Asian Diver (English) - - Front Page -

What hap­pened to one of the most im­por­tant early de­vel­op­ments in un­der­wa­ter ex­plo­ration?

“Un­til the lion learns how to write, ev­ery story will glo­rify the hunter”

– African Proverb

WALTER BENJAMIN fa­mously said that “his­tory is writ­ten by the vic­tors”, and the truth of this mantra re­peats through­out the in­vent­ing time­line over and over; take the un­sung hero of the se­cond in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion, Nikola Tesla, whose work was stolen by Thomas Edi­son, or Daisuke Inoue who never made a mil­lion from his karaoke ma­chine.

Time and time again, great in­ven­tors be­come over­shad­owed by cor­po­ra­tions or peo­ple that take the credit for their work. What fol­lows is just an­other tale in a li­brary full of bro­ken dreams: we bring you the mys­tery of the Oh­gushi Peer­less Res­pi­ra­tor.


In 1904, Watan­abe Ri­ichi, Omura Clans­man of Kyushu, Japan, grad­u­ated from the Tokyo Fish­eries In­sti­tute, a univer­sity of ma­rine sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy. He quickly be­came en­gaged in fish­eries re­search, and es­tab­lished the Takashima Cul­tured Pearls En­ter­prise in Na­gasaki Pre­fec­ture, a first for Japan.

It was here that he be­gan his first steps to­wards the in­ven­tion of the mask-style res­pi­ra­tor with the as­sis­tance of lo­cal black­smith Oh­gushi Kanezo, af­ter whom the in­ven­tion would later be named. Their aim was to de­sign a self-con­tained div­ing sys­tem, us­ing a sim­i­lar mask de­sign to that of the fa­mous Ama divers, women who dived the Ja­panese wa­ters bare-chested and har­vested pearls. In 1916 Ri­ichi went on to co­op­er­ate with Cap­tain Kataoka Kyuhachi, to con­tinue re­search and de­vel­op­ment for the res­pi­ra­tor – it is here that Oh­gushi Kanezo’s place in the story ends, and mys­tery sur­rounds his very own dis­ap­pear­ance much like that of his epony­mous in­ven­tion.

By 1918, the first model of the

Oh­gushi Peer­less Res­pi­ra­tor was patented in Japan, and put into pro­duc­tion by the Tokyo Sub­ma­rine In­dus­trial Com­pany; a firm which was es­tab­lished specif­i­cally for the pur­pose of mar­ket­ing the

Oh­gushi mask-style res­pi­ra­tors, sal­vage works and for the busi­ness of col­lect­ing prod­ucts from the sea floor, us­ing this rev­o­lu­tion­ary new piece of tech­nol­ogy

To prove that their equip­ment worked, they would have to risk their lives, div­ing an in­cred­i­bly deep 60 me­tres to the murky, lit­ter-strewn bot­tom of the har­bour

By Oliver Jarvis All images cour­tesy of Nyle Mon­day


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