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Japanese mermaids

Divers "ama" - fishing or tradition?

Japanese mermaids

There is a particularly feminine (with rare exceptions) the type of marine fisheries. This is the extraction of sedentary seabirds at the bottom of marine organisms by female divers. The work of divers for sea gifts is called "ama" art.

The work of the diver "ama" arose more than 2000 years ago. Up to now it has remained practically unchanged. Only special hooks for poddevaniya and separation of mollusks from the rock substrate are now not bone and wooden, but steel. All the rest, including clothes, and often her absence, is the same.

It happens that men are divers. In some areas of Japan, their share reaches 20-25%. But in the whole country, this share is very small. And since this circumstance lowers the bar of romantic ideas about this art, the male role in diving is tried not to notice. But we will be objective, and we will not hush up the role of men in this matter.

For centuries, the same types of marine organisms have been produced by the ama-san: mollusks and echinoderms - abalone, sazae (horned turbot), sea urchin, trepang, crustaceans - Japanese lobster, algae - gelidium, undaria, etc. Most The desired prey is the single-folded clam of the abalone, it is the most expensive (some specimens, if they are caught by divers, stand on the market 100 and more dollars). Extraction of this mollusc requires a lot of effort, because with its muscle it is very firmly attached to rocks and rocks. In former times - before the production of pearl cultivation on sea plantations on an industrial basis - "ama" were "pearl seekers". Now this direction in the work of "ama" has more decorative than commercial nature.

In 17 - 19 centuries, the "ama" fishery was very important for the Japanese economy. Despite isolation from the outside world, foreign trade had to be developed. The port of Nagasaki, open to foreigners, was actively used for export to China and other countries of agar produced from agar-algae. Algae in these times could only be obtained by female divers. In the middle of the 12th century, the harvesting of agaronics and the production of agar spread throughout Japan. Accordingly, the importance of the "ama" fishery was very great.

Why the work of “ama” has been preserved for centuries and millennia is difficult to explain. The next version looks pretty convincing. First, this type of fishery is clearly localized. It has developed and preserved where in the coastal, accessible to swimmers, zone there are sufficient stocks of traditional for fishing “ama” species mentioned above. The presence of a permanent object of labor creates the conditions for the permanent nature of labor.

Secondly, the "ama" does not use special breathing apparatus, relying only on the physical and spiritual strength of the organism, and can not exert a strong influence on the environment and inhabitants of the coastal zone. And this allows maintaining ecosystems and biotopes in an equilibrium state. In addition, recently, even on these sparing fisheries, restrictions are imposed on seasons and the number of fishing days. The subjective factor - the East Asian mentality, including respect for the memory of ancestors and indisputable preservation of traditions - also comes into force.

About the fact that the "ama", disguised decades ago in diving suits, had undermined the reserves of those species of marine organisms that formed the basis of their existence, Japanese researchers do not recall. At the same time, it is known that at the end of the 19 century the reserves of agaric algae helidium were undermined because of the high demand for agar abroad and the desire to get high profits in a short time by Japanese divers hunters "ama" for algae production.

However, diving exists. Such a method of harvesting benthic marine organisms is (but in very small amounts) not only in Japan, but also in other countries. Including in Russia. In the Far East diving sea urchins are extracted in a diving way, which caviar is highly valued in the Japanese market. At the same time, various technical advances are used, greatly increasing human capabilities when working underwater and, accordingly, the effectiveness of the production of marine organisms. "Ama" "allow" itself in some cases only a "wet" suit for diving.

Methods of work "ama"

The description of the methods of work of ama dancers, clothing or tools of mining can be found in various Internet publications (usually fragments of tourist booklets and magazines on Japanese subjects) and even in the well-known book of the free-diver Jacques Maillol "The Man-Dolphin" translated into Russian. We preferred to refer to Japanese sources - to a collection of essays written with the words "ama" of advanced years from different parts of Japan, as well as to the results of culturological Japanese studies on this topic.

There are two most common types of "ama" fishery. The first one is called "funado", the second is "katido". The first means - people with a boat, the second - walkers (or infantrymen on the seabed). There is one more variety of snorkelling - "noriai", when the boats are grouped together.

At the first kind of fishing "ama" works in pair with the husband or the partner (томаи-сан). At the same time, the first is constantly on board the boat, controlling the situation and pulling the partner out of the water, which it is difficult to do on its own, as it carries the cargo on the body for a quick and easy dive (the dive in a number of cases can reach 20 meters). With a very brief rise to the surface, the "ama" inhales through slightly opened lips with a whistle (it's easier to overcome the difference in pressure in water and on the surface), which is what the people call the "coastal flute".

Sometimes a few "ama" hire a ship and a strong man who monitors the safety of fishing and helps in working for women diving. In this case, one load is used for all swimmers.

