Places to Go
Mie and Toba: Ama divers of Toba

Mie and Toba: Ama divers of Toba

Added In: Places to Go › Tourist spots

Kenneth Holmes

Ama free-divers are found in various locations around Japan, but nowhere is the tradition so well maintained as in the Toba/Ise Shima area of Mie prefecture. The coast line here is rugged, indented with pebbly bays with rocky headlands, ideal habitat for uni (sea urchin), awabi (abalone), various forms of kaiso (seaweeds) and ise ebi (pacific spiny lobster). At one time ama dived for shinju (pearl oysters), but this has long been abandoned due to the rise in cultivated pearls, ironically a process first invented in Toba by Kokichi Mikimoto in the late 19th century.

Even today there are around 1300 ama working this coastline. Their kami is Ishigami, enshrined at Shinmeijima. Ishigami is a female deity, granting one wish in a lifetime to any female who comes to worship; many famous Japanese women have made the trek to Ishigami to pray for good fortune, from olympic marathon runners to aspiring politicians facing the tribulations of elections.

It was believed that devils and demons resided in the sea along the coast here, and ama drew pentagram and grid patterns on their equipment to ward off evil. More prosaically, the white outer clothes the ama wear when diving is said to be the colour least favoured by sharks.

Along the coast are dotted amagoya (ama huts), where divers rest and relax with their companions after their work is done. Here you can try the local shellfish and talk with the ama divers, dressed in their distinctive white robes. Savor the exquisite taste of charcoal-grilled, freshly caught seafood, while listening to stories told by the lively, cheerful ama divers who live with the sea.

Places to go and things to see
Ama Museum
The Toba-Shima area is home to the Ama Museum, located in Toba's Osatsu-cho where most ama divers live. The museum portrays their culture through the Osatsu lifestyle and heritage with which the ama have a profound connection. The museum is a convenient starting point for strolling through Osatsu and chatting with locals.
Closed: New Year holiday
Hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm
Enquiries and bookings
Tel: 0599-33-7453 (Japanese)
Address: Osastu-cho 1238, Toba city
From JR Kintetsu Toba Station, approx. 35 min. by Mie Kotsu bus bound for Kuzaki.
Get off at Osatsu bus stop, approx. 5 min. on foot.

Toba Sea-Folk Museum
More than 50,000 artifacts and materials illustrating people's relationships with the sea are held at the museum. Ama diving is shown in some detail with exhibits of models and fishing equipment.
Closed: June 26-30, Dec. 26-30
Hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm (Japanese)
Price: Adults ¥800, Students (7 to 18 years old) ¥400
Address: Daikichi 1731-68, Uramura, Toba city
From JR Kintetsu Toba Station, approx. 25 min. by Mie Kotsu bus bound for Ijika and Shima Spain Village via Pearl Road. Get off at Umi-no-Hakubutsukan-mae, approx. 10 min. on foot.

Ama Hut Experience

Osatsu-Kamado -- Ama Hut Experience (Osatsu-cho, Toba city)
Enjoy a leisurely meal in the spacious ama hut at a tranquil fishing port.
An ama hut on a cliff with panoramic views of the ocean. If you're lucky, you may catch sight of the ama diving for shellfish.
Reservations: Close 5:00pm, two days prior
Hours: Lunchtime: 12:00-1:30pm
Teatime: 10:00-11:00am and 3:00-4:00pm
Seating capacity: 50
Price: Lunchtime: ¥3,500 per person
Turban shells, Washington clams, scallops, dried fish, sea urchins on rice, miso soup
Teatime: ¥2,000 per person
Shellfish, Japanese tea, rice cakes, etc.
*Minimum 4 people
Enquiries and bookings
Osatsu Tourism Association  Tel: 0599-33-7453 (Japanese)
From JR Kintetsu Toba Station, approx. 35 min. by Mie Kotsu bus bound for Kuzaki.
Get off at Osatsu bus stop, 5-10 min. on foot.

Toushijima Ama Hut -- Ama Hut Experience (Toushi-cho, Toba city)
An ama hut on a remote island in Toba, carefully hand-built from local bamboo by the staff and islanders.
Reservations: Close at midday, two days prior
Hours: By arrangement
Seating capacity: 25
Price: ¥3,000 per person
Freshly caught charcoal-grilled seafood, rice balls, fish chowder, etc.
Enquiries and bookings
Souvenir shop "Tomo": Tel 0599-37-2347
Shimanotabi-sha: Tel 0599-37-3339 (Japanese)
Address: Momotori-cho 263, Toba city
Located near the jetty at Toushi Port: From JR Kintetsu Toba Station, 5 min. walk to Sadahama Port, then take the ferry to Toushi (35 min.).

Ama Hut (Ijika-cho, Toba city)
Used by working ama divers (observation only).
Address: Ijika Fishing Port, Ijika-cho, Toba city
From JR Kintetsu Toba Station, approx. 35 min. by Mie Kotsu bus
bound for Ijika and Shima Spain Village via Pearl Road.
Get off at Ijika Port bus stop, approx. 1 min. on foot.

Ise-Shima Ama Hut
Divided into three rooms to accommodate three groups at once.
Reservations: Close 3 days prior
Hours: 10:00am to 2:00pm
Seating capacity: 50
Prices: Set menus from ¥5,500 per person
Plus ama gratuity of ¥3,000
(1 ama per 1-4 guests)
Enquiries and bookings
Shima Town Office, Shima Tourism Association
Tel: 0599-85-1212
Fax: 0599-85-5607 (Japanese)
Address: Koshiga 2279, Shima-cho, Shima city
From Kintetsu Ugata Station, approx. 55 min. by Mie Kotsu bus.
Get off at Azurihama bus stop.