8 Sensational Ukiyo-e Images of Passionate Ama Divers
Marijn Kruijff
6 min

12 Titillating Ukiyo-e Images of Passionate Ama Divers

6 min

Females and female beauty are among the most beloved subjects of art in general in history. This was also the case in Japan during the Edo period (1600-1868) and for the images from ‘the floating world’ as displayed in their ukiyo-e art.

Bare Upper Bodies

A favorite sub-genre within the female subject, for Japanese artists at the time, was the ama (海人) diver (a. The method of collecting  abalone without the use of masks (and certainly not diving suits!) had been practiced in Japan since ancient times. These graceful beauties with their bare upper bodies, red loincloths and striking hairstyles were always depicted in a way that betrayed the artist’s pleasure.

Fantasy Designs

In their designs ama divers were often seen at work diving in the sea, looking for pearls, seaweed, shellfish, lobsters, octopus, and oysters that sometimes contain a pearl, but in some cases they were the subject of fantasy designs as in the famous prints of Hokusai and Utamaro.

ama divers

Fig.1. ‘Ama diver and male lover‘ (c.1820) by Yanagawa Shigenobu (1787-1833)

Surrounding Oysters

The artist Shigenobu displays the ama diver and her lover in one of his beloved poses, with the woman sitting on the man’s lap and her legs in the air. The surrounding oysters and the bucket in the background emphasize her profession.

ama divers

Fig.2. Painting of  ‘Intimate ama divers under water‘ (c.1890s) by an anonymous Meiji artist

Puffer Fish

Surrounded by all kinds of marine animals (octopuses, carps, and a Puffer fish) a male and female ama diver make love at the bottom of a reef.

ama divers

Fig.3. ‘Four ama girls at work‘ (c.1827) from the series ‘Kamigata koi shugyo‘ by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) (Available in our gallery Euro 925,-)

Trembling Girls

A charming scene with sensual undertones. We see four attractive ama divers during their work, diving for pearls at the sea shore. The girl standing, holds a knife (for opening oysters) between her teeth while wringing out her loincloth. The conditions are harsh as emphasized by the trembling girls sitting by the fire. In the composition, the tough girl who dives into the waves is nicely counterbalanced by the breaking waves on the rocks, at the right side of the design.

ama divers

Fig.4. ‘Two young ama divers‘ (c.1830) from the series ‘Suetsumuhana (A Dyer’s Saffron)‘ by Yanagawa Shigenobu (1787-1833)

Sexual Rollick

A beach scene with two ama divers having a sexual rollick. A basket containing shells is on the right; a few are scattered in the foreground. The ragged lines of the red cloth are reminiscent of the work of Katsushika Hokusai. This print was previously attributed to Keisai Eisen.

ama divers

Fig.5.‘Tied ama diver‘ (c.1810) by Utagawa Kunimaru (1794-1829)


A striking koban-sized design with an ama diver, tied down to an anchor, is being raped by a male colleague.


Fig.6. ‘Court ladies watching ama divers at work‘ (c.1880) by Toyohara Chikanobu (1838-1912)

Woman of the Sea

A spectacular triptych design depicting a pleasure boat with excited court ladies observing ama divers also known as ‘woman of the sea’ off the coast of Sagami Province. On the left, one of the divers is swimming through the gentle waves, a knife clenched between her teeth. From the rocky shore three divers watch their colleagues, a large basket of abalone standing nearby. The women on the ship amuse themselves with the spectacle, one of them leaning forward over the edge.

Clasping Tentacles

Chikanobu masterfully captures the variety of sea life visible just below the surface of the water, such as bream, manta ray and squid and its comic interaction with the ama divers. Three of the ama divers (in the middle panel) wrestle with an octopus whose clasping tentacles recall the erotic undertones of Hokusai’s monumental ‘The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife’‘. On the horizon Mount Fuji rises and the silhouette of a Dutch ship can be seen in the distance. Look for the striking detail on the left and middle panel of the squid shooting out a cloud of dark ink.

ama divers

Fig.7. ‘Triptych Of Genji Enjoying At Futamigaura Beach (Mitsu-uji isobe asobi no zu)‘, c.1857 by Utagawa Toyokuni III (1786-1865) (Price triptych Euro 1450,-)

Wedded Rocks

Famous left panel of the triptych by Toyokuni III (Kunisada) portraying an ama diver standing on a rock with a knife between her teeth, wringing out her loincloth, while a colleague is handing her an oyster. In the background a part of the well-known ‘Wedded Rocks’ is visible.

ama divers

Fig.8. ‘Azuma (modern) Prince Genji at Chigo Abyss on Enoshima Island’ (c.1864) from the series: ‘The Contemporary Annual Events‘ by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) (Price is Euro 1100,-)

Prince Genji

Yoshitoshi’s triptych features Prince Genji observing ama divers at work on the rocky shore at Chigogafuchi on the island of Enoshima. On the left panel a fearless woman dives into the intimidating waves just after a fellow diver, who vanishes below the surf, only one of her feet visible above the water. The middle panel depicts two beautiful divers are having a break. One of them anxiously offers a large abalone shell to the young aristocrat, who is smiling back at her.

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Fig.9. ’Ama diver and lover making love on the beach’ (c.1890) by an unknown Meiji artist

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Fig.10. ‘Fisherman and ama diver making love under water‘ (c.1830) attributed to Yanagawa Shigenobu (1787-1832)

intimate ama diver with lover on the beach

Fig.11. ‘Aristocratic couple making love on the beach surrounded by caught seafood‘ (c.1900) by Osaka school artist

ama diver under water

Fig.12. Diver under water surrounded by fishes (c.1818) attributed to Keisai Eisen

Three-Dimensional Wave Lines

The scarlet loincloth that swings in the water revealing the genitals and the three-dimensional wave lines that overlap make it a funny motif, but the beauty stands out.

ama diver under water detail

Fig.12a. Detail

The following article features dozens of images (also including ama divers) of sensual tentacle art…!!!

What is your favorite “ama diver” design? Leave your reaction in the comment box below…..!!