Ed’s note: Maintaining old traditions alive is not always nostalgia. In some cases, it stems from a desire to look to ancient wisdom in order to unearth ways to build a better future.
Holding their breath for one minute, during one hour, twice a day, Japanese ama divers still follow the most primitive and characteristic form of foraging the sea. In existence for more than three thousand years and documented in third-century Chinese poetry, they harvest the ocean floor by gathering abalones, turban snails, sea urchins, lobsters, and seaweed, contributing to a balanced ecology and economy of the coastline. Forming a special community in villages where they come together to auction their harvest at the fish market, they repeat each day a series of actions that promote much respect for the natural resources and the various objects they use.
The Archaeology of Diving was recorded around Toba, in the Bay of Ise in central Japan, in August 2018. The film portrays the timeline of the unique way of life and the free-diving practice of a small group of divers from multiple generations. It begins as they come together in the amagoya, a simple hut located on the seashore, where they warm up, repair and store their diving gear, and share food and stories. Together, they dive, whistling as they exhale upon surfacing in order to protect their lungs and to gauge their distance from one another. Specific sets of regulations monitor diving time and the size and type of seafood that is allowed to be harvested according to the season, ensuring the protection of fishery culture.