Legends of Diving Articles
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
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
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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