Mie Torchbearer keeping the ama tradition alive

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Ms. Mitsuhashi has worked for the last 38 years as an ama (diver) harvesting shellfish including abalone and horned shells, a type of sea snail, in the sea off of Shima City.

In ama diving, no scuba tanks are used. Divers rely on their bodies and adapt every dive to the changing marine environment.

Although Ms. Mitsuhashi enjoys diving with her friends and working together to pull in a huge catch, they do limit the seasons in which they dive and restrict the size of the shellfish they harvest, so that the marine environment is not affected and people can continue to live off the sea.

The ama tradition was recognised on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Ms Mitsuhashi is also the Shima Chairperson of the Ama Preservation Society.

As a torchbearer in the Mie Prefecture, she will raise awareness about the amas and show those who come the importance and marvellous nature of Mie’s ocean and the ama who live in harmony with the sea.

Why did you decide to become an ama?

I loved playing at the beach even before I became an ama, and I would often go to the beach and collect shellfish when there was a spring tide. I had a relative who was an ama, so I began to go with her because it was also a way to make money, and that’s how I became an ama.

What are the important and attractive aspects of ama fishing?

There are many important aspects, but because it’s a style of fishing where you freedive, you have to always understand what the sea is doing and quickly react to sudden changes in the current. The attraction of the job is that the results of your work translate directly into income.

What changes have you noticed about the marine environment during your 38 years of diving?

The situation is steadily becoming worse. When I became an ama, there was an abundance of arame seaweed, which is the main source of food for the abalone and we would have to push through it while we searched for the shells, but it has been decreasing every year. There were almost no arame at all last year.

Please tell us about the charms of Mie Prefecture and Shima that you want Japan and the world to know about.

Shima still has a great deal of untouched nature, and the air is clean, and you can catch many kinds of fresh fish and shellfish. It’s a good place to live because the climate is warm all year round. There are many places where you can relax in nature. I love Shima!

Please tell us what you look forward to seeing at the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, and what you are excited about as a torchbearer.

By participating as a torchbearer, it is my hope that people from all over the world can come to know about ama culture, which has become an intangible part of folk culture. I want lots of people to visit Shima, where they can find comfort and healing.