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Female divers of Korea and Japan

Posted September. 09, 2013 06:06,   


A fever over female divers sweeps across Japan. This has been triggered by Amachan, a NHK TV drama aired in the morning from April this year. The drama is about a high school girl in Tokyo, who is having a hard time adapting to school. The girl later move to her mother’s hometown Iwate Prefecture and became a female diver after her grandmother.

Amachan accidently became an idol star across Japan but decided to go back to her hometown to revive the town after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. The drama has gone up in the ratings with more than 20 percent. The filming location has become a famous tourist attraction, and young women in their 20s come to the prefecture to become divers. It may be rightly said that Amachan is leading the revival of Iwate prefecture, the area hit hardest during the earth quake.

Real Meccas of female drivers in Japan, however, are Mie, Toba and Shima prefectures, not northeast Japan. More than half of the entire 2,174 female divers live in the three prefectures. The prefectures pour their energy into the restore the economy by using the cultural heritage of female drivers. As part of such efforts, 10 foreign correspondents in Tokyo were invited to cover female divers. The female diver culture is unique to Korea and Japan. Female divers’ work amazed not only western correspondents from Germany, France, Swiss and Italia but also those from China and Vietnam. Some of them jumped into the water holding a water-resistant camera along with women divers.

Reporters questioned many questions to divers at a resting place where women divers talk one another after finishing work. They were also interested in the marketing strategy of the prefecture using the female diver culture. The Ishigami Shrine, a shrine to pray for the safety of female drivers is crowded with female tourists from all over Japan. The visitors believe that at least one wish of a woman comes true. Charms of female divers, which are engraved with patterns of check and stars, are also popular.

The event was also aimed at helping the female diver culture be enlisted as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. This plan was made in 2007 by female divers in Korea’s Jeju Island to preserve and hand down the unique culture and accepted by the Japanese counterpart. “Female divers have learned the ancient skill to survive in their bodies, “said Ishihara Yoshikata, the director of the Sea Museum, to which foreign correspondents nodded. The director said, the white cotton clothes worn by female divers were from Korea in the 1900s. Until then Japanese female divers used to dive without clothes for their upper bodies.

The reason why Korean and Japanese female divers came to work together is because of the sense of crisis that the culture is endangered. The number of Japanese female divers nosedived from 17,611 in 1956 to 2,174 in 2010. Most of them are over 60s in their age. Because young women do not want to lean the job while expensive ear shells have decreased. In Korea, the number of Jeju female divers fell to 4,800 from 30,000.

Considering the fact that Jeju’s female divers used to protest against Japan in the 1930s, this kind of cooperation reflects the change of time. If the female diver culture will be enlisted as a world cultural heritage, it will be a meaningful achievement between Korean and Japan since the Korea-Japan 2002 World Cup. The female divers of the both sides have strengthened their friendship by sending people to celebrate festivals at both sides. This relationship shows that there are many aspects of Korea-Japan relations other than the strained diplomatic relations.