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  • Identity and Ritual in a Japanese Diving Village: The Making and Becoming of Person and Place
  • Birgit Staemmler
Identity and Ritual in a Japanese Diving Village: The Making and Becoming of Person and Place. By D. P. Martinez. 254 pages. University of Hawai'i Press, 2004. Hardcover $55.00; softcover $25.00.

The task the anthropologist D. P. Martinez set for herself in Identity and Ritual in a Japanese Diving Village is not an easy one: to publish an ethnography with two widely discussed catchphrases in its title nearly twenty years after the conclusion of a fourteen-month period of fieldwork dealing with Japanese women divers, one of the most eroticized and exoticized motifs in popular presentations of Japan. Not surprisingly, therefore, her first chapter has a slightly apologetic undertone when she describes how she became an anthropologist focusing on Japan and illustrates the role of fieldwork for anthropologists and of context for analysis. [End Page 290]

Chapter 2 contains the usual background information describing Martinez's fieldwork in Kuzaki, anthropology in and about Japan, perceptions of and previous studies about ama as well as the ama's position as women in Japan. Partly due to the ambiguity of the term ama, the history of diving women in Japan is hardly documented, and Martinez consequently gives but a short outline. She dismisses the widespread image of the ama as an erotic amazon matriarchally presiding over her household. While ama had more freedom and status due to their work than was generally the case with—nonprofessional, one ought to add—urban middle-class housewives, there were no indications that their status was higher than that of their husbands or mothers-in-law.

Anthropologically speaking, chapter 3 is the obvious sequel: in it Martinez introduces Kuzaki with its history, political, and geographical organization and one of its main annual ceremonies. Kuzaki is located on Shima peninsula in central Japan, facing the Pacific Ocean. Formerly an independent village, it is administratively part of the present-day city of Toba. Shima peninsula is also the home of the Ise shrine, which is dedicated to, among others, the sun goddess Amaterasu, the highest deity of the Shinto pantheon and mythical ancestress of the Japanese imperial family—not of all Japanese, one might note, as Martinez repeatedly claims (e.g., p. 52). Amaterasu is one example why I found this chapter somewhat weak from the point of Japanese studies, as it contains several pieces of information that are either not quite correct or unnecessarily exoticizing. A case in point: why use the Japanese terms uchi and soto (pp. 61ff) to explain the relationship between a village and the outside world, which any culture would regard as an inside-outside dichotomy?

Chapter 4 describes two important aspects of village organization in Kuzaki as well as a second annual festival. Whereas Kuzaki's basic units of organization were its 116 households, in the mid-1980s many social and religious tasks were carried out by one of several gender-specific age-groups. The central organizational institution in Kuzaki was the Fishing and Farming Cooperative, and Martinez describes the 1984 election of its officials in some detail. As their offices entailed more duties and honor than financial benefit, it was the wives who had to be convinced that their husbands should accept the positions. The Nifune festival in mid-November was the fishermen's festival, although it coincided with the end of the diving season. Together with the Himatsuri in July it—among others—illustrated Kuzaki's historical connection to the Ise shrine.

Chapter 5 begins with an introduction to changing household patterns, age- and gender-related roles, and relationships between family members. Martinez points out that in the 1980s diving was no longer a full-time job and was not considered a desirable profession for one's offspring. Nonetheless Kuzaki women generally seemed to be regarded as equals and partners by their husbands—at least more so than women in urban middle-class families. Chapter 5, then, finally, contains a detailed description of the divers' work: the seasons, techniques, various kinds of catches—always seafood, not pearls—as well as rituals and official restrictions connected with diving...


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