and shallow water of Ishigaki is what attracted a newbie diver like me to flock here to try my luck.
Manta can be found around Ishigaki for whole year. There are various Manta Point around the island. However, various other factors such choppy sea (I dive once here just after a typhoon passed by and unable to dive at Manta Points again due to sea condition) will cause these points unreachable. The best time to dive is from end of spring to end of autumn (end May to October) where the water temperatures is around 26-30°C and a calmer sea which make the whole diving experience more comfortable.
* Forgive me for such low-resolution photos as this is the first time I take underwater photos and video 😂.
Ishigaki is more than just Manta Point
Diving in Ishigaki is more than just witnessing Manta Ray. The Japanese government had set up a strict guideline to protect the coral here and many conservation laws applied here. This is what I believe make Ishigaki one of my favourite diving spots. You can find various macro marine creature such as turtle, eels, cuttlefish and Tomato Clownfish here.
* Do you know that all Clownfish was born male? The biggest male will change its gender to become female when the sole female die. Nemo from Finding Nemo is a clownfish.
*Dance of Lionfish
* Imagine when you dive with these school of fishes
* Venomous Sea Snake
Micro Life at Ishigaki is amazing
What makes dive sites in Ishigaki different from other dive sites that I visited before (apart from Manta Ray), is the abundance of it's micro creature. Nudibranches, garden eels, ribbon eel, ghost pipefish and shrimp can be easily found here. My favourite here is a sandy area where garden eels reside.
I have to hold my breath in order to take this video as Garden Eels are very shy and will hide inside the holes when there is unwanted intruder such as me. Haha.
*Clockwise from top left: Nudibranch, unknown tiny fish that look like Kamen Rider, Ghost Pipefish, micro shrimp, another species of nudibranch and another species of micro shrimp.
I will be back again
I have the opportunities to dive here twice. Both time, I was in aw with the good services by a diving company known as Prime Scuba Ishigaki. They provide pick-up from hostel or hotel.
Diving with them is great. Daily dive trip consists of three dives. Lunch and refreshments were cooked on board and Tomo-san is a great cook. 😊
Diving in Ishigaki definitely one of the best diving experience I ever had. Great marine life, calm water, good dive masters and of course, the chances to make friends. And my target for my next visit is to do free-diving in one of the most beautiful spots ever for free diving.
And of course, Ishigaki offered more than just diving. Should I share more on what to do during no-fly day in Ishigaki? Comment below to let me know.