Originally published on 10 July 2006. This post is part of a series of “e-mails to home” from my first summer abroad in Japan.
Boy, do I have things to tell y’all! Yesterday was as close to ideal as I can think of. We started off going to the Mikimoto Pearl Island, continued on to a health center/spa/resort, and ended with a trip to an onsen!
First things first: the pearls! We got to watch the women divers (called Ama in Japanese) give a demonstration. After we watched that, Yuri, Mami, Mrs. Koda, Anna, and I sat and drank coffee or tea and talked for a while about the pearl process and the historical significance of this Pearl Island.
The women divers wear white outfits and dive the same way they have since the beginning, over 100 years ago. No breathing apparatus, no high-tech gear, they just dive in and pick up the creatures that create the pearls. Also, they have to be trained from their teenage years. Most of the divers are in their 40s, and we were told the younger generation is losing interest. I’m not sure how long the tradition will last, but I hope it lives on! They dive in every season, including winter, and it’s a pretty difficult job. The divers are usually not considered experts until they reach 40 years old!
After we talked about that stuff, we took a bathroom break and talked about toilets. I know, I’m such a potty mouth. But seriously, “Western-style” Japanese toilets are a marvel. Not only are they heated, they have those spray washer things, too. Although I haven’t tried it yet! Not only that, there’s a special flusher sound button incase you’re embarrassed by… noises. I didn’t realise that’s what the button with the music note was for until yesterday! I had to crack up, and I took a picture for y’all.
I had no idea that pearls were first cultured (man made) here in Mie prefecture. Pearls used to be so expensive because their existence and shape really all just happened by chance. To have more than one pearl the same size was rare and would be very expensive. They were often used as a cure-all medicine, which I thought was interesting. It wasn’t until Mr. Mikimoto began “growing” them that they were really used for jewelry for regular people, not just royalty or the very wealthy.To cultivate the pearls, they have to perform “surgery” on the oysters, and he actually got the idea for the process from a dentist “pearly whites!”
Anyway, Yuri used to work at the Island, so we had our own personal tour guide and translator, which was very helpful. It was all very interesting and the things they had on display were just gorgeous! I’ve been very impressed with every museum I’ve been to here. It’s a shame it’s not all more famous. It’s all very interesting!
After the museum, we made our way to the Nemu No Sato resort, but that’s for another day!