One of the lesser-known but fascinating parts of Japanese culture is that of the Ama pearl divers. These women specialised in freediving some 0 feet down into cold water wearing nothing more than a loincloth. Utilising special techniques to hold their breath for up to 2 minutes at a time, they would work for up to 4 hours a day in order to gather abalone, seaweed and other shellfish. The most profitable pursuit however was diving for pearls. Traditionally for Ama, finding a pearl inside an oyster was akin to receiving a large bonus while they went about their ancestral practice of collecting shellfish. That changed when Kokichi Mikimoto, founder of Mikimoto Pearl , began his enterprise.
Rules were introduced to prevent this. On Hegura island in Wajima city, rules state that abalone under 10 centimetres must be returned to the sea, with a punishment of two days without work if caught breaking them.
Despite their efforts however, numbers of abalone and other shellfish have been in decline, in part due to overfishing, but also the rising sea temperatures which affects the growth of seaweed the shellfish eat. This culture of national mermaids diving for the nation is not only unique to Japan however. From Korea has been presenting its best case to have the Haenyo divers of Jeju Island listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Depictions of Ama are featured in old works of art, such as the piece below by master Kuniyoshi. Predictably, there are also films made around the profession.
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Trailer below. The first is a superb documentary with an interview with a former Ama diver. The second, although I have serious doubts about the validity of the narration, has rather nice, colourful video shots to enjoy. Just ignore the dialogue. Dear Michael, I am working on a project revolving around Ama.
Would you mind reaching out to me via email? I would love to have a conversation with you to learn more about specifics of Ama. Thank you. The commentary to the video is clearly very tongue in ek. Maybe you need to study the British sense of humour. To further the cover, he isA embedded with an Ama pearl diver named Kissy Suzuki, a perfect guise to get him close to the shore cliff castle.
A After some straight. Superb photos. I am amazed by the natural beauty of these women, long before the regrettable appearance of silicone applied to breast enhancement. It goes to show that beauty and nature and health are closely related. Thank you for this beautiful article. Please, can you translate the poem about the Ama into English? I am a poet and would love to know what it says in English. You guys might want to ck out the t.
series that just ran a couple seasons in japan and was a big hit. about a high school girl who decides to become an ama. Even my ancestors were Pearl Divers, by the same way without any external help to breath; but they were men. Some of them even lost their life too, down water. Those pearls were one of the main sources of income to Pandiya dynasty of South India, then. The two men responsible for introducing me to the Ama were Walt Disney and Ian Fleming.
I learned about the Ama from two men: Ian Fleming and Walt Disney. There may have been other documentaries and works of fiction mentioning the Ama, but my introduction came from the works of those two men. I am currently doing a project on this and I can not believe the braveness of these Ama Divers.
I hope that the tradition continues forever!!!!! This is a great article.
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We were truly inspired. We re in the course of creating a exposition about oysters in the NAVIGO- National Fisheries museum in Belgium. Do you know were I can gastheer pictures? And who owns the rights to it? I would love to use this Can anybody help me? Greetings, Ineke. When a woman puts her hand in the ocean that balance is restored. This is ancient wisdom that is very relevant today with our current over fishing practices.
Wonderful to discover this site and these stunning photographs! This was the most amazing story I have read and watd in my whole life! Thank you for sharing this, I think I was an Ama diver in my previous life, or hopefully I will be one in my next life, I love the freedom and connection between these women and the ocean. Incredibly beautiful photos. Thank you very much for your efforts. my parents had a whole book on these women when i was a kid.
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it had these great pictures in it. i think the name was beautiful swimmers or beautiful divers. something like that.
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Even though such a lifestyle is very different from my personal up bringing and culture, it filled me with joy just thinking how ritual and tradition are so important to our humanity.
In this case, the natural beauty of these women, the society in which they live and contribute to sustaining immensely, and the future of such a practice. That question still looms: at what point does one abandon tradition and adopt new practices? What does that do to our culture, Our community, our history?
I am glad I do not have to answer these questions, for I appreciate both the old and the new. Oh life. You continue to perplex me. Thank you for sharing!! Awesome information loved this story would love to do this one day awesome inspired sustainable fishing is so good.
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Hi everybody, how fascinating Ama history. And your article is a good summary indeed. Few of them continue to make a living with shells collecting. I intent to go there again for an in deep the expression fits so good! Women in those age ranges in the U. Could a modified form of the ama regimen improve the quality of life for women in this country? No doubt about it! Having an active lifestyle and eating good food are surely major contributing factors in enjoying a life full of quality and purpose.
The salt water is also very healing.
My American Mom is about 80 and she is traveling the world. Yes, I believe that an active lifestyle that including the incredible stimulating ocean is a definete health benefit. Hi, I just ran across this blog. Very cool. Years ago, I saw an old work of art of an Ama diver holding an abalone.
