Abalone divers in Shima Peninsula, about 400 km southwest of Tokyo, Japan
Interviewed: April 2008
Japan’s Shima Peninsula is well-known for its variety and abundance of seafood. Here, I met a group of Japanese women called the Ama, which means abalone divers. The Ama have been diving for abalone since the 300s and have historically been women divers. I swam and visited with four Ama, who range in age from 70 to 80 years old. When free diving, the Ama can hold their breath for 30 to 60 seconds and stay in the water for up to a full hour. “Women are strong,” said one of the Ama. “We stay warmer and can tolerate the cold sea much longer than men. [Abalone diving] naturally became women’s work because we simply perform better.”
Ama’s impact on Miho
First, the Ama inspired me to stay engaged in the outdoors as long as possible. Second, they inspired me to rethink my personal sustainability practice. I already do my best to live simply, but I often seek happiness through travel to far-away places. In contrast, the Ama are content to stay closer to home. They made me wonder how I, too, can be content with where I already am. Lastly, I was moved by the Ama’s commitment to their community: each and every morning, they volunteer in the lobster fishery before they head out for their dives. Clearly, they don’t see themselves as separate from the community, but rather as part of it. Looking out for other people is a powerful way to build community and it feels good. The example of the Ama has made me eager to find groups of women who work together to support the needs of the greater community.