Clear Nude: The Lens + the Nude, Issue IV, Summer 2015 ClearNude: The Lens + the Nude, Issue IV, Summer - Page 65

Ama The Pearl Diving Mermaids of Japan By Michael Gakuran O ne of the lesser-known but fascinating The most profitable pursuit however was diving for parts of Japanese culture is that of the pearls. Traditionally for Ama, finding a pearl inside an Ama pearl divers. Ama literally means oyster was akin to receiving a large bonus while they ‘woman of the sea’ and is recorded as went about their ancestral practice of collecting shell- early as 750 in the oldest Japanese anthology of poetry, fish. That changed when Kokichi Mikimoto, founder of the Man’yoshu. These women specialised in freediv- Mikimoto Pearl, began his enterprise. ing some 30 feet down into cold water wearing nothing more than a loincloth. Utilising special techniques Mikimoto used Ama divers to look after his cultivated to hold their breath for up to 2 minutes at a time, they pearls on Mikimoto Pearl Island, near Toba city. This would work for up to 4 hours a day in order to gather business was the main reason for the strong associa- abalone, seaweed and other shellfish. tion between Ama and pearl diving among foreign observers that continues to this day. Another little-known