Voiij by Andi Cross, Edges of Earth (Expedition Lead).
This was a highlight of our expedition so far. But I certainly didn’t have the best luck on my first attempt diving with these legendary women. Here’s my … misadventure, if you will.
They had utterly perfect diving form. We were in awe of how long these two could hold their breath—and thanks to this skill, they always returned to the surface with beautiful purple urchins in hand. After each dive, they celebrated every urchin (or uni) as if it was their biggest win yet. It was clear they loved being in the water and doing the thing they do best—freediving for seafood.
Marla and Adam were taking turns diving down in the shallows to collect their handful of urchins. As seasoned freedivers, they were picking it up quickly and coming back time and time again with all the goods. Now the four of them were celebrating, with lots of “woo, you did it’s” (or ya ta’s) being thrown around—their cheers carrying over the water. And then there was me, sitting at the surface.
Kiku and Aiko had asked if I knew how to duck dive and if I was able to collect urchins too. Feeling silly that the two of them even had to ask, I guess it was a good question at the time. Having borrowed gear from Kiku, the sizing was just enough off that it showed. Especially when it came to the masks—the three of us looked like we had oversized bug eyes. While everyone else was diving, I was fiddling with my gear trying to get each component to work as it should.
I assured Kiku my time was coming. I was going to prove to everyone I could get some urchins too. After a few observations of how everyone else was doing it, I was feeling ready to whip out my very best duck diving. With my work tool in hand, I was to scrape the urchin off the rocks and bring it up for my very own cheer with the group. I wanted that celebratory “woo” from Kiku and Aiko so badly too!
Ducking down, I swam around looking for the perfect catch. My first find was an easy one, sitting neatly on a nearby rock. With a few scrapes I carefully brought my urchin back to the surface. Happy with MY big win, it was time to go back down again and prove that I too could be like these pro-level freedivers.
We couldn’t believe we were in the water with some of the last remaining Ama in this tiny corner of remote Japan called Mie Prefecture.
Ama, (translated to “women of the sea”) are Japanese divers known for their ability to plunge into the ocean’s depths to collect shellfish, seaweed and other marine creatures without modern scuba equipment. This practice, rooted in a history spanning over 2,000 years, is a display of refined skill and endurance.
Ama divers brave the cold and rough waters, relying on centuries-old and uniquely developed breath-holding techniques. They represent a community defined by physical resilience and mental fortitude, values passed down through generations. Their connection to the sea is not only occupational but deeply cultural.
The sea is an essential aspect of their identity, with every dive characterized by skill and respect for the ocean. In a world advancing rapidly due to technology, the Ama put an emphasis on preserving tradition paired with impressive physical skill in the water. Their methods, though seemingly simple, are truly far from it when you watch them at work. Having to dive down repetitively, regardless of ocean condition, for your entire career leaves no room for error. Especially when your life depends on every catch.
Now, trying to learn the ways of these amazing women, we were accompanied by two of the next generation—rising stars in the world of Ama, where the average age of divers is well into their 60 or 70’s. Kiku (49 years old) and Aiko (44 years old), were there to supervise, showing us their ways and methods step by step, but also taking us back in time to how it all began.
Experience the full Voiij on the app and hear about Andi’s run-in with urchin toxins, and more about the history of the Ama divers and their traditions.