In Japan, they are known as Ama-San, a title that conveys a great deal of affection and admiration. And yet, hardly anyone is aware of what these courageous and independent women actually do.
So, who are the Ama? These legendary fisherwomen of the Japanese island of Ise-Shima dive for abalone, using no equipment, in water that is up to 30 meters deep. Abalone is a type of sea snail that is considered a delicacy and that commands high prices. For over two thousand years, this Amazon-like community has persisted, through technological, social, and environmental change.
Why are the Ama only women? A traditional Ise-Shima saying, quoted at the beginning of the book, gives one idea: “A woman who cannot feed a man is worthless.” Since time immemorial, the image of man as hunter has been the epitome of masculinity. But Japanese lore dictates that men become chilled faster when in water, so the hunt for abalone has traditionally been a woman’s domain in Japan.