A Day with the AMA san ~Ama Hut SATOUMIAN~

A Day with the AMA san ~Ama Hut SATOUMIAN~

Spend a day with the AMA san and learn about the food they catch and some of the crafts they make from pearls, and see the beautiful area where they work.

Written by Dan Lewis

-Author's Introduction
Originally from the state of Alaska in the USA, Dan Lewis is a long-term resident of Japan. He has lived in Mie, Ishikawa and Gifu Prefecctures, and currently resides in Nagoya, the capitol city of Aichi Prefecture. Dan is an avid fan of technology and nature - two areas that Japan is blessed with! He loves taking "the road less traveled" and discovering new places.

We arrived at the AMA Museum just before lunchtime. It’s only a minute from a beautiful beach facing the Pacific Ocean. Inside the small museum, we received a short introduction to AMA culture and watched a video presentation.

The AMA hut is a place for the AMA san to relax after diving. The photos and exhibits displayed in the main room show how the women divers re-warmed their bodies after diving. Even in the summer, they need to warm their bodies. You can get an idea about how the inside of the huts appear.

We enjoyed a video presentation about the Shima area. Now a national park, Shima was designated as a place to catch seafood for Japan’s royal family. The video gives an excellent background on the local bay, the seafood harvested here, as well as the food culture of the surrounding area. 

One gains a sense of the strong religious beliefs that the people in this region hold, and their desire for harmony with nature. The locals place a strong emphasis on maintaining the surrounding ecology, and keeping the sea life quantity levels up.

In addition to being a source of food, the Shima area also has a rich history of pearl production and marine sports and activities. I learned that this afternoon, we would get to experience a part of the pearl production process first hand.

We received a greeting from a local tourism representative who introduced this great website:
https://miescape.jp/en/ Please note that differences in prices listed on the Japanese website and the English web site are for translator costs.

After the short talk and video introduction, we headed just across the parking lot to a longish “hut” where two AMA san had prepared a bounteous seafood BBQ, and were waiting for us. There, we would experience an AMA-style lunch.

The room was long and had 4 large tables, each with a grill in the center and a space for the AMA san to stand and cook for the guests who gathered around the remaining three sides of the table.

The heat from the grills warmed the entire hut, giving it a very comfortable feel. The smiling AMA san presented today’s menu on a large plate. I could see we were in for a treat! The warm reception and smiles by the AMA cooks made me feel right at home.

We started into lunch and it seemed like one treat after the next! There really was so many kinds of seafood and the size of each one was surprising! I found myself enjoying it so much that I went beyond my normal boundaries and even tried the squid, which was not tough and chewy like I had come to expect, but tender and easy to chew. And the flavor was much better than I expected!

The food kept coming and we ended up trying to share food that was given to us to the others in our group. Just when we thought lunch was finished, they brought out a plate of fresh fruit, and cooked some popcorn-like rice treats. What an amazing lunch experience!

After lunch, we took a short ride to our next stop. After parking, we walked down a small road for about 5 minutes until we came to a harbor. The rain was falling gently, making a pretty pattern of rings on the water. We made our way into a small hut by the water where plates and tools were laid out, ready for us to harvest...

… PEARLS! Wow! I was really excited that we would get to harvest pearls! First, the older AMA san who was in charge, went down to a large raft floating on the water and pulled up a basket containing several pearl oyster.

Some of us walked across a wooden plank that connected the raft to the land so we could get a closer look. “One at a time!” called out the AMA san.

The kind AMA san instructed us how to open the pearl oysters. Honestly, it was much simpler than I had imagined. I stuck my knife in, rotated it from “12:00” to “3:00” and the oyster popped open, revealing its hidden treasure inside. I found a pearl!

The next step was to “wash” it in salt, and then rinse it with water. That resulted in a beautiful, polished pearl. In the photo, the pearl is the bright shiny thing I’m holding between my fingers.

The AMA san mentioned that you can eat the scallops, and she masterfully prepared several on the spot. Normally, they sell for 7000 yen per kilogram (approx. US$29/pound) so it was a special treat for people who like scallops! The unused portions are used as food for the fish. Kind of a “circle of life” sort of thing.

But if you didn’t want to eat any, that was ‘hakuna matata’ and we headed over to a nearby craft room. There, we selected an attachment string and pouch to make our own unique pearl accessory. I was honestly surprised as I thought the experience was going to end with my pearl souvenir.

One staff member pierced the pearls so they could be attached to the accessories we had chosen. Another used some kind of epoxy to fasten the pearl, put some tape on it and told each of us to “keep it this way for an hour!” And that was it! The activity ended with a short explanation of how pearls are cultivated and harvested.

Please note that this pearl experience can be enjoyed only in winter during the harvest time. Summer is for cultivation. Be sure to check before you go.

We moved on to our final activity for the day - cruising around Ago Bay! This was an enjoyable ride. We toured around Ago Bay in a small, 10-person boat, listening to a brief history of the area with the assistance of a translator.

With the sun hiding behind some clouds, the air felt noticeably cooler. I touched the water as we sped along and was surprised to see it felt warmer than the air! We enjoyed some great sunset moments as we took in the beauty of Ago Bay and thought back on the day’s fun events.

Tourist attractions covered by this article