ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Japan of Pearls: How They Cultivate Pearls in Japan

Updated on June 18, 2012

According to one Japanese legend, pearls are the tears of sea goddess Ami whose daughter Katsuko was stolen by an evil demon. Another legend tells how gods who lived in heaven decided to come down to Earth and stayed there for a while. When they left, the seashore was covered with pearls. The pearls were brought to the seashore by ocean waves.

In Japan, there is a special way of wearing pearls. When a girl is born, she is offered a pearl. When she grows a little older, she receives pearl earrings for a gift. Finally, on the wedding day, she wears a pearl necklace.

A pearl in a seashell
A pearl in a seashell
Pearls: different sizes, colors and forms
Pearls: different sizes, colors and forms

Kokichi Mikimoto - the pearl king

On Sima peninsular there is Toba, city of pearls. Toba became famous as the birthplace of Kokichi Mikimoto, son of a noodles trader. Born in 1858, he was the future pearl king.

At the age of 33, when Mikimoto entered a jewelry store, he was surprised how expensive pearls were. The process of pearls production was then well-known. A small bit of sand, as it gets inside a shellfish, irritates the oyster, and the oyster begins to enrobe it with precious layers of hardened mucus. Layer by layer, a beautiful gemstone is formed.

Mikimoto's idea was to reproduce this natural phenomenon by making it industrial. Pearls had been cultivated before in China. The Chinese placed small bits of sand, clay, wood or copper inside shellfish by opening the shell and placing a small object between the mantle and the shell itself. Then they placed them in water again. Within time, from several months to three years, the shellfish was retrieved from water, with a pearl in it.

In the middle of the 18th century Linnaeus, famous Swedish naturalist, suggested the same method of pearl cultivation. Pearls cultivated by him make part of Linnaeus collection in London.

Pearl necklaces
Pearl necklaces

For some time Mikimoto experimented but with no success. Then, one day in 1893 he discovered a small pearl in one of the seashells. Since that day till his death in 1954 Mikimoto grew pearls. When his pearls first appeared in Europe, the jewelers refused to admit that they were real. But the experts stated that there was not much difference between natural and cultivated pearls. Their color, luster and composition were the same.

Mikimoto's method was to make a hole in the shell and to place a small limestone ball on a little string inside. The idea was that pearls are formed quicker if the oyster is not disturbed and the shell is not opened. The method of Mikimoto has been adopted by many Japanese firms.

If you visit Mikimoto Shinju-to, the place where the cultivated pearls are produced, next to the city of Toba, you will learn a lot of facts about pearl culture in Japan.

Mikimoto Pearl Island
Mikimoto Pearl Island

Ama - Japanese pearl divers

Here, on the island, you can also see another site of Japan - ama, women-divers. They have been diving for lobsters, shellfish and seaweed for centuries. If they are lucky, they collect pearls. The women-divers work from morning till sunset, dressed in a special outfit. Plunging as deep as 20 meters, they get shellfish, edible mussels and weed. Before, they used to dive topless. There were no men nearby and ama felt more comfortable this way. Traditionally, ama began to live professionally at the age of 15. When Americans occupied Japan during World War II, ama were as popular as geisha. Diving with a heavy load for a quicker plunge, ama may stay under water for 40 - 65 seconds and sometimes for several minutes. Then, they send a signal to the person in the boat by pulling on a rope and they are pulled up from water. When it gets cold, ama drink hot tea right in the boat.

There is hardly anybody living in Japan who doesn't know who ama are. However, hardly anyone can boast of being acquainted with women of this strange in our civilized world and dangerous profession. Ama live in isolated communities alongside the seashore.

Nowadays, as pearls are cultivated industrially, ama entertain tourists or collect edible seafood.

Ama - woman diver on Mikimoto Pearl Island
Ama - woman diver on Mikimoto Pearl Island


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • avorodisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Sidorova 

      7 years ago from Russia

      Olde Cashmere, thank you. I appreciate your attention for my work:)

    • profile image

      Olde Cashmere 

      7 years ago

      I enjoyed learning more about Pearls and their cultivation, wonderful writing avorodisa, this was an informative and enjoyable read. Voted up, interesting, and awesome :)

    • avorodisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Sidorova 

      7 years ago from Russia

      Thank you, the girls. Really, cultivated pearls are cheaper and not much different from natural pearls. It depends on the trademark, though.

    • the girls profile image

      Theresa Ventu 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      Interesting article. The cultivated pearls make it more affordable in price. Most women own a piece of a pearl jewelry :-)


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)