For more than 2,000 years they have been diving for shells, sea cucumbers, algae or crustaceans.
These are the ama, a community of women with infectious laughter. The word “Ama” simply means “woman of the sea” and refers to those Japanese women who practice diving. A job that would traditionally have been reserved for women, as it did not require going to sea on a boat like fishermen. The average age of an ama today is 65 years. These proud divers have an easy-going presence and great sense of humor. A community of 2,000 women (and a few men) across Japan
The Daily Life of a Japanese Editor
You can’t become an ama diver who wants to. A small community must already adhere to many of the rules of the county where it operates. On Mai, for example, divers gather to dive in groups between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Fishing is an hour and a half the maximum time allowed in order to preserve marine animals for future generations. Typically, the group will dive for 30 minutes and then return to shore to warm up for 30 minutes before diving a second time.
Ama Group Diving in Mi
How deep is ama diving? Beginners go down to 4-5 metres, while more experienced divers go up to 10 metres. Some reach 20 meters when they dive into the open sea with the help of fishermen. An amazing achievement for these women who do this daily activity until they are 80 years old!
For snorkeling, the ama has all the necessary equipment: wetsuits, goggles, and fins. They also have in their wardrobe colorful traditional clothes, sometimes adorned with symbols such as the star that is supposed to protect them during their dives.
To help them, no oxygen bottle. Their tools are simple: a buoy, a net to collect treasures found while diving and finally a chisel that allows them to dig to flush out mollusks or separate shells.
ama and ecology
Continuing the ama tradition is not just a cultural issue, it is also an environmental initiative. As we saw above, their activities are monitored in order to preserve the marine fauna and flora. Even better, the ama is involved (like many other actors in their region) in preserving Japan’s natural heritage. By regularly examining the sea floor, these women are true whistleblowers, able to accurately report on various disturbances occurring in the oceans following global warming or pollution! The change in the color of the algae, the temperature of the water, the periods when the shells appear, all this is recorded and taken into account.
It is quite possible to meet ama divers during a trip to Japan, especially in Mie Prefecture and in particular in Toba. The ama HUT, for example, offers a taste of fresh seafood cooked in front of you by a few ama’s.