Friday, 24 February 2012

Amasan - the diving women of Toba

Recently I went to the Umi no Hakubutskan (Sea Folk Museum) in Toba. Below are a few of the amazing photos I saw there showing the lives of the amasan - women who have been making their living for 10,000 years by diving for awabi (abalone), sazae (turban shells), and namako (sea cucumbers). A few skilled and experienced amasan are able to capture iseebi (lobsters) without a scratch. They can hold their breath longer than men and dive to great depths without scuba gear. The fishing methods they use are invaluable to the ecology of the sea as they do not encourage over-fishing. After the 2nd world war there was thought to be around 6000 amesan in Toba and Shima. Now their trade is starting to die out due to an unstable and sluggish market and the harsh working conditions, but there are still around 1300 women in the area who dive in this same traditional way, many of them now reaching 60 years old.