Japanese Ama Divers - Cold, Clothing, and Children
The multi-part story of diving with the Japanese Diving Women continues here:
In villages along the Japanese coasts, diving by the AmaSan for sea plants and other harvests goes on without tourist fanfare. We dived in the cool, dim waters, rubbing leaves on the inside of our masks to prevent fogging, although there was little to see anyway.
The AmaSan - the SeaWomen - told me that during "the war" soldiers came and were horrified that they dived in only small underwear pants. The women told me they thought Westerners were funny and strange for their discomfort about diving naked in cold water. But after that, they were made to wear clothes for diving. I experimented with diving in clothes versus none. It is colder and clumsier to wear clothes in the water, especially over repeated dives. As people know who hike or pack out gear, wet stuff is hard to deal with, change, and keep clean. It's easier without clothing. The old traditional diving garments were white. Now, commercial wetsuits are worn for the AmaSan working day.
With exercise in the cold, your body makes several different adaptations to tolerate cold better. You need cold exposure to keep those adaptations. The Ama divers mentioned that before they used clothes, they tolerated cold better. After wearing cotton suit insulation and wet suits, they lost tolerance.
They dive throughout their pregnancies – even up to the moment of delivery. They don't find that unusual, but more comfortable than moving heavily on land. They said they had no problems doing hard cold diving while pregnant, and their children were all born healthy. They all dive during menses. They told me that during "The War" (WWII) they had no sanitary supplies so were happier to be in the water anyway. They said the work is terribly hard. They asked me to tell the world that.
I asked them many questions – "If I wanted to become a SeaWoman, can I?" "Eei No! You too old!" they said. I asked if an outsider, someone who wasn't the daughter of the Ama-San wanted to become an Ama diver, could they? The diving women didn't understand. They shook their heads, "Eei. No, the daughter do not stay." I asked if a son wanted to become an Ama-San, could be become one? Most laughed at me immediately. Others looked at me for a moment to be polite, before laughing. "Eei, they can't do this work. Too cold for them." I asked again, if someone's else's daughter, unrelated to a diving family wanted to join. "Eei no – the daughter all have gone."
Years ago, the Ama-San regulated themselves to prevent taking too much. They wanted to preserve resources. They shortened the harvest season – which was roughly from April to September.
The few thousand remaining Ama-San still make substantial money diving, although income continues to drop. Large-scale commercial fishing has depleted and polluted the waters so deeply and widely that there is little left for the SeaWomen. This is the opposite of what they tried to achieve by limiting themselves.
"I was the best harvester," one told me. "Tell them that. Tell them I made more money than my husband. Tell them that."
Are there not... Two points in the adventure of the diver:
One --when a beggar, he prepares to plunge?
Two -- when a prince, he rises with his pearl?
-- Robert Browning
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