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Ama diver

Ama diver

Women did not always get a good deal in Japan, having no choice but to work in the sex or pleasure trade.  The Ama, however, was something entirely different.  The Ama was the name given to the Japanese pearl divers, also known as the Sea Women of Japan.

Women were thought to be better sea divers than men because of the ‘extra fat’ their bodies carried.  It meant they found it easier to endure the freezing temperatures of the seawater.  Being part of the AMA was hugely celebrated, but that does not mean it was not hard work.  Most women would start training early – age 12 or so – and would continue diving well into their seventies or eighties.

Two ama divers at  Futamigaura Beach

Ama divers by Utagawa Toyokuni III (1786-1865)

Ama divers usually wore white clothing for their diving and did not use diving apparatus, as the images all show.  They wore loincloths and bandanas to cover their hair.  It is only in recent times that they would use any kind of equipment such as scuba.  They were free divers and learned to hold their breath for a very long time, learned via specialist breathing techniques.

There are still AMA today, although it is more of a tourist attraction than anything else.  Many people have images or pictures of the Ama on their walls today, as a form of respect and tribute to these incredible women.

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