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The Gentleness and Toughness of Osatsu’s Ama Divers

07-17-2013

The Gentleness and Toughness of Osatsu’s

Ama Divers

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Ama, the female divers who plunge into the sea to harvest abalones, turban shells, and other shellfish, without any diving equipment and relying on nothing but their own skills, are a rarity in the world; they can be seen only in Japan and South Korea. Partly because of NHK’s popular drama serial Ama-chan, ama divers are attracting a lot of attention once again. The realities of the ama world are tough, though. The number of abalones that can be sold for high prices is declining, and since there are not many young people who are attracted to the occupation, ama divers are getting older and fewer. There are now only about 2,000 ama divers, one-tenth as many as there were in the “golden era” of the 1940s.
Against this background, I asked Sumiko Nakagawa, her daughter Sanae, and her granddaughter Shizuka, a three-generation ama family living in the town of Osatsu in Toba City, Mie Prefecture, about the attractions and rewards of ama diving.
     During my trip to Osatsu, among other places, I also visited an ama hut for tourists, where you can eat freshly cooked seafood while listening to the tales of active ama divers, and Ishigami-san, a small shrine on the approach to Shinmei Shrine where it is said that if a woman make a single wish, it will come true.

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(From left) Sanae, Sumiko, and Shizuka

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