Forgotten History: Japan's Mesmerizing Pearl Mermaids
Ama is a delightful japanese word that means women of the sea. The earliest mention of this term can be read in the first Japanese anthology of poetry, the Man’yoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), written in the year 750 CE. Nevertheless the tradition dates to the very first heartbeats of Japanese history.
Japan is a jewelry box of lore, culture, and fable where the tradition of the Ama women is, perhaps, one of the most dazzling and liveliest gems of this voluminous treasure chest
The ancient story tells that Ama women were once, in the very beginning of times, marine gypsies of the Asian oceans. These naked girls and women are nymphlike hunters who dive to depths of 80 feet, holding their breath for over two minutes in the quest of harvesting seaweed, abalone, pearls and oysters.
Although the tradition remains athwart the seasides of Japan, the original practices have long perished.
There are two types of them; Oyogido, Amas who embark on boats in order to jump and dive in profound depths. And Kachido, who swim out from the shore, diving to shallower areas.
Their items of resort are:
- Weighted belts: to favor the descent to the low depths.
- Tegane or Kaigane: A skillfully sharpened utensil used to scratch the sea rocks from unyielding mollusks.
- A wooden bucket: Floating in the surface with the intention of storing the capture. As well as being used to rest on while recovering their breath.
- Goggles (Introduced by the 1900's)
- Wetsuits (Introduced in the 1970's) (As women we have greater tolerance to cold, for our bodies have an extra layer of fat, which therefore allows Amas to resist cold longer than men)
- Tenugui: Bandana with inscriptions coated all over it, with the purpose of protecting the diver from evil spirits.
This ritual was once granted from mother to daughter in a nearly two thousand year old tradition. Howbeit, the Ama occupation is gently, languid and haltingly dying due to the pressures of modern life.
Quantities have fallen to an anguished 1/8th of what they once were; 1956 Japan veiled 17,611 Amas of which in 2010, scarcely two-thousand remained.
The path of the Ama divers drastically twisted shortly after WWII. Along with the westernization and the tourism came the questioning of their nudity. Amas where eventually compelled to cover up.
Yet up to today these Japanese sirens carry on their art far into their eighties and even nineties, spending their entire mystical lives at sea.