Walking Tour of Osatsucho: Home of the Ama Divers

Walking Tour of Osatsucho: Home of the Ama Divers

Toba is undoubtedly the resort town of Mie Prefecture.

There’s Amazing views, mouthwatering seafood, and a tropical mood in the air. You can enjoy everything from luxury hotels to marine sports and a family-friendly aquarium.

Toba is also a culturally rich town, being home to the Ama Diving subculture of Japan. One of the most popular spots here is the Mikimoto Pearl Island, where you can learn about these traditional divers and the pearl harvesting process.

However, to learn more about the Ama Diver culturally, there’s a small coastal village called Osatsucho on the southeastern corner of Toba, which actually has the most Ama Divers in all of Japan. Osatsucho is an interesting small town where the town’s history is deeply rooted with the Ama Divers, and is also home to the famous Shinmei Shrine.

Today, we took a visit to this small secluded town to dive deeper (pun unintended) into the history of the Ama Divers.

What is an Ama Diver?

What is an Ama Diver?

Before we head over to Osatsucho, let’s first talk about the Ama Diver. Ama Divers are female free divers who carry around a Ama’s float and collect sea items such as seaweed, shellfish, and Iseebi. This tradition has been around as early as the year 750 and the Ama Diver tradition is considered an important part of Japan’s history and culture.

Ama Diving was done mainly by females because they believed that women are more capable of withstanding cold waters due to the thicker layer of fat. Ama Divers would dive up to 30 feet to collect seafood and would even hold their breaths for up to 2 minutes at times!

An Endangered Tradition

Despite the declining population of Ama Divers, not everyone is allowed to become an Ama Diver. Only those born into the family can participate in this tradition and Ama Divers would continue diving, even until their 90s!

Despite the longevity of the Ama Diving women, the tradition itself is slowly becoming endangered. Due to global warming, overfishing, and a variety of factors, the ocean’s ecosystem has changed drastically in recent times and Ama Divers aren’t so free to dive anymore.

There are rules and regulations placed by the local governments on when, how often, and what you can collect while Ama Diving.

Arriving at Osatsucho

Our first stop in Osatsucho was the「 Sora no Kaze hotel」, one of the few places that offer tours around this area. Here, we met up with our guide, Nomura-san, who showed up with a handful of poles.

It seems that we’ll be doing a Nordic Walking tour of Osatsucho.

The Art of Nordic Walking

The Art of Nordic Walking
If you’ve never heard of Nordic walking, it’s a type of walk involving the use of special walking poles. These poles resemble ski poles but are designed to distribute the strain of walking throughout your whole body.

Depending on the way you use the poles, Nordic walking can be done as either a sport or used to make everyday walking easier, which makes it perfect for a walking tour around a small town.

Nomura-san gave us a quick tutorial on how to use them to aid our normal walk. After a few minutes of practice, we were fully trained Nordic walkers and it was time to embark on the tour!

Types of Courses

Types of Courses
There are 3 types of Nordic Walking courses available: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

The beginner course is 4km long and roughly takes 1hr 30 minutes. This course is the “tourist” route and is suited for tourists who come to Osatsucho and want to see the main spots like the beach, Ama huts, and the Shinmei shrine.

The intermediate course is 7km long and takes roughly 3-4 hours. This is the “tourist plus” route and covers the same places as the beginner course, but also includes additional places for a more complete tour of Osatsucho.

Finally, the advanced course is 9km long and takes roughly 4-5 hours. This is the “sport” course and completes a full lap around Osatsucho, venturing out to every nook and cranny of the village.

Since this was our first time, we decided to go with the beginner course.

Exploring Osatsucho

Exploring Osatsucho
Our walking tour started at Shirahama beach, the main beach of the area and the go-to place during summertime. It was a cloudy day but nonetheless, the view was present and the air was fresh.

The sandy path led us to a small peninsula where the path led to a small woodland region. We hiked up a dirt slope and before we knew it, we were completely surrounded by trees and you could barely see the ocean.

