Why are Ama women?
Today, the word “Ama” is considered to mean 'female diver’ and the divers around Toba and Shima are predominately woman.
There are three classic explanations for why Ama are women.
1) According to one theory, compared to men, women have more
subcutaneous fat. Therefore, women can tolerate the cold longer.
2) Another theory suggests that as the fishing industry developed,
men went offshore to seek a larger catch. Thus, the near-shore diving fishery naturally became women's work.
3) A third theory refers to the sacred role women played in offering
abalone for shinsen, the meal offering to gods, at shrines and the imperial court.
(Witness with Your Own Eyes: Ama of Toba-Shima, 2013, p.50)
How long do Ama hold their breath?
Ama dive one breath at a time until they reach their limit. The average time spent underwater is 50 seconds but can be shorter or longer depending on the Ama.
What do Ama catch?
Ama primarily fish for awabi (abalone) and sazae (turban snails). Others caught include uni (sea urchin), namako (sea cucumber), and occasionally Ise-ebi (lobster). Also, they harvest hijiki, wakame, arame (brown seaweeds) and tengusa (red). The Ama of Shima Peninsula rarely catch finfish.
(Witness with Your Own Eyes: Ama of Toba-Shima, 2013, p.30)