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The ama: a community of female divers in Mie

The ama: a community of female divers in Mie

Ama simply means woman of the sea and refers to these Japanese women, who practice free diving. A job traditionally reserved for women, as it did not require them to go to sea in a boat like the fishermen. Today the average age of an ama is over 65. According to a survey conducted in 2010, the ama community is made up of around 2,000 women (and a few men!) throughout Japan, the most of whom work in Mie Prefecture.

The daily life of a free-diving woman
The small community has to abide by many rules specific to the area, where they practice their activities. For example, in the area of Mie the women divers meet for group dives between 9:00 and 10:30 am. An hour and a half of fishing is the maximum time allowed in order to preserve the marine fauna for the future generations.

So how deep do the ama descend? The beginners dive down to 4-5 meters, while the more experienced divers will dive up to 10 meters. Some even reach to an astounding 20 meters. A feat for these women, who practice this daily activity until they are over 80 years old!

The tools of the ama
To dive, the ama have all the necessary equipment: wetsuits, goggles, fins. They also have a white traditional outfit in their wardrobe, sometimes decorated with symbols such as the star that supposedly protects them during their dive.

To help them, there is no usage of an oxygen tank. Their tools are simple: a buoy, a net to collect the treasures found during their dive and a long hook allowing them to collect mollusks or to detach seashells.


Ama and Ecology
Continuing the ama tradition is not only a cultural issue, but it is also an ecological initiative. Their activities are monitored to preserve the marine life. Better still, the ama are involved in the preservation of Japan’s natural heritage. By regularly scanning the seabed, these women have the ability to predict the dangers, capable of accurately reporting various upheavals that occur in the oceans as a result of global warming or pollution!

It is quite possible to meet ama divers on a trip to Japan, especially in Mie Prefecture. An Ama Hut restaurant, for example, offers a tasting of freshly caught seafood cooked in front of you by some ama.