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Tamatori-hime being pursued through the waves by the Dragon King and his retainers.




Tamatori-hime, literally “Princess Tamatori” is the ama goddess. Ama are traditional Japanese divers, usually pearl divers but these deep sea divers famed for their amazing breath control also scour the deep for seafood or other treasures. Ama are almost exclusively female.

Once upon a time, a Chinese emperor sent a precious jewel as a gift to a Japanese noble. It fell overboard and was lost at sea. This was a tremendous financial loss as well as a source of humiliation for the emperor. Tamatori-hime, then a mortal pearl diver, determined to recover the missing jewel.

She dove into the sea and located the gem, however retrieving it was no easy task. Anything that falls into the sea may be interpreted as tribute for the Dragon Kings of the Sea or at least that’s how they interpret it. Ryujin, Japanese King of the Sea, claimed the gem as his own. When Tamatori-hime attempted to retrieve it, he pursued her. She was fast but no match for the furious dragon.

Just before he caught her, Tamatori-hime recalled a legend: dragons can only take things from the living. They can remove nothing from a corpse. She plunged her knife into her breast, tucked the precious gem within and floated to the surface. The jewel was delivered to its proper owner and the kami, so touched by Tamatorihime’s self-sacrifice, decided to grant her immortality and welcomed her into their ranks.

That’s the most famous version of her myth but there are variations. In some, Tamatorihime marries a prince and has a child before she sacrifices her life. She is venerated as an ancestral spirit as well as a goddess.




Tamatori-hime and her myth are favourite tattoo topics.


Japanese seafood dishes, flowers, incense and tattoos of her image.



Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

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