‘Ama’ divers denounce ‘obscene’ city mascot, demand its withdrawal


Staff Writer

More than 100 ama divers are demanding that the coastal city of Shima, Mie Prefecture, scrap a newly adopted mascot on the grounds that it is obscene.

They say the demure girl cartoon character, with large breasts, tight top and skirt riding up her thighs, is overtly sexual and is disrespectful toward a dignified profession.

“The character is obscene. I believe it verges on child pornography,” said Isako Utsubo, 39, a local housewife who supports the campaign.

Utsubo’s mother, 65-year-old Fumiko Yamamoto, is an ama.

Representatives of the group plan to deliver a petition on Thursday demanding that the mascot, named Aoshima Megu, be dropped as the official face of Shima.

Utsubo said if the city keeps the character it will incur global ridicule when it hosts world leaders for the Group of Seven summit next year.

As of Tuesday, the petition had been signed by more than 100 active and retired local ama, both men and women, with the ultimate number of signatures expected to approach 200, Utsubo said.

While the word ama is often understood worldwide to refer to female divers who use no artificial breathing equipment, in Japanese it includes their male counterparts when written with different characters.

The city said it will consider the demand once the petition is delivered.

Officials will consider retouching the mascot, although its withdrawal is unlikely, said Tomoyo Inoue, a Shima official in charge of tourism strategy.

Aoshima Megu debuted as Shima’s official moe (adorable) mascot in October last year as part of a drive by the city to rejuvenate its economy and spruce up the image of its increasingly aging ama professionals. It was designed by a Mie-based design company called Mouthbeach.

Trivializing the ama profession, said Utsubo, belies the real-life danger the divers face.

“Ama in our city are all risking their lives to dive. In the past, some have died. It’s that serious, being an ama,” said Utsubo. “It’s for the honor of those who died that I’m fighting. My mom is angry, too.”

The city describes Megu on a website dedicated to the character as 17 years old and a girl who greatly admires her grandmother, a veteran diver. Megu dreams of becoming a “cute, fashionable” ama. She has a vivacious personality but is a bit clumsy, the narrative says, adding she is currently looking for a boyfriend.

“We wanted to portray Aoshima Megu as an ama apprentice whose diving skills are still amateurish but who is so passionate about her career and likable that everybody will want to root for her,” Inoue said.

She rejected Utsubo’s claim that the mascot is intended to titillate male viewers.

However, Inoue acknowledged that several factors are far-fetched: Megu’s attire, a traditional ama uniform called an isogi, does not resemble that worn by real-life divers today, and the fact that she is 17 is out of keeping with the reality that many ama divers in the city are in their 60s or older.

“She looks different from real-life ama divers, yes. There is no doubt about it,” Inoue said. “But the thing is, we’re not trying to make her look real in the first place. She is an anime character, after all.”

The character has attracted a following already. Virtual stickers featuring Megu’s likeness for use on the messaging app Line were purchased by 15,000 people from 10 countries within two weeks of their release in early May, the city said.

  • Max Erimo

    Pandering to Otaku rather than valuing a rich and proud heritage.

  • Iain Macpherson

    No big deal. Can the histrionics.

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    • Jonathan Fields

      Why do you only chime in on the articles that have to do with Japan’s strange obsession with young girls? I agree that they’re overreacting here, but I couldn’t help noticing…

      I’ll give your post a 7/10. You’re using different bait than usual, but your trolling intentions are still pretty obvious.

      • Iain Macpherson

        Actually, given that launching personal comment-stream attacks out of the blue, from the anonymous safety of the interwebs, is pretty much the definition of trolling …

        In any case, I’m not talking about a young girl, but a cartoon character. And I often put the lie to your hero Debito Arudou’s various Japan bashings. So it isn’t as though I only defend Japan’s right to be (virtually) perverse.

      • Tabula Rasa

        Are the divers and other Japanese also histrionic and racist if they’re offended by the mascot? We know their interpretation of it…what’s yours?

      • Iain Macpherson

        Not racist, obviously. But a bit histrionic, I’d say obviously. In any case, I probably shouldn’t have weighed in. I loathe foreigners finger-wagging at Japanese kinks. But I’m cool w Japanese themselves hashing this stuff out amongst themselves. Though I hope Ao-chan stays.

  • J.P. Bunny

    A quick check on Google brings up pages of photographs, most of them topless young women. Strange that after hundreds of years of sexy imagery, this should cause a problem. I suspect people with too much time on their hands.

    • qwerty

      why did they do it topless? better buoyancy?

    • Faeume

      Going topless isn’t (or wasn’t) considered particularly sexy in many cultures – in some it’s just how women dress every day & in others just for certain situations (such as going to the beach) & it’s no big deal. If they feel the character doesn’t do a good job of representing them, which it really doesn’t, they’ve every right to complain~

      • qwerty

        true dat. fair enough. ‘buoyancy’ is like ‘bouncy’

      • J.P. Bunny

        Somehow I can’t see an old woman clad in a baggy rubber wetsuit as a mascot / representative. It’s an anime character that may breath some interest into a dying profession.

      • neko

        Interest into becoming a sex doll?

      • J.P. Bunny

        Been there, done that.

    • Tabula Rasa

      It looks like things have changed. They’re saying what women in other occupations have said…that focusing on their appearance leads to more serious disrespect. Maybe they couldn’t voice this in the past.

    • Paul Johnny Lynn

      The people who are complaining, those with “too much time on their hands” are the ACTUAL divers this kawaii crap purports to represent. Don’t you think they have a right to not like it?

    • brokedownsystem

      what on earth terms did you google search?

      edit: oh. a simple search of “ama divers” =P

      alot of these photos look like they’re from the 40’s and 50’s.

  • Doubting Thomas

    How does modern SCUBA gear and rebreathers not making ama divers (more) irrelevant (than they already are)? They probably should have taken her down a cup size or two, and made the attire a bit more realistic, but this is pretty standard affair for a moe mascot.

    And it’s certainly not child pornography.


    I like the anime ecchi very much,
    But you dont need to have a sexual mascott for a city, a city mean identity, culture, history, buisness activites…if none of this refer seriously to woman, you shouldnt use sex for sell a mascott…because Citizen will feel irritate…

    why not change the national flag into a pair of boobs? or vote for only Young women in politics for see more boobs and dress on tv …

    • qwerty

      why not indeed – i’d vote for that. if i could

  • neko

    The mascot is clearly demeaning (as well as some comments in this thread), to women being reduced to a sex doll that looks both stupid and unprofessional, as well as to ama divers’ proud heritage that becomes clearly trivialized by this mascot.

    The fact that they describe her as being “clumsy” and her skills as “still amateurish”, and that they insist on her being “cute, fashionable”and “looking for a boyfriend”, clearly states that their objective is not to encourage young people to become an ama diver, nor to empower actual ama divers, but to lure a few pervs. Pictures of her with the arms half spread, the feet apart and looking
    inward, while the knees are touching is just a stupid otaku-ish false
    representation of “women”. Have you ever seen a professional sportwoman
    looking like that?

    Why didn’t they go for a mascot looking more professional and less sexualized instead?