TEXT: Reko Dida
Amas, female divers, harvest shellfish and seaweed from the sea floor without any diving equipment.There are still about 2000 ama divers in Japan. Mie prefecture has Japan’s largest population of amas. Most ama divers are over 40 years old. Like many traditional occupations in Japan, it is hereditary. Fishing rights are passed from mother to daughter. More young people gradually get involved.
It was August 2015 when we decided to spend some days as a family in Ise. We went there to visit our friends and explore Ise. It was my dream to visit a place I have never been before.
Ise is known by tourists and foreigners for its Ise Jingu. The only thing I can say is that it was quite impressive to visit such a mystical place, one of the true Japanese cultural sites. It was beautiful, magnificent and traditional, despite its slight reconstruction. I think that most foreigners do not know that Ise is also famous for its Mikimoto Pearl Island. You can still see how ama women harvest pearls in a traditional way.
I noticed a small boat with two women dressed in white. I was wondering what they are going to do. They stood up, took a basket tied with a rope to their arms and dived underwater.
I did not know much about amas before coming to Ise. Even though it was a rainy day, it did not stop me from exploring amas. I had my Nikon camera. I noticed a small boat with two women dressed all in white. I was wondering what they are going to do. They stood up, took a basket tied with a rope to their arms and dived underwater.
While the boat was moving away, the only thing I could see in the surface were their baskets as their bodies slowly disappear underwater. It was amazing; it was the sea and the women, no diving gear. The women and the nature. I heard that the amas could hold their breath for 2 minutes, as they dive deep to haul shells. It was unbelievable but real, the diving time was very long. After a while one of them showed up and pointed the freshly caught oyster to me. You could see their names on their diving goggles. One of them was called Nami. The way they dived and communicate with no words was truly mysterious. It made me want to look at that magic moment over and over again.
This shows women’s strength and their role in society. I thought this would only be happening in Japan.
I did not want to leave that place. Many questions came to my mind, but I also received many answers. The first one was, how this tradition among women has developed in a country like Japan? Women physically are more flexible and slender and have less body mass, which allows them to hold their breath for longer than men. They can dive at about 25 meters deep and gather more oysters. This shows women’s strength and their role in society. I thought this would only be happening in Japan. I also understood that owning a Mikimoto pearl is a dream of every woman.