The History of Ama

How long have ama been in existence?

Some traces suggest the existence of ama in the Japanese archipelago as early as 5000 years ago, mid Joumon Period (14,000-300 BC).

Large numbers of abalone shells and awabiokoshi (abalone tools) made of antler dated as 3000 years old were excavated from the ruins of Shirahama, Uramura Town. Thus, ama must have existed since that time.

An illustration of Ama in Mie Prefecture (Meiji 14)

An illustration of Ama in Mie Prefecture (Meiji 14)

Moreover, a wooden tablet dated to Tenpyou 17 (745 AD) was excavated from the ruins of Heijyoukyu (Heijyou Palace, Nara). It recorded abalone sent from Shimakuninakiri (modern Shima City, Nakiri Town). This further supports the presence of ama.


There were poems sung about ama in the Manyoushuu (early book of poetry, 759 AD), but the oldest record of ama in Shima is found in the Engishiki (Book of Laws and Regulations, 927). It stated, “There are 30 diver women who offered sea products from Shima. Bundles of rice plants, from the taxes of Ise, were given to women divers to pay for their clothes?


Additionally, there is an old relationship between ama and Ise Jingu, the Grand Shrine of Ise. Princess Yamatohimenomikoto, who enshrined Amaterasuoomikami (Sun Goddess) in Ise, came to Kuzaki Town while looking for food for the goddess. There, Yamatohimenomikoto met an ama named Oben. The legend says Kuzaki Town has been dedicating abalone to the Grand Shrine ever since this time. This tradition continues today.  

(Witness with Your Own Eyes: Ama of Toba-Shima, 2013, p.42)