The far east island of Japan has long held a special place in OZMA’s heart as a steady source of inspiration and awe from our very beginnings. We’ve fused our collections with the clean lines and subtle, flattering drapes reminiscent of Japanese design, while drawing from the influence of Asian artistry found throughout the islands culture. Fueled by our robust admiration for the country, OZMA has delved into an inspired excavation of Japanese history. After our most recent dive, we have surfaced from the archives with the striking Ama Sea Women in hand—the venerable, superstitious, utterly fearless female sea divers of seasoned Japanese fishing villages.
The Ama were coastal Japanese women, masked free divers who caught and collected sea urchins, abalone, pearls, and other oceanic delicacies for their livelihood. Native to small fishing villages, their traditions have been cultivated along the coast for more than two thousand years. The Ama could hold their breath for around two minutes under the sea’s freezing waves, plunging beneath the surface up to one hundred and eighty times a day in pursuit of their goods. Women were believed to be better suited than men for the diving process, as their bodies distributed insulating fat in a way that could sustain better in icy temperatures. Girls were brought up in the practice around the early ages of twelve and thirteen, with many Ama women carrying their craft into their old age, remaining active in the diving world well into their eighties.
The women donned cotton bottoms paired with simple masks and headscarves, dipping into the sea nearly nude. The foremothers of the Ama wore white, as the pure color was believed to ward off anything perilous that might be lurking in the relentless waters—be it shark or evil spirit. The Ama uniform has seen many adaptions over the years: from barely-there loincloths, to printed shorts, to slick white diving suits, two things remained fixtures in the Ama’s attire: the eye mask and headscarf. OZMA’s own 1930’s Bandana is reminiscent of the Ama's signature headscarf, an easy yet necessary piece meant to keep dark tresses pulled back as the women worked.
The practice of Ama diving was and remains sacred, both at odds and one with the sea. The Ama continue to inspire us beyond measure, even though the art is dwindling; since the 1940's the Ama have dipped from six thousand active divers to less than a hundred new practitioners per generation. While this ancient tradition fades with each passing tide, the story of the sea women remains. The Ama are women of immense discipline, courage, and humble gratitude... timeless characteristics that we regard with reverence. The Ama story is a hidden pearl in the history of women; wild with dignity, and recklessly beautiful.
Keep scrolling for an inside view into the world of the sea woman.
Photographs by Iwase Yoshiyuki | Story by Sarah Zimmerman