After breakfast, we head to Mikimoto Pearl Island, the birthplace of pearl farming. The pearls here are collected by ama, “sea women,” who free dive without a breathing apparatus. Though most famous for pearl-gathering, ama also dive for octopus, lobster, sea urchins, and other marine delicacies along the coast. Museums on the island represented how the pearls are cultivated and the story of Mikimoto, who invented the process.
Next, we headed to a nearby island where we meet with the local ama for a discussion about their profession and lifestyle. We joined them for lunch in their simple warming shack and we get to taste the seafood the divers caught.
Later in the afternoon we stopped to visit a family of women farming pearls where we had hands-on experience harvesting pearls. The process starts with baby oysters that are raised in cages lowered into the sea. When they are about three years old, a round shell nucleus is inserted into the oyster for the pearl to grow around. At about five years old the pearls are harvested from the oysters. During this five year period the cages are raised and cleaned every two weeks. The process is long and tedious and many of the oysters do not produce. This family has been doing this type of work for a few generations, but this is probably the last generation to do it. Culturing pearls has evolved over the years, but the process was first developed in about 1890 or so. Several of us left with pearl jewelry. It was fun to purchase here and it felt right to support them and enjoy the results.
We finished the day with a fabulous seafood banquet.
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