The Traveling Brown Bear

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What to Expect: Ukai Fishing

What to Expect: Ukai Fishing

Over 1300 years ago, historical rulers like Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu patronized ukai held on the Nagara River (Gifu and Seki Cities) and has been protected by the Imperial Household Agency as the only "Goryo-ukai (Imperial Cormorant Fishing) held at its "Goryoba" (fishing grounds for the Agency).

Ukai is a traditional fishing method using "u" (Japanese Cormorant) to catch ayu (sweetfish). Fishing season starts every night from May 11th to October 15th except on the day of harvest moon or when the river swells. Ukai begins with six long, wooden boats each manned by an "Usho" and two boatmen. Usho (mastery title granted by the Imperial Household Agency) wields amazing techniques to handle 10-12 birds on leashes, encourages birds with calls "ho-ho" while boatmen tap edge of the boats to startle ayu. The distinctive soundscape includes the flowing river, wooden poles boatme n manipulate through the