Ama – Enigmatic Women In Japan’s Deep Sea

Ama – the women called beautiful merman in Japan can genuinely dive 10m in the sea or even far away from the coastline several kilometers without breather and screw-propeller, etc. Many tourists said that it is thanks to mermaid’s favor.

Ama is the name of women in Japan who work as free divers for a living. It remains for a long time and become their traditional character. However, due to modern life, those women who used to be compared to Japan’s legend and are mysterious women are lesser and lesser recently.

One of them named Kimiyo Hayashi is talking to her niece named Tomomi Nakanishi pretty gently while sitting beside a fire stove in a small cabin at Ago – Japan. People said that wild animals sometimes stop by and eat salts of the sea at this land.

ama-enigmatic-women-in-japans-high-sea-1Ama – mysterious women of the high sea are usually compared as “mermaid”. Photo by: Alamy.

Hayashi and Nakanishi are the last free female divers of Japan keep firmly to this old way to earn for living. It’s covered by grey wooden planks above the floor where they are sitting and stick with black on the ceiling while boiling water. Their diving tools are primitive with a diving mask, wet and old diving clothes dropping bit by bit on the floor.

She said “I live my whole life with the sea, and I can feel cold to my bone. But I do love the traditional habit of warming up the body right after diving”. Hayashi is talking while looking at the land in pincer’s jaw shape ahead.

Hayashi is 61 years old, but no one can say her right age because of her strength and eyes’ acuity talking about her life. In the morning, she prepares diving tools quietly to start a new day. Some Amas dive without wearing any upper clothes and wear merely a small loin-cloth and tenugi – a kind of traditional towel of Japanese. When she was 16 years old, she thought about what would attract her ahead in the ocean after waving to her mom and her grandmother – two ex-Amas.

ama-enigmatic-women-in-japans-high-sea-2Ago Bay located in Mie Province. Photo by: Alamy

After a long time of 45 years, Ama’s rituals to the ocean remains the same. They wear traditional white clothes and jump into the sea. Sometimes, they swim far away from the coastline 1 km and dive deeply 10m to catch some scallops or take some seaweed.

Some people said why Ama could dive in that deep without modern equipment such as breather or screw-propeller thanks to mermaid’s favor. However, they have to face up to many difficulties of nature such as weather varies in the ocean or sharks. “Mermaid is not exceptional to the shark,” a tourist said humorously. Hayashi said that shark is an enormous threat to Amas during the time, and she lost many friends due to the shark.

Each Ama has her trick for diving. The key secret is not the length of stop breathing. It is the fastest way to catch those creatures in the deep ocean. In her golden age, she brought back a full of the wooden cask with abalone, sea urchin, oyster, lobster, and octopus, etc. Moreover, they also find the natural pearl. The maximum amount that they can earn by catching those creatures can be 27 million JPY – Japanese currency. (Around 5.8 billion VND)

Commonly, Ama is hereditary that girls will follow her mother and grandmother’s career. Hayashi said “Recently, no one wants to do this job anymore. Our daughters don’t want to follow our career”.

However, some people still follow this old way of earning for living as a traditional custom. In fact, the number of followers is decreased from 8000 people since the World War II to 2000 currently. The average age of those mermen is 65. The oldest is over 80 years old.

Moreover, Ama also has to face up with the difficulty of decrease price of the seafood or governmental preservation policies is strengthen rather than exploiting or catching seafood.

However, Hayashi confirms that she will never quit her job. “I still have 20 years ahead for diving merely be strong and happy. I love my job”.

Tourist’s general impression after meeting those women is their holding their career for a long time – where is not familiar with modern life in Japan. At Ise Shima at Mie Province, tourist also has an opportunity to see those women who are compared to the mermaid. This name was firstly called in an ancient poem of Japan since the decade of 8th. Ama is a legend in Japanese’ mind.

Nowadays, Ama is not only dive but also provide their service at their cabin. They serve fresh and tasty grilled seafood which is the favorite food of a large amount of tourist.

ama-enigmatic-women-in-japans-high-sea-3Tourists love to have those fresh seafood grilled on Ama’s cabin. Photo by: Alamy.

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