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The Japanese Connection
by Dr. Sam Miller
" 2006 Dr. Sam Miller
All Rights Reserved.

The Japanese are world famous for their well-made vehicles and their outstanding electronic products. But very little is known or has been written about their involvement in diving even though the Japanese have a long and illustrious history of contributions to the underwater world.

The famous professional Japanese women divers, the "Ama," have been plying their trade since recorded history. Stripped to the waist, clad in only the traditional thin white isogi around their waist and equipped with nothing more than a crude pair of goggles and a prying tool they repeatedly free dive to great depths in bone chilling water for as long as 6 hours a day collecting sea weed and small editable shell fish, while their husbands sets in the warm comfort of their boat acting as their diving tender.

There is also documented written and photographic evidence that the Ama were active participants in the early west coast Japanese Abalone diving industry. It has been speculated by numerous respected diving historians that it was the Ama who introduced the early double lens goggles, the progenitor of the modern diving mask to the west coast over 100 years ago in 1897.

In 1918, Watanabe Riichi developed, manufactured and actually dove his fully operational Scuba unit almost 25 years prior to Cousteau's which was introduced in 1943. Identified as the "Ohgushi's Peerless Respirator" it was patented in Japan, United Kingdom, and the US on February 24,1920 by US patent number 1,331,601. However, Japan and the western world took little notice of Riichi's technological achievement and it was soon forgotten.

A notable break through in the Riichi design was a mask that covered both the eyes and the nose. An idea that resurfaced almost 20 years later in the 1930s, when a Frenchman patented the modern diving mask which also covered the eyes and nose.

In the early post WWII years the Japanese developed a cottage industry producing very fine and unique wood spear guns. It wasn?t until 15 years later when an ex Korean War veteran from San Diego created the home build mid-handle wood "Addict gun." This gun alone introduced the doubting divers of the era and the divers of today of the advantages of using wood to construct a spear gun. Today the "tree trunk guns" have become the standard spear gun of the serious spear fisherman through out the world.

Nippon Aqua, a subsidiary of US Divers developed and produced much of US Divers equipment. Consequently US Divers was often given uncomplimentary names or shunned by the divers as being foreign import company. Today, one needs only to examine closely a knife, mask or any of the other modern equipment marketed by most of the major American manufactures and note that it often banishes the familiar ?Made in Japan.

In the early 1970's prior to the current wholesale invasion of the Japanese produced products, "Tabata" Japan's quality major full line diving manufacture had considerable success in the international diving community. Accordingly, they decided the time was ripe to enter the American diving market. Tabata did every thing in order and followed correct procedures; they established a headquarters, created a dealer network and launched a strong advertising campaign. Unfortunately the brain washed capricious American divers rejected Tabata since it was "cheep" Japanese made equipment.

A regrouping and re christening of Tabata to an anglicized "TUSA," an acronym for "Tabata of United States of America" and TUSA was immediately accepted into the fold as an American company by the gullible diving public.

Japan established a strong national Scuba instructional program several years after NAUI was created and almost a decade before PADI was incorporated. Based on the very demanding and prestigious pioneer Los Angeles County program it produced, as one would expect from modern day Japan, high quality, knowledgeable and well-trained divers.

The Japanese also publish a number of great diving magazines. Outstanding is the "Marine Diver." Each issue contains over 500 pages crammed with stories in Japanese and lovely colorful underwater photographs in the universal language of diving. Even though I can only read but a few words "diving Japanese" I will, on occasion purchase a copy from the many Japanese stores in the Los Angeles area just for the advertisements and the wonderful photographs it contains. The down side is its cost $15.00 hard-earned Yankee dollars per issue.

I would be remiss with out acknowledging the great pioneer spearfishing club the "Nisei Kelp Tanglers." For many years it was a special restrictive club with membership open only to Americans of Japanese ancestry. Unfortunately, with the passage of time many of the original members are spear fishing in that great reef in the sky, but in the golden years of spear fishing they were tough competitors. They stuck their fair share of fish with some of the most beautiful hand crafted spear guns ever made.

However, I always detested diving with the Nisei Kelp Tanglers. I could spear a 100-pound fish hold it up next to my sizeable German heritage body and it would appear as if I had speared a 25-pound fish. The Kelp Tanglers, on the other hand, could spear 25 pound fish hold up a next to their diminutive Japanese heritage body and it would appear as if they had speared a 125 pound fish.

It just wasn?t FAIR!!

Dr. Samuel Miller

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