"The Island of the Fisherwomen"
This book is a favourite
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 11th February 2009I'd been interested in the Japanese Ama diving women since reading about them in Frances Ashcroft's book Life At the Extremes. The women dive to great depths to harvest shellfish and their diving abilities are prodigious, and most photographs that I've seen of the Ama women since (including that on the cover of the hardback editions of "Life at the Extremes") seem to come from Fosco Maraini's book about his time on the island of Heruka (the eponymous island) in the Sea of Japan, living with and observing the Ama community there.
Much of the book is filled with Maraini's wonderful colour and back-and-white photographs of the diving women and of the more general community life on the island. The text meanwhile complements the pictures, recounting the story of his search for a suitably "authentic" Ama community to observe (even in the 1950s it seems in many places the Ama were turning away from fishing in order to entertain tourists), the time spent living among them before finally finding a degree of acceptance (with the help of various presents to the local ruler) which allowed to actually dive with some of the women and take pictures up close.
It's a fascinating and very readable account, Maraini's observations are often very insightful, the translation from the Italian appears to be excellent, and the details of the Ama women's work (and the life of the Ama people in general) are extremely interesting. It seems that even at the time of writing that the Ama's way of life might be disappearing, and I'm not sure if these communities still exist in a form that might be recognisable to Maraini (see for example this 2003 article Japan's Ama Women Divers); however at least the book and the photographs still preserve something of it.