Do you know where I can find this artwork? I was always so intrigued at how they could hold their breath for so long. What a great read!!
This will do! Mikimoto have a museum in Toba where they have divers do demos in the. White anti shark outfits. I found this website while ating on a crossword puzzle. Thus my quest for a puzzle answer led me to find this great pearl. As a man I say with respect and awe, that I would have loved to have witnessed and shared in the time when women in loincloths dove into beautiful clear seas.
No doubt someone of our era would romanticize such a time, but I embrace that illusion. As a woman, this is a showing of empowerment that we should be proud of. Diving without any equipment to aid them, these women defied the odds and showed to the world that we, women, can do incredible feats.
An excellent reason that USA females should be required by USA federal law to sign up for the military draft as males are required to do. And, if the draft ever starts up again to achieve equity with the past an all-female military should be initiated until a rough parity has been attained with the numbers of males wounded and killed fighting war in prior conflicts.
Seems fair to me. Great idea, Obbop! Surely your suggestion is much more logical than ending these wars which are started and run and funded predominantly by men in the first place! Good talk. Blaming women living now for events of the past is double stupid. You are also ruining a lovely comment stream with an aggressive attitude, shoo troll, we are here to read about beautiful things xxx.
She said that women can do incredible feats - not that all women and men can do the exact same incredible feats. I, as a small woman, would be pretty useless at war. Do you realise how pathetic and bizarre that is?
I The hate must run deep! Besides - You want to attain a rough parity for gender inequality of the past? Be my guest! But lets go the whole way shall we? and consider the full scope of what women of the past actually put up with. Or do you not know about or acknowledge that? Also lets change the gender representation in government and in big business also, in parity with the past!
No way, as a small person you would have been extremely valuable in service during war time. Smaller people can escape better, are harder to detect, make better sniper rifle shooters, etc. In hand to hand combat, with proper training, smaller people can evade and redirect think Akido incoming assaults, and are harder to shoot due just to their small size.
And as a woman especially during WW2 the enemy would be less likely to guess you worked for the other side Because a woman? During war!? No way! This archaic gender bullshit is affecting our ability to defend our own country and it has got to stop.
Empowering and beautiful. Where are the strong American women repairing our sewers, welding underwater pipes and shoveling manure? What a beautiful tradition. I wish it was never changed or capitalized on.
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The world had such unique and amazing features before the industrial age took full hold. Sponge diving, in some islands of Greece, was the only way to earn your living in the past, but it was men that were diving. A 15 kilograms stone was taking the divers down to the bottom quickly.
They often went down to about 0 metres ft for up to 5 minutes. Some of them more than years ago discovered the Antikythera Mechanism, the oldest analog computer.
Look for a book called The Physiology of Breath Hold Diving and the Ama of Japan. A great scientific account of what these remarkable women can do. A little note though: In japan female divers were non existent as men were the only ones allowed to do that until the 19th century.
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At that time the taxation system made women possible divers but also made their activities tax free which had the effect of pushing a lot of poor female into the job. Remember, It was NOT a good or well regarded job and the romanticism about it is only in retrospect. A few years ago I found a unique book by Horace Bristol on his photography of Japan, from Inside, there are 14 booklets of his photos and observations.
One of the booklets talks about the Ama in a different location, and pearl cultivation in general. The photography is really amazing and provides a record of a way of life that is tending to become more rare.
You can find out more about it here.
I have never heard of this! How amazing! I would love to visit there some day and possibly try myself. Thank you for sharing!
Your email address will not be published. Copyright © -Michael Gakuran. Thrilling tales of adventure and stories about haikyo, urban exploration and travel off the beaten track from Gakuranman in Japan.
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Goodies Tweet. Ama - The Pearl Diving Mermaids of Japan Warning: Nudity By Michael Gakuran Japan 9 Comments. Fosco Maraini The most profitable pursuit however was diving for pearls. Fosco Maraini Mikimoto used Ama divers to look after his cultivated pearls on Mikimoto Pearl Island, near Toba city.
Source Fosco Maraini The role of the Mikimoto ama was to collect the oysters from the seabed so that the pearl-producing nucleus may be inserted.
Yoshiyuki Iwase Although the tradition is still maintained across many parts of Japan, the skinny-dipping practices of old have largely been lost. Eishin Osaki One photographer in particular stands out with his photographs of the Ama. Yoshiyuki Iwase One of the reasons Ama are largely female is said to be their thicker layer of fat than their male counterparts to help them endure the cold water during long periods of diving.
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FPCJ Source As technology progressed, the Ama communities were faced with decisions - adopt new tools and equipment or retain traditions?
Yoshiyuki Iwase On Hegura island in Wajima city, rules state that abalone under 10 centimetres must be returned to the sea, with a punishment of two days without work if caught breaking them. Source Source This culture of national mermaids diving for the nation is not only unique to Japan however.
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