Tucked away in the far corner of Mie Prefecture, Ise-Shima National Park is known for hosting the G7 Ise-Shima Summit in 2016. However, the park has its own cultural gems that should not be missed. Explore the world of ama divers, traditional dive fishing done by women in the local villages, and taste the bountiful seafood the oceans have to offer.
Ama diving has a history that dates back around 5,000 years ago. When the men of the village went deep-sea fishing on boats, the women stayed near home to fish the local seas. There, the tradition of women free divers, the ama, began.
Unlike ama divers of the present day, the ama traditionally used a minimum amount of equipment and clothing. Many wore only a loincloth and were topless, but these days all white uniforms or wetsuits are the norm. The ama dive a depth of 10 meters (32 feet) or more.
Traditionally, girls around the age of 12 to 13 would begin their training as an ama diver. Many ama are now elderly with very few younger women taking up the lifestyle. Currently, there are only 660 divers left in Japan, with Mie Prefecture hosting half of them.
To meet one of the small numbers of the ama left in Japan, head to an ama hut at the eastern edge of Ise-Shima National Park.
Located in Osatsu Village, Ama Hut Hachiman Kamado is an unassuming seaside restaurant that offers a culinary trip through history and a cultural experience. The ama divers wear their traditional white uniforms as they greet and serve customers. The fragrance of fresh seafood such as spiny lobster, clams and abalone perfumes the premises with culinary seafood delight. The restaurant also acts like a traditional cultural center where you can dress up as the ama and learn more about their lives.
For those worried about COVID-19, an automatic alcohol sanitizer dispenser and a body temperature thermometer ensures the safety of both the ama and customers.
Ama Hut Hachiman Kamado features rows of tables outside for guests to wait. At first glance, they look like the place where customers would dine but the grilling and dining takes place in the adjacent rooms indoors. During busy seasons, rows of excited diners line up waiting for their turn to enjoy the meal. Dining at Ama Hut Hachiman Kamado is by reservation only. For the best experience here, call ahead to guarantee the set you would like to eat.
The restaurant offers several different types of sets ranging from tea time sets to luxury seafood sets that offer a tremendous amount of fresh seafood. The deluxe seafood set consists of lobster, turban shells, large clams, and noble scallops.
Once the ama finishes preparing their fresh platter of seafood, they will guide patrons to the adjacent indoor rooms for grilling and dining.
Patrons are free to join the ama in conversation as she grills the abalone, clams, and spiny lobster. The fragrance of the fresh seafood being grilled is almost worth the cost of the meal alone. The food here is freshly caught and, in some cases, still alive.
Unlike other methods of cooking, grilling adds a smoky flavor to the seafood. You can ask the ama for cooking advice as she describes each and every one of the seafood she is grilling for you. Watch as the spiny lobster turns a bright red color and the clams bubble from the inside from the flames.
The complete deluxe seafood set, which offers spiny lobster, fish, turban shells, large clams, and noble scallops, comes with classic Japanese meal accompaniments: hijiki (a type of cold seaweed salad), rice and miso soup with crab leg.
The spiny lobster has a very succulent and fresh taste, while the fish is perfectly flaky and smooth. The large clams are soft and brimming with a fresh flavor and the turban shells have a nice crunchy texture. Rice mellows out the strong seafood flavors and the miso soup adds a punch of plant-based umami flavor.
Seafood lovers should not miss this deluxe seafood set. It is a meal packed with bold flavors as well as history and culture. This is no ordinary seafood restaurant; the ama dive into the ocean to fish for these delicacies, making the meal even more special.
After the decadent deluxe seafood meal, take the time to explore the area. Osatsu and the nearby surroundings host some places to learn more about the ama and their history. Visit the Osatsu Ama Culture Museum, a 10-minute walk from Ama Hut Hachiman Kamado.
The Osatsu Ama Culture Museum is a small, free museum that features photographs and other displays of the ama. Learn about their history, how they make their catches, the techniques and tools that they used too.
Microplastics in the ocean have been a topic of concern for the health of the world’s oceans and, unfortunately, the oceans near Ise-Shima National Park have also been affected.
Sea urchins, a classic Japanese seafood delicacy, have been growing poorly in recent years due to the marine plastics found in the oceans and these pollutants have also put the ama fishery in danger.
For the upkeep of the environment and culture, it is important to reduce plastic waste where possible and to dispose of plastic waste according to the local regulations and in the appropriate trash bins.
After visiting the Osatsu Ama Culture Museum, take a 5-minute walk to Shinmei Shrine, which hosts Ishigami-San (“Stone God”). The entrance provides a nice, shady respite from the heat during hot summer days.
Ishigami-San is said to grant a woman one wish, so the shrine has been visited by women from all over Japan and the ama themselves since antiquity. To make your wish, write it down, put it into the box in front of the shrine and pray.
Ama Hut Hachiman Kamado and its surroundings offer visitors a glimpse into the world of ama, the opportunity to learn about their history, and enjoy the bountiful delicacies they bring from the seas. Visit culturally important locations and make a wish at the Shinmei Shrine.
Mie Prefecture, particularly Ise-Shima National Park, is full of cultural gems and wonders that make it worth the journey. Visit and taste the flavors of the sea.
I’m a freelance translator and writer working in the media and entertainment industries. I enjoy photography and travel.