Are they fishermen? Divers? Mermaids? What are “ama”?

“Ama” are women free divers who make a living by diving to the bottom of the sea in search of shellfish and seaweed.
Half of the about 2000 “ama” in Japan are active in the Toba-Ise Shima area, in Mie Prefecture.
There are also men, but the number of women “ama” is overwhelmingly bigger. This is because one of the biggest enemies of diving for a long time in the sea is the cold and, as it turns out, women can endure it better thanks to their subcutaneous fat. It is said that a long time ago all they wore was just a piece of cloth, even during the winter.
Their catch is different depending on the area, and it includes turban shell, ear shell, sea urchin, lobster, and various types of seaweed. However, their main objective is the luxury food “awabi” (abalone)!



Being an “ama” is actually a really dangerous job

“Ama” divers need to first swim to the spot where their catch is, then dive deep into the bottom of the sea and look for it.
The time they spend underwater is about 1 minute each time, and they keep repeating it again and again.
It is said that veteran “ama” are able to stay underwater for over 5 minutes. It’s unbelievable!!
But they say that since this is a job in which you have to work hand in hand with nature, they also have dangerous experiences sometimes.



“Ama-goya” – an important place for “ama” divers

In towns where “ama” work, there are always simple “ama-goya” (ama huts) built next to the sea.
At the center of the room there is a hearth where they keep fire burning, so the divers can come in to warm up their chilly bodies in between divings or once they are done.
They say that here they chat with each other to amuse themselves. According to them, this is a very important place and time, since they would not be able to last long in this line of work if they did not have the chance to unwind chatting with one another in this place.

Those of you who are now interested in meeting real life “ama” should definitely visit Toba City in Mie Prefecture – there are many active “ama” in the area!




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Editor / Writer

I’m from Mie Prefecture, and a big fan of Yomiuri Giants, Japanese baseball team! I rarely stay at home every weekend, and love to go outside. I feel Japanese locals and the world will be connected soon! I’m trying to make a fun world!