In an instant, the scenery changed from coast to mountain, and back to coast once we reached the other side of the peninsula. From here, we had a full view of Osatsucho from the seaside and our guide pointed out the Ama huts in the distance, where we would head to next.

The Osatsucho Ama Huts

The Osatsucho Ama Huts

We walked closer to town and arrived at the main fishing port of Osatsucho, the work place for both fishermen and Ama Divers alike. We made our way over to the Ama huts and there were many Ama Divers shouting at each other, frantically running around.

It seems like today is the day for spring cleaning.

Most of the Ama Divers were older but they were moving swiftly and everybody was in sync with each other. We got to take a small peek inside the huts and you could see the different equipments they use and their day to day life.

Some of the divers seemed to recognize Nomura-san and from the way they conversated, I could see the strong bond that exists in Osatsucho.

It was fascinating to see the Ama Divers in their daily life, especially on a non-diving day, working hard to maintain and take care of their quarters and equipment.

During the entire time, Nomura-san was such an excellent tour guide. He was really easy to talk to and made efforts to explain each location, its culture, and its beauty. You could tell he loves his hometown and wants to share what it has to offer.

You can eat while listening to the stories of the ama women

The Shinmei Shrine

The Shinmei Shrine
From the Ama huts, we made our way to the most famous part of Osatsucho: The Shinmei Shrine.

This shrine worships the Ishigami God and it is said that by praying here, a “single wish of a woman can be fulfilled” so Ama Divers would often come to pray at the shrine before heading out to sea.

Today, the shrine is particularly popular among all females, Ama Diver or not.

Thoughts on the Nordic Walking Tour

Thoughts on the Nordic Walking Tour
The Shinmei shrine was the last stop of the tour and we made our way back to the Sora no Kaze Hotel.

Overall, my first Nordic Walking experience was awesome! As expected, the 4km that we walked felt like nothing on my legs but I could feel that my upper body went through a workout. It definitely makes it easy to walk long distances while getting a balanced overall workout.

Next time I’ll definitely be going for the 6km intermediate course!

Lunch at a Local Hidden Gem

Lunch at a Local Hidden Gem
Since we’re by the coastside, we drove out to a neighboring village to get some seafood for lunch. There’s a local spot here called Nishimura Shokudo which is apparently very famous and attracts customers from all over Mie.
The secret of popularity is volume and freshness!

We drove on over to a parking lot next to a local, average looking restaurant. Inside there were only about 7 counter seats and 3 tables packed full of people.

We walked through the narrow path between the tables and the counter seats to get to the last available table at the other side of the entrance.

I opened the menu and there were only about 5 or 6 items on it. I’ve noticed that this is a common pattern in Japan where a restaurant only has a handful of options but they do it exceptionally well.
Surprisingly,more and more appetizers are coming out besides the items I ordered!

What I couldn’t believe was the price.

The 6 items on the menu ranged from the cheapest being 3,000 yen and the most expensive item at 18,000yen. I had to triple check that I’m reading the menu correctly. This is the kind of price you’d see at a high end wagyu restaurant. I was really curious what the 18,000yen option entails but I ended up ordering the 3,000 yen dish.

I ordered the fried fish set, one of the 3,000 yen items. Along with the main dish, there was fresh sashimi, pickled fish and vegetables, and a bowl of rice.

The dish looked ordinary, both in real life and in the picture above. The sashimi looked great though.

I took a bite into the deep-fried horse mackerel and instantly my impression changed. The fish inside was really juicy and didn’t have a fishy smell at all. Despite being fried, it was also very light! Easily the best fried fish I’ve ever had.

The meal was more filling than it looked. By the time I finished my meal, I was so full, I couldn’t eat another bite. As we were walking out, I took a glance at another group’s order and in the middle was a wooden boat figure that was loaded with thick pieces of sashimi.

That had to be the 18,000 yen item.

Tourist attractions covered by this article