Toba: Of Divers and the Finest Pearls

Post date: Jul 22, 2014 10:29:58 AM

By: Aries Lucea

Slice of Mango, Slice of Life


In the town of Toba, women have been diving the waters for hundreds of years. In celebration of this tradition, and to pay homage to the sea god Susano, the local divers gathered for an event at Kuzaki beach. They are called ama in Japanese and about 100 of them made three dives for red abalone. Ama are a big part of the local culture. But most of them are now old and most of them are grandmothers. There are but a few Ama divers belonging to the younger generation. Sadly, this might be a dying tradition.

Dining on the amachan hut is such a great experience. These diving grandmothers have a wealth of stories to tell. Stories plus the freshest seafood you can eat, it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed. Reservation required, please check their website for more information

Mikimoto and his lovely pearls

Well, if there is one thing that Toba is famous for besides ama, it is oysters and pearls. In the past the women would dive for them off the coast. Then in the early 1900s a man by the name of Kokichi Mikimoto succeeded in culturing pearls. Though British biologists originally devised the technique, Mikimoto teamed up with a former dentist and perfected the way of seeding oysters on a commercial scale. The process is actually very complex, and about half the traumatized oysters die before maturing. Of those that survive only a few produce pearls, and the number that can be used in jewelry constitute but a small percentage of the overall yield. The rest are rejected because they are not round enough, or are too small or otherwise flawed, and they end up as crushed pearl powder, an ingredient for many high-end cosmetics.

In his lifetime Mikimoto became a very wealthy man. He set up pearl farms in the small bays that line the rugged coastline of Ise-Shima. In addition to producing pearls he also sold the meat of the oysters and ground down the shells to make fertilizer. 50 years have now passed since his death but the legacy of Mikimoto lives on through his business. The harvesting season is in winter because cold water affects the oysters in a way that produces the best quality of pearls. Their meat also becomes widely available at the time. A popular thing to do is visit a local restaurant and partake in an all you can eat feast.

I remember how the Mikimoto window display along Manhattan’s 5th Avenue, would made my knees soft and dream about buying those expensive pieces for my then Japanese girlfriend and now wife. Well, 10 years later, I’m still hoping that one day I can buy her those fine Mikimoto pearls.

More Toba attractions

Toba is such a wonderful place. There is still so much to see and experience in this lovely town, aside from oysters and pearls. For one, the Toba Aquarium is of great significance for us Filipinos. It houses two dugongs, and is actively involved in its conservation efforts back in the Philippines. My kids also enjoyed the attractions at the Spain Mura, a Spanish theme park and a dolphin show at Irukashima. Well, that and more on my next feature here on Daloy Kayumanggi. Enjoy the Japanese summer. Do not miss the opportunity to explore the wonders of this beautiful country.