Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Modern Mermaids

I think I may have mentioned this before, but CBS Sunday Morning has become one of my favorite weekend rituals. The show is clearly geared towards an older, early-rising generation with its bow-tied host and profiles on Danny Kaye and the origin of the steamboat. But more often than not I've seen some features that have actually brought tears to my eyes and others that have even taught me something new. 

Two weeks ago they had a super interesting segment on female Japanese free divers known as the ama. These women plunge to depths of up to 80 feet in search of seafood and pearls without the use of oxygen tanks. It is mainly a female profession as it is thought that women are better insulated than men when it comes to enduring the colder temperatures of deep waters because of how their body fat is distributed. The divers used to work topless, wearing only a loincloth, but now most of them zip up in more modest wet suits. It is a 2000 year old tradition that is strictly regulated and many of the divers are now older women, some practicing well into their 80s and 90s. The profession is now dying out somewhat because of climate change and overfishing as well as the attraction of more modern careers. Of course as soon as the segment was over I dug into the internet looking for more information and found these beautiful photos from the 1950s: 

photo by Yoshiyuki Iwase

Harvesting Seaweed, 1956

Taken Aback, 1950

I also discovered a Vice interview with photographer Nina Poppe who published Ama, a book featuring her photographs of a present day ama community from Ise-Shima

- Cathleen 

[Images 1-3 by Yoshiyuki Iwase via
images 4-6 by Nina Poppe via

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