The legendary “ama,” the sea-women of Japan, make their money dive-fishing along the coasts — without the help of a breathing apparatus. They are part of a tradition that stretches back thousands of years to Japan’s hunter-gather origins.
With few options to make a living back then, women learned to dive for abalone, sea cucumber, and other delicacies to sell at markets. The ama plunge as deep as 60 feet in freezing water, with no oxygen tanks, using techniques passed from generation to generation.
Women have traditionally been considered a better fit for the work than men due to the distribution of their body fat, with older ama better able to hold their breath for long periods of time.
Today, of course, women in Japan have other job opportunities and have increasingly entered the white-collar workplace. As a result, ama divers’ ranks have dwindled, from 20,000 after World War II to just 2,000 today.
VICE News traveled to Japan to look at this disappearing vocation, one of the last sustainable practices left in the age of commercial fishing.
This segment originally aired April 6, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.