Each diver is connected to a boat with the so-called "rope of life" (inoti-dzuna). The most dangerous when the cable is torn or separated from the body "ama." Raising out of the water without help increases the time spent under water, and the lungs can not stand. The fact that “ama” can be under water for two, three minutes, and sometimes more, does not matter. Time to stop breathing should be used as much as possible to search for and harvest marine organisms.

Particularly dangerous are the seabed areas with the remains of wrecks. Metal ledges can easily cut or cut the life line. Therefore, despite the accumulation of Abalon's desired molluscum in such areas, the "Ama" try to avoid such places.

Often "ama" wear white clothes, even if they use a "wet" suit. The white spot is clearly distinguishable for tomai-san under water, so it's easier to ensure the work of the divers and their safety.

In the second form of the fishery, the "Ama" groupers form a group and lead the game near the shore without the assistance of the vessel. This type of fishing is also called "okedo" - that is, the extraction of marine organisms using a wooden tub "ok", where the catch is formed. The tub also serves as a landmark on the surface of the water, with it also connects the "rope of life".

The duration of work in the water of divers changes depending on the temperature of the water. In winter, as a rule, the fishery is closed. In spring and autumn, women work in water 2 - 3 hours. In summer, the work time increases to 5 hours. Not even very experienced divers are able to do any more. Also, the duration of stay in the water depends on the age, the experience of "ama" and other factors.

Harmony with nature helps to overcome the exhaustion of hard work, the closest connection between the life of "am" and the marine environment. There are cases when "ama-san" gave birth to children immediately after work underwater, when they barely got ashore. It is clear that this was in the past and not from a good life. Molluscum abalone before the war did not bring as much income as during the years of rapid development of the Japanese economy, when the demand for delicately obtained marine organisms increased significantly, and the market price for them increased several times against the backdrop of the increased solvency of the population.

I must say that such art diver for sea delicacies - and what is produced by "ama", and there are real delicacies - exists in the Republic of Korea, in particular on the island of Jeju. It sounds different - about like "henyo", but the meaning is the same - the women of the sea. And it does not change the essence of the matter. Heavy work, which is difficult to replace with industrial fishing. Traces of such types of fishing can be traced in the ancient history of other continents, but survived only in East Asia.

The art of ama is part of the Japanese tradition.

The first mention of Japanese dives for sea gifts is contained in ancient Chinese chronicles (in the Japanese sound of "Gishi Wadzin Dan") and an anthology of Japanese poetry of the 8 century "Man'yushu". These sources not only mention the existence of divers, but also give some information about the features of their life and appearance. The decoding of ancient texts shows that the whole body of the ancient "ama" was covered with tattoos. Tattoos were supposed to protect divers in the water from sharks and other dangerous inhabitants of the sea. During the work, the divers had to take off all the clothes that hid protective tattoos.

The custom of applying tattoos remained valid until recently, as well as the rule - to dive in the nude.

In Japan, the number of ama dives who live this type of fishery and, in accordance with Japanese fishing legislation, have fishing rights and registration for this, according to the studies of the Mie Prefecture Education Committee, is 1800 people. Taking into account those divers who are engaged in fishing from time to time, their number increases to 2170. The most numerous compact settlements are in the city of Toba and Sima County of this prefecture. But there are specialized "ama" fisheries in many other parts of Japan. As a rule, depending on the location of these traditional crafts, their specialization is different. Now all the "ama" are united in cooperatives.

The number of "ama" is gradually decreasing. Over the last 20 years, the number of "ama" has decreased by half (Table.). This is due to a decrease in income of divers. Also, the average age of divers is constantly increasing. The habitat of hydrobionts, which are produced by "ama", is deteriorating. The amount of collection by the divers of the abalone - the main object of collection - decreased five-fold. To preserve the distinctive tradition, the authorities of the Mie Prefecture in 2013 developed a program to revitalize the life of coastal villages and increase the incomes of female divers.

The annual income of modern "am" is about 1,0 million yen (about 10 thousand dollars) per year. Only this money to live in modern Japan is almost impossible. To increase the incomes of the "ama", the program of revitalizing the life of the coast provides for the formation of fishing grounds, an increase in the abalone's reserves by settling larvae, and the introduction of technologies for processing little used and unused algae. Such support should stabilize the production as well as the traditional way of life of the "ama". Financing of these programs is provided by the state budget for the fishery industry in Japan. The budget is primarily aimed at improving the economic life of coastal townships. But in this case it is possible to speak with confidence and maintenance of traditions.


Change in the number of "ama" after 1931 year

Year survey

Number of persons


12 913


10 128


9 320


17 611


11 042


10 609


9 134


4 213


2 174

According to the Maritime Museum of Japan and the Japan Fisheries Department.

