Ama

 

Japanese Female Divers

 

Kashikoshima, Mie

 








Japanese female breath-hold diversf known as ama bring up seaweed, abalone, shellfish, natural pearls, and oysters. The ama can hold breath longer than men and withstand cold water better due to body fat. Traditionally, they wore a simple loincloth. Nowadays, the white cloth scares off sharks and offer protection against poisonous jellyfish. Once, a popular business for women in the countryside is dying out.

 The whistle is a distinct method of breathing for the ama. They breathe slowly and quietly through pursed lips to increase air pressure in the lungs. In group diving situations, the whistle is also a way of subconsciously identifying and locating each other providing safety as well as respect for work territories. These melancholic, whistling sounds have been called the elegy of the sea and are sometimes referred to as sea lament (iso nageki) for their sigh-like quality.








Abalone Offering of the Ise Grand Shrine, Mie

 A myth describes a deity who is travelling in a region in search of a suitable location to enshrine the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. One day, a female diver offers an abalone to the deity. The deity is most impressed and requests that the abalone be made as an offering in the Sun Goddessf Shrine. The sacred abalone must be harvested from the regionfs most easterly point where the first sunrise is sighted.





Story of the Poor Woman Diver

 Long time ago, a very handsome young man sailed from the Capital of Nara to a small seaside village where he fell in love with a humble seaweed diver. Soon they married and had a pretty baby boy. One day the husband revealed that he was a son of the most distinguished aristocratic statesman.

 His younger sister, who was married to the Emperor of China, had sent forth three very precious things to the Emperor of Japan. One of the gifts was a magic drum which never ceased emitting a most exquisite sound until it was covered with nine layers of silken robes. Another was a unique ink stone which could produce the finest ink without applying a drop of water to the stone. The last was a crystal ball enshrining an image of the Buddha who never failed to face you at whichever angle you looked into the ball.










But while the treasure ship was sailing through the Inland Sea a Dragon King sent out a tremendous thunderstorm as well as legions of dragons against the small vessel. The men fought bravely, but to avoid losing everything they were forced to give up the crystal to appease the dragons. The young husband could not forget the Ball of Buddha and sailed over to the coast closest to the sea-battle to find a way to retrieve the ball from the dragons.

 The wife said that I could bring the crystal back to you and then you could make the son of ours your heir. The young man consented without hesitation, assuring her that the boy would have a brilliant future as his heir. The very next day they sailed out into the sea. The woman put a long lifeline around her waist and with a knife in her hand quietly disappeared into the depths. She went through the cold darkness of the deep until she found herself in front of a towering palace guarded by eight dragons and swarms of crocodiles.









Praying for the help of Kannon the wife burst into the palace, snatched the ball and ran, closely pursued by the infuriated sea-monsters. As they caught up with her at the gate of the palace, she quickly cut herself below the breast, inserted the crystal ball and fell down as if dead. The woman pulled on the lifeline held by her husband above and the man hauled up his wife. But to his horror she was dying. In her breast the husband found the Ball of Buddha.





 


 

Back to Index

 

 

Kari Grohn Home Page - Japan