Japanese Mermaids: Ancient Pearl Hunters of the Sea

By

20th Nov, 2012

20121120-014243.jpg

These women are the last of their kind. In their floral wetsuits, they fill their lungs with air and dive for long periods of time deep into the Pacific ocean, with nothing more than a mask and flippers. They are known as Ama and make a living hunting for abalone, a sea snail that produces pearls.

20121120-014248.jpg

Women have been doing this job for nearly two thousand years in Japan, believed to be better suited for the task because as females, they have an extra layer of fat to insulate them and can supposedly hold their breath longer than men. But … they’re old women, you’re probably saying to yourself. Indeed, the youngest known ama is forty-five years old and women are commonly known to dive well into their 90s.  But their daughters and the younger female generation of their communities are uninterested in learning from their elders. The unusual profession is nearly extinct.

20121120-014253.jpg

The underwater hunting, often up to 30 feet below, is dangerous work and the divers are often joined by sharks during their descent. The Amas will usually be under water for 2 minutes at a time and come up for air for just barely a few seconds. They will do this up to 60 times in one diving session. The water is very often freezing.

The ama don’t make as much money as the did 40 years ago, another reason why the job is unattractive to the younger Japanese women. Nevertheless they have managed to support themselves and their families entirely, while their husbands, often fishermen, are away most of the year.

Talk about super women. In the 1964 Bond film, You Only Live Twice, Hollywood shed some light on this phenomenon when they featured a “Bond girl” who was a sensationalized ama (as well as a spy ofcourse).  Kizzy Susuki is the only Bond girl to ever bear James Bond’s child.

German photographer Nina Poppe, spent several weeks on the Pacific coast of Japan in the small fishing communities where the ama live in an attempt to photograph and immortalize these women before they disappear. The ancient art of Ama literally meaning “women of the sea”, will soon breathe its last breathe and a forgotten breed of super women will be just another local legend.


Images via Nina Poppe and Fosco Maraini

Get MessyNessy Articles straight to your FACEBOOK NEWSFEED or TWITTERFEED!

:::

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

.

You Might Also Like

Comments

More in Desirable DigsDon't Be A TouristEditor's PicksFoodaholics anonymousInspiration VaultLife is MessyNostalgiaOff-Beat & Little KnownTime travel

Hot Off the Press

Editor's Picks

2085324598_fc0da2fbc1_o

An Illustrated Guide to the Human Race circa. 1960s

The internet is a little bit like a maze of doors, some that lead to a spiralling descent of procrastination and some, though not many, can lead to forgotten treasure. Today I picked the winning doo...

Trending 1,449
chanel5

This DIY Gift Guide Rules: Cheap, Last Minute Ideas!

So it's that time of year again when magazines do their crappy annual gift guides, "guiding" you to buy $100 cashmere socks, $75 scented candles and generally the most mundane, over-priced gift ideas ...

Trending 22,803
xavi11

The Hidden Feast in a Barcelona Factory After Dark

We left the Barcelona night behind us, disappearing through a graffiti-covered door on a bustling back street of locals going about their downtown nocturnal hustle. All we have is this calling ca...

Trending 5,012