Ama diving is a Japanese tradition that spans thousands of years. In fact, the first recorded instances of these “women of the sea” dates back about 5,000 years. And the majority of ama divers today are working freelance.
Almost 3.27 million people in the U.S. practiced scuba diving in 2015, but there’s only a handful of these skilled Japanese divers left in the world. Even 100 years ago the industry was thriving, but now only around 2,000 of these freelance divers still practice their craft.
Their craft, beyond diving, is being able to gather seafood during their dives.
Sayuri Nakamura, 64, is part of a five-woman team that goes out to dive for seafood almost every day around the waters of Toba City, Japan. Sayuri has been working alongside her husband — who comes from a long line of fishermen — since she turned 19 and started diving.
“My number one condition when marrying was that the woman be an ama diver,” Masumi, her husband, said in an interview with CNN. He added that Sayuri’s career allows them to spend their days working together.
Depending on what the local Ama Association assigns, Sayuri, her husband, and her team could spend anywhere from one to two hours each morning diving for seafood in a given area.
But these divers, though they may be few, are legendary in Japan. Many of the freelance divers simply use their own leg power to descend 16 to 26 feet into the depths and search for seafood.
Masumi says that while divers often hunt in the same areas, they take great care to stay within their own boundaries. It’s a sort of unwritten rule that ama divers all abide by.
Despite each diver having their own territory under the water, teams take solace in socializing and comparing catches after a dive. After hauling their individual buckets to shore, the women will sit and take time to talk about their dives. In addition, they take bets as to who had the biggest catch. This bet has been deemed the “50 second battle,” and it’s one that Sayuri typically wins over her diving team.
These divers appreciate their routine, as well as the freedom that ama diving grants them.