For generations the fishers for Wakayama, in central Japan were isolated and poor. But one?
For generations the fishers for Wakayama, in central Japan were isolated and poor. But one hundred years ago they began to find prosperity by diving for pearls in northern Australia. On Thursday Island, off the north coast of Australia, are about seven hundred graves of Japanese pearl-divers. A fund-raising effort in Wakayama produced more than forty-five thousand dollars (20 thousand pounds) to built and transport a ten-five monument to Thursday Island as a permanent memorial to the divers.
SYNOPSIS: The monument in sculpted granite, shows a relief of a diver's helmet. The cost of the monument was donated by former divers, friends and families of those buried on the island, and businessmen in Japan and Australia.
The monument was dedicated at a Buddhist temple in Wakayama. The Australian Ambassador Mr. John Menadue was present to formally receive it on behalf of the government of the northern state of Queensland. The ceremony, attended by many veterans of the pearling industry, concluded with a Buddhist rite for the dead.
At a school in Wakayama, a geography teacher, Kyuhara-Sensei, has made a life-time study of pearl diving. He went to Thursday island, found the graves, and started the memorial project. Although about 700 died on Tuesday Island many divers prospered there. About two hundred and fifty former fivers still live in Japan. They had been interned in Australia during the Second World War, then returned to Japan. The pay at the Oyster grounds had been good, and many were able to begin small businesses, such as eel farming. Now, when old divers get together the talk usually gets round to the place they call their second home - the pearl grounds of Thursday Island, even though the work was long, hard and hazardous.
In 1937, when this film was mad a Japanese pearl-diver could earn three times the salary of a Japanese school masters of fifteen times that of a fisherman. Divers worked at a depth of more than two hundred and fifty feet (80 metres) for up to fifteen hours a day with only three short breaks. Hazards such as sharks, cut air-houses and the 'bend' contributed to the one-in-ten death rate.
Wakayama still sends its youth to the waters off Australia. Today the prize is tuna. But in Japan, there is still one place where pearl diving has been preserved. In Toba, north of Wakayama, village women dive for pearl shells which will never be opened. They are strictly for the tourists. The long white gowns are a traditional way of warding off sharks, just one of the techniques said to have been passed down through two thousand years.