Well, not summer really…
It’s still the middle of May and the sea is cold. Walking down the streets in my neighborhood, however, you can already see a wetsuit drying in somebody’s front yard. And that’s how you know ー it’s the diving season for the ama in Ojika Island.
In Japan, ama are free-divers, famous for collecting pearls. In other parts of Japan, the vast majority of ama are women, but in Ojika, free-diving traditionally has been done by men.
Free-diving for sea-food is allowed only during the designated fishing season and only with permission from a local fishing cooperative, to which ama must also pay a certain fee. In Ojika ama dive for seafood such as abalone, sea urchin, turban shell, and sea bream, which they later sell to the fishing co-op.
Before the diving season starts, ama visit their local shrine to pray for safe diving and a good catch. They drink the saké and eat the fish brought as an offering to the shrine’s deity. This is important as it helps them to get into high spirits.
Inside the sea, unable to take a breathー feels like I’d entered a different realm. Completely alone, at nature’s mercy, gathering it’s bountyー my body remembers the thrill of it all and I cannot wait to dive again.
In the past, the sea was abundant with marine life. Abalone, sea urchin, seaweed were found easily and ama’s income from diving could last them throughout the year. The veteran ama tell stories about the old days when the ceiling of the underwater caves was covered in abalalone resembling a stary sky.
The tanned faces of these divers, breaming with an innocent smile… I imagine that to the sea goddess they are just like naughty kids who cannot contain their pure joy and excitement upon discovering a hidden treasure.
The stories about the caves filled with abalones are just an echo from the past. Now, there are days, when from early morning until the sun sets, it doesn’t matter how many times you hold your breath and dive into the sea waters, your catch is not enough to even cover the day’s expenses.
Exhausted, you begin to despair. Will I get enough to buy myself dinner? Should I just stop? Diving any more than this seems meaningless…
Yet, I keep diving. The crystal clear turquoise sea. The playful fishes all around me. They seem to tease me as I struggle to reach the bottom. A majestic sea turtle, I feel its movement in the water as it swims past me. I float in the water listening to the sound of my breath. It pierces through the complete silence that surrounds me. I clench the harpoon as I spot the fish, my heart beating fast. I feel alive with every cell of my body.
Fishermen complain that today’s money is nothing compared to what they used to get. They say that the sea is changing with new types of fishes, they’ve never seen before, starting to appear.
This “new” fish, that I cannot sell, I bring it back home with me. There, I think of new, best ways to prepare it. It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction.
During the diving season, I work as an ama. Other times, I make my own fish sauce. In it, I use fish that was rejected by the fishing cooperative.
The sea is changing with its resources declining. I feel that it is important to adjust to these changes. My experience as an ama has taught me to be grateful for all of the sea bounty, not letting anything go to waste. I am making my sauce with this thought in mind.
My brand’s name is factory333. “Three” is pronounced as the sun in Japanese, and I created the name with an image of the glittering sea on a sunny day.
I thought it was important to share my story with customers as well as all the people whom I met during on life’s journey.
factory 333 Miki Yoshioka
Online shop (Japanese only)
You can purchase her products from the souvenir shop located inside the ferry terminal on Ojika Island.