(Osatsu Ama since summer 2016)
Born and raised in Osatsu, Toba.
You just started a restaurant this summer (2018). Do you find it difficult to manage working as a restaurant owner and an Ama?
It’s terribly hard! I hadn’t been Ama diving since my restaurant opened on June 22nd, but I was finally able to go diving a few days ago. It was so good! I was worrying about what time to finish diving because I had to go back to the restaurant before the lunch rush, so I couldn’t dive until the last-minute. Usually I must swim from the beach to where we dive, so it’s not possible to dive for one and a half hours due to the time it takes to leave and return to the beach. It’s far easier if I can get a ride on a boat to and from the diving point. I can save time and dive longer. Handling two different jobs on my own is very tough, but I don’t think I would have opened my restaurant if I wasn’t an Ama.
What were you doing before you became an Ama, and why did you decide to come back to Osatsu?
I have experienced many different jobs. I don’t like staying in one place for long. I was in Yokohama for 5 years, but I ended up herniating my lower back and had difficulty working there. It was not the main reason for quitting the job, but in the end, I decided to move back to my home town. After I recovered, I worked at a pub in Shima city. The owner of the pub repeatedly said to me, “Risa, you should try Ama diving, I am sure that you’ll love it”. I think that was the first time I thought of becoming an Ama. I was back in Osatsu when I was 28 years old, however, I think I would have come back here before I turned 30. Living in a big city was fun, and you do get used to it, but ultimately, I preferred life in the country.
So, did you decide to become an Ama thanks to the pub owner?
Umm, not exactly. He was a small motivating factor for me becoming an Ama, but it wasn’t enough to make me decide definitively, “Okay, I’ll be an Ama!”. One summer day, my grandmother suggested to me to go to the sea in front of my house and try Ama diving. She was already a retired Ama, but she still had her wetsuit and diving tools sitting around, so she said that I could use them. To be honest, I had never thought of the ocean as a special place because it was all too familiar and had just been part of the scenery for me growing up. But I thought about the possibility of earning some money if I get some seafood. I had just quit my previous job, and didn’t have any income at that time, so I went to the sea alone. Once I arrived at the beach and started going into the water, it was so exciting! I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
Can you tell me about your first day as an Ama?
I went on my first dive by myself wearing my grandmother’s old wetsuit because I didn’t have my own yet. It was a bit small for me, but I managed to squeeze into it, so I thought it would be fine. When I was diving, I was so surprised how hard Ama diving was! I found it hard to breathe well and I could barely get enough oxygen for the next dive. I had never imagined that Ama, some of them in their 80’s, were diving in these difficult conditions. I was really shocked and I couldn’t continue diving anymore, so I left the water earlier than the other Ama who were diving around me. I later learned that the reason why I had difficulty breathing was because the wetsuit was just too small for me. When I got my own wetsuit later, it was so comfortable and I could finally breathe normally!
Who did you go diving with after you became an Ama?
I started diving alone, but later I was diving with a friend of my grandmother. However, one day I had chosen to dive in a different location from her. That morning, I met her and said goodbye, but I felt something was wrong with her. I was in a hurry, so I didn’t really pay much attention to it and left for the place I had decided to dive. Later, I heard she had felt sick while she was diving and asked a man on a boat to pick her up and take her back to town. The doctor’s tests showed there was nothing wrong with her, but her family worried about her and told her not to go diving anymore. Fortunately, I was able to become a member of another team, the team of my current mentor, a male Ama, and other friends. So, we all go diving together now.
As a single woman, what kind of man do you want to get married to? What will you do if the man lives in a different town?
I don’t have specific type of a man that I like, but I can’t imagine getting married to one of my neighbours who I’ve known since I was little. I think I will meet the right person through fate someday. I have always trusted my own intuition and have had good fortune in the past, so I believe I can meet my future husband at some point. It would be perfect if he moves to Osatsu to be a part of my family.
What are the first words that come to mind when you think about ‘Ama’? And why?
‘Old ladies’ ... and ‘abalone’. When I think of Ama, images of old ladies with wrinkled faces appear in my head. I can feel their power and experience from those deep wrinkles. Young Ama, like us, are too young to officially call ourselves Ama. I think we are not yet ‘Ama divers’, but just ‘divers’. I wish I can be like them when I get old.
Abalone is very important and special for the local community. It’s very expensive, and definitely difficult to catch. There are times when I find an abalone during a dive but can’t catch it. I try to dive in the same place again after stabilizing my breathing, but if the water is too cloudy or the current is too strong, I can’t find that abalone anymore. It’s so frustrating, and I can’t stand the feeling!
Did your impression of Ama change after you became one of them yourself?
I feel that the Ama are a mysterious group. Ama are… I don’t know how to say it in words, but they are very special. Human beings become quite small when compared to nature. When I find an abalone in the sea, I feel an unintentional appreciation for the ocean’s gift. I find them living in the sea, and by catching them, means they will ultimately die. I can feel this realization in my chest each time I take an abalone, and I try not to forget the feeling. This was one of the reasons why I fell in love with being an Ama. Becoming an Ama has given me glimpses of a strange invisible world, the ability to feel the lifeforce of the ocean’s creatures, and allowed me to sense the presence of nature’s gods.
Do you think it was natural for you to become an Ama being born and raised in Osatsu? Some women who decide to be Ama move to fishing villages. Can you tell me what it’s like living and working in your home town?
For us who were born and raised in Osatsu, becoming an Ama was not a difficult choice or a thing which took a big commitment. It was a natural choice of living here. So, I don’t quite understand why there are people from other cities who want to know about the Ama or want to become Ama themselves. Everything is in big cities. Why on earth are they interested in the Ama? It’s a mystery to me.
About us becoming Ama, veteran Ama often tease us by asking, “Can you really catch abalones?”, but they never oppose or criticize us because they know being an Ama is a dangerous job. They worry about us but often give valuable advice for us to be better Ama.