The Female Abalone Divers of Japan

The Photo Blog
March 23 2014 11:04 AM

The Female Abalone Divers of Japan

6
Ama on the boat. The white cloth the diver is wearing on her head is a traditional garment. It is supposed to help against sharks and makes sure that the women are better seen in the water.

Nina Poppe

Photographer Nina Poppe had been interested in researching a project about female niche communities when a friend told her about the Ama, a group of Japanese women who dive for abalone, the highly sought-after sea snail delicacy.

Poppe began researching the Ama and was particularly inspired by Fosco Maraini’s book, The Island of the Fisherwoman (published in 1962) and the photographs he took.. In 2010, Poppe took two trips to Japan in the spring and late summer and spent time on the island of Ise-Shima, where she observed and photographed the group of women. Many of the women are middle-aged or older—although the divers often began their work as teenagers, younger Japanese women today are mostly interested in pursuing more modern careers.  Many of the women have been diving for decades; one diver was 85 years old. The ranks of abalone divers are aging and their numbers are shrinking.

Dating back 2,000 years, the Ama originally plunged into the water wearing nothing more than a loincloth in search of pearls and shellfish. But in modern times, they have shifted to neoprene wetsuits and are known for an incredible lung capacity: Poppe noted they can dive up to 30 meters deep without equipment and can stay underwater for roughly two-minute intervals up to 60 times during a session.

9
The pier in Katada where they start with the boats. They leave their shoes when they hop on the boats.

Nina Poppe

2

Nina Poppe

4

Nina Poppe

Advertisement

Poppe photographed the Ama from the boats while they were diving and also where they were living on the island. For Poppe, simply riding along with the women was difficult. “We went out, and I was swimming a bit with goggles looking at them while they were diving,” she said. “After a while I went back to the boat and waited until they were ready. But they are always diving exactly for 1.5 hours, and the boat was moving in the waves a lot, so I got totally seasick. I was lying on the rail, pale like a ghost. The whole Ama community were joking and laughing about me.”

In 2011, Kehrer Verlag published Poppe’s book, called AMA, which is an 88-page look at her time with the divers. Poppe said it took her almost a year of editing and design before she was ready to send the book to the presses.

Besides her photographer career, Poppe works for the photography book publisher Schaden and also collects books, citing their importance, their intimacy, and their influence on storytelling. “For me, in the perfect photo book, the content and design work perfectly together; they are both important. Books can be beautiful as objects but with no interesting content or vice-versa; it has to work together,” she said.

this is what they catch. an abalone (awabi) a japanese delicacy
An abalone (awabi), which is a japanese delicacy.

Nina Poppe

8
Huts where the divers have their equipment, rest at a fireplace, and have lunch together.

Nina Poppe

10

Nina Poppe

7

Nina Poppe

3

Nina Poppe

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?