Toba / MieDiscover Toba’s Female Free Divers on a One-Day Ama-Diver Tour

Ama divers jump into the coastal waters to gather seafood and seaweed.

The city of Toba sits at the mouth of Ise Bay, on the northern coast of the Shima Peninsula. For millennia, the waters off the shore have provided a way of life for the women of the area. They are ama, free divers who harvest mollusks, crustaceans, seaweeds, and other bounties of the sea.

Toba's Unique Traditions

Ama dive down approximately five meters when working alone but can dive as deep as ten to twenty meters if using a weight and diving with a fisherman and boat.

There aren’t many places around the globe where women engage in traditional free diving, and spending a day exploring the ama’s world on a guided tour of the Toba area provides a rare chance to get a hands-on experience with this extraordinary culture.

Hike to the Ama’s Sacred Shofuku Temple

The ama dive with minimal equipment: wet suit, mask, fins, and head covering.

Diving is one of Japan’s oldest professions for women; for approximately two thousand years, ama have passed down their trade from one generation to the next. Though the number of divers has been in decline over the last half century, the Toba area still boasts a comparatively large population of ama, with four hundred to five hundred divers, ranging in age from thirty to eighty, still working local waters.

The ama worship at Shofuku Temple, and a fire ceremony is held here in their honor.

A life at sea is rife with dangers, and because of that, shrines and temples dedicated to the protection of fishermen and fisherwomen dot the extensive coast of the Japanese archipelago. In Toba, ama worship at Shinmei Shrine and Shofuku Temple.

As part of the tour, you’ll hike to the summit of Mt. Aomine to visit Shofuku Temple, founded by the Buddhist priest Gyoki in the eighth century to honor Kannon, the bodhisattva often associated with mercy. The earthy, moss-covered temple complex includes an imposing wooden gate and intricately carved buildings among the greenery of Mt. Aomine.

The temple can be reached with a beginner-friendly hike up the 336-meter Mt. Aomine.

The trip up the mountain immerses you in verdure—evergreen oak, Japanese cedar, hinoki cypress, ferns, maple, common camellia, and other local flora.

Enjoy the Bounty of the Ocean with Ama Divers

Lunchtime is spent in the company of ama.

A journey into the world of ama wouldn’t be complete without time spent with the divers themselves. Savor the flavors of the sea while chatting with ama as they prepare a lunch of freshly caught seafood over a charcoal grill in a re-created ama hut. The huts are traditionally places where ama divers dry and warm themselves, enjoying conversation and laughter after a day in the ocean.

Sample a variety of seafood, including scallops and turban shells.

Lunch includes shellfish and seaweed gathered by the ama, as well as other items caught and farmed in the coastal waters. Vegetarians and vegans are welcome, and alternative meals can be arranged with advance notice. Lunch with ama is a unique chance to hear harrowing tales of the sea passed down through generations and to experience firsthand the joy and camaraderie of life as an ama.

Watch a Diving Demonstration at Mikimoto Pearl Island

Ama at Mikimoto Pearl Island dive in traditional white garments.

The cultured pearl is perhaps the most lustrous of the Shima Peninsula’s many gems, and it was right in Toba that Mikimoto Kokichi, the father of cultured pearls, found success. His triumph might have remained out of reach, however, without ama.

Observe the incredible techniques of ama from viewing stands on Mikimoto Pearl Island.

Though no longer an essential part of the cultured-pearl industry, the ama had an important role in its infancy because it was the ama who brought up oysters to be seeded, returned seeded oysters to the seabed, and relocated them to safety before typhoons hit.

In the early days of pearl culturing, ama were a crucial part of the industry.

Mikimoto Pearl Island’s diving demonstration offers visitors a chance to see ama at work, while the island’s museum provides a peek into the history of the industry and a look at some of its spectacular creations.

Spend the Night in a Town of Ama

A sumptuous feast of local seafood awaits at Jubei.

The city of Toba has much to offer—too much to fit into just one day! If you have a little bit of extra time, why not spend the night in town to explore museums, shops, and so much more? Choose a hotel in Osatsu, an area many ama call home, for the chance to see them as they go about their day.

Enjoy a relaxing soak in the luxurious waters of Jubei’s hot spring.

Jubei is a traditional inn located next to Shinmei Shrine. The shrine is home to Ishigami-san, a deity said to grant wishes to women, and is frequented by ama. A stay at Jubei may well bring you face-to-face with local divers visiting the shrine to pray.

Keep your eyes peeled while gazing from your room window—you might catch sight of ama at work!

Stay at Resort Hills Toyohama Sora no Kaze for breathtaking views of the waters where ama dive.

Local delicacies from both land and sea are on the menu at Resort Hills Toyohama Sora no Kaze.

In addition to the bounty of the sea, the hotel’s restaurant serves Mie Prefecture’s famous Matsusaka beef, as well as local wines and sake.

Access information

Getting to Toba:

Toba is approximately 2.5 hours by car or public transportation (high-speed boat, train, or bus) from Chubu Centrair International Airport, which can be reached in approximately one hour from both Haneda International Airport and Narita International Airport. The city can also be accessed from Osaka by train in approximately 2.5 hours.

Article provided by: JTB Communication Design, Inc.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change. Unless stated otherwise, prices do not include tax.
*Unauthorized reproduction of material in this article is strictly prohibited.

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If you’re looking for a new way to experience Japan, sign up for a farm-stay experience through the Countryside Stays Japan program and participate in traditional rural-lifestyle activities in recommended countryside locations.

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