Virtually always the collection of sea products, divers are combined with agriculture, sometimes with the service sector (usually tourism). Depending on the natural conditions of a specific locality, the number of days given to the marine fishery varies greatly. So, in the vicinity of the Toba area, the number of days of sea fishing ranges from 10 to 110 days per year. In the vicinity of the town of Sima, the importance of marine fishing is higher and ranges from 40 to 286 days per year.

In a number of localities, the existing festivals of divers, for example, in the Yamaguchi prefecture on the coast of the Sea of ​​Japan, became the original regulator of the "ama" fishery. Here in the Gulf of Yuya there is an ancient settlement "Ama". In the course of mandatory weekend divers visit temples where they perform rituals with the wishes of a good sea harvest and conservation of the reserves of extracted objects. Such days become traditional briefings about the rules of extraction (not to extract shellfish smaller than commercial measures, etc.).

The threat to craft, which for millennia has turned into tradition and art, also creates a gradual aging of divers. The predominant age of most divers of the Mie prefecture is 70-80 years.

Japan and South Korea dispute the right to register with UNESCO the female species of the marine fishery "Ama"

The South Korean Agency for Cultural Values ​​has decided to apply to the UNESCO Commission to register the culture of the Hanju diver from Jeju Island as an intangible heritage of human culture. Registration of the culture of "henoe" in UNESCO, possibly, will take place in 2015 year.

Japanese relevant bodies also intend to apply for registration of their culture in UNESCO. The way of mining from the sea bottom of organisms by women-divers, turned into an original culture, exists only in Japan and the Republic of Korea.

According to the media of the Republic of Korea, on the island of Jeju, the number of divers during the period of maximum development of this type of fishery was 30000 people. Currently, their number does not exceed 4500 people.

In the Republic of Korea, the "henoe" craft is considered to be Korean and is very critical of Japan's intentions to also register this type of fishing fishery as a common human asset. True, the Korean written sources of the Middle Ages date the appearance of the "henoe" craft about the beginning of the 17 century. It is pointed out that in 17 - 18 centuries (Taesong era), Korean divers supplied the seafood to the table of the royal family.

In the Mie prefecture of Japan, more than half of all divers registered in the country are engaged in this type of fishing - about 1000 people. The city of Toba and the county of Sima in Mie prefecture, where the ama field is highly developed, starting from 2009, exchanges with craft friends from South Korea and the ama summit are held there annually. At the 2010 summit of the year, a joint decision was made by divers from Japan and the Republic of Korea to submit a single application for registration of this type of fishery to UNESCO. The reason for refusing a joint application to UNESCO in favor of separate national applications lies in the deterioration of the climate of political relations between the two countries. It is also associated with increased national ambitions in this regard.

Japanese-South Korean exchanges between the representatives of the "fishery-culture" "ama-henyo", as well as between the specialists-culturologists and historians of the two countries continue at the present time. Now it is perceived as something special. But before the Second World War, Korean "henoe" constantly came to the Japanese island of Shikoku to collect the agaric algae gelidium, which was normal. Also, "Ama" at the end of the 19 century traveled to the offshore industries on the Korean Peninsula. Earlier, Japanese and Korean entrepreneurs created brigades from hengyo, with whom they were sent to Japan and China. In pre-revolutionary times, such brigades appeared in the Russian Primorye, of course, only in the short summer months.

At the beginning of the 20 century, in Korea, the "Ama" from Mie prefecture was sent, as a rule, from March to September. They crossed on a small wooden ship with the help of oars and sails. The entire crew, including the "ama" and assistants, consisted of 15 people. For the time of these "expeditions" the ship became the home of all. The sail and the mast turned into a roof over a boat in which everyone slept.

Hundreds and thousands of scientific and popular publications have been written about art and traditions of the "am" in Japan. "Ama" is without exaggeration the cultural heritage of the Japanese people, at least by age. This is dictated by the close attention of Japanese researchers to this topic. And this theme closely resembles the global problem of mankind - to live in harmony with nature. In this sense, the phenomenon of "ama", as well as Korean hyenos, is far beyond the cultural values ​​of only one nation.

The lifestyle, philosophy and worldview of the "ama" are closely related to the sea. This connection is inseparable and harmonious. "Ama" is Japanese mermaids, but not fabulous, but real ones.

The number of "ama" is steadily declining. The fault is not only economic conditions. The main thing is that the natural environment of their habitat is gradually losing, with which they are inextricably linked. It is not only the mountains of plastic debris that pollute the coastal zone, but also the beaches taken away to the concrete, accessible to idle tourists and onlookers. However, the unequal struggle to preserve the original fishery with 2000-year history continues.

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