A friend with a good eye picked up this set of postcards at a flea market recently. They are produced by the Shima Kanko hotel (which still exists and still lists Ama as a tourist attraction). The Ama divers are Japanese women who dive for pearls and seafood.
The photographer Yoshiyuki Iwase created perhaps the greatest portrait of the Ama in the late 1940s and 1950s, giving them an iconic quality. In his incredible environmental portraits the divers are wearing traditional fabrics and are less covered up than the Ama in these photos.
A few years ago the German photographer Nina Poppe created a series on the Ama, which resulted in a well-regarded book. Some 60 years later, Poppe discovers the practice is in decline, with many of the women past retirement age, which adds a compelling quality to the portraits. Even if the locations are probably different, it’s easy to imagine that some of the 20-something women in Iwase’s portraits are now in their 80s in Poppe’s.
The Shima Kanko hotel’s photos are credited to “S. Ichihashi.” A search for this name in English returns no results, but that could be due to the translation. There was no date on the box or post cards, but my guess is they are from the 1950s. If any of my friends in Japan can provide more information, I will certainly update this page.