(Osatsu Ama since summer 2017)
Born and raised in Osatsu, Toba.
Why did you decide to come back to Osatsu?
I am an only child, so my mother and relatives always told me that I had to take over the family shop ever since I was little. So, I basically had no choice. But I asked my parents to let me do whatever I want before coming back. After I graduated from junior college, I went to Matsusaka and worked at a company for about 8 years, and then moved to Osaka and stayed there for one year.
If you could choose another path in life, what would you like to do?
If I could choose another career? Well, I wanted to be a hairdresser if I wasn’t an only child, but my parents were opposed to the idea. When I came back to my home town, I met my husband and we married. He also came back to take over his parents’ ryokan (Japanese style inn). Now, we have 5 children. My husband and I often talk about how we want to support our kids by helping them find what they want to do and letting them live wherever they want in the future.
When I first heard about you as a mother of 5 children, I became very curious how you manage raising 5 children and do Ama diving at the same time. Also, you help your parents’ shop, your husband’s ryokan, and are making and selling hand-made accessories. What’s your secret?
I have two boys and three girls. Of course, I always prioritize my kids first. If one of my kids catches a cold but it’s not that serious, like just having a little fever, I will let him/her sleep and go Ama diving, and take the them to see a doctor afterward. I want to go Ama diving as often as possible. We dive once a day for one and a half hours, so it’s possible. If my husband’s ryokan is so busy, I must go help him and his family. I do many things but I feel I always couldn’t finish anything completely, and just have done everything halfway. I want to have something that I can say “This is what I do and who I am”.
We (Amas in Ijika) dive twice a day, but you dive only once a day. Why do you think you don’t dive twice? Don’t you think you want to dive more?
I am not sure exactly why, but it’s probably for regulation to avoid over-fishing. Osatsu also used to dive twice per day before. It’s also one of the reasons that there are many ryokans here, so people in Osatsu are too busy to dive twice because people have to prepare meals and welcome guests. But sometimes the tide is going to be lower and becoming easier to dive in the afternoon, but we must go diving in the morning even though the tide is high. At that sort of day, I feel like I want to dive a bit longer.
Why did you decide to be an Ama?
I didn’t think of becoming an Ama, actually. I liked going to the beach and finding seafood such as sea urchins. I also like making accessories with shells and sea glasses. So, I picked up empty abalone shells on the beach and used them. But gradually I started thinking that I wanted to catch those shells by myself and make my own accessories.
Usually people are taught to be Ama from their mother or mother-in-law. How did you learn to be an Ama?
When I started thinking of becoming an Ama, my grandmother had already retired and didn’t go diving anymore. My mother has never been an Ama, but my mother-in law is still an Ama. But because she’s a skilled veteran Ama, I hesitated asking her to be my mentor. So, I just started on my own first. I was not so confident about swimming, so I thought it’s difficult for me to be an Ama. But people told me that I didn’t have to a good swimmer to be an Ama, so one day, I brought my 8-year-old son with me and started Ama diving. I have never learnt Ama from my mother-in-law on the sea, but she taught me places to dive when we were at home. Places to dive is something Ama never share with others even though you know the person very well, so I feel so grateful to my mother-in-law.
Finding a mentor is one of the most difficult parts to be an Ama, isn’t it? To be a mentor means the person will be responsible for the apprentice, and she can’t focus on her own work while she is teaching somebody. Nobody wants to do that, usually. So, how did you find your mentor?
Yes, that’s true. So, I started Ama without a mentor at first. I didn’t have professional diving tools at the beginning, so I bought fins at a local DIY store and my neighbor gave me her old pair of wetsuits. Old ladies are unwilling to teach young ones. But my mentor, a male Ama, was willing to foster young people and teach them to be good Amas. He told me that he can go Ama diving along with me. Now, he teaches me and my friends as our mentor.
Do you remember your first Ama diving day?
I do! It was 28th May in 2017. I wore wetsuit bottoms and carried all diving tools with me and went to the beach with my son. But when we arrived, I realized that I forgot to bring wetsuit jacket! I called my house right away and asked someone to bring my jacket to the beach. I got some sea urchins and tokobushi (a small species of abalone) that time. I got my first regular abalone on the 5th of June, a week after my first dive. I found three abalones in one place, but two of them were smaller than the minimum size, so I released them. After that dive, I met an older Ama who I knew on my way to the fishing market. I stopped her and said “Hey, look at my first abalone!”. I was very happy.
What do you think about Osatsu and its people?
People here are very open-minded and social. I think people in Osatsu are pretty similar to people in ‘Toshi’ (Toshijima is an island in Toba city). We have similar characteristics. Some people are shy and conservative, but most of them are willing to accept new things. There are some young people who have lived in different cities but moved back to Osatsu like me. Because Osatsu is a tourism community and there is a steady number of tourists visiting the town throughout the year, it is an easy choice for some people to move back and make their living off of the tourism industry. I think for young people who are thinking of taking over their family business, or who want to start a new business, Osatsu is a good place to come back to.
If you meet someone who wants to be an Ama, what is your advice for them?
I would tell the person that they must become a citizen of the town and a member of the local fishing co-op. Toba city has guidance leaflets about moving here, so I would tell them to check those out first. But to be a member of a fishing co-op is very difficult, and the membership fee is quite costly considering the average Ama income. If there was something like a trial period where people could try Ama diving to see if they like it, that would be the best. But perhaps things are not as easy as I imagine.
Can you describe ‘Ama’ with one word?
‘POWERFUL’! That’s what I think of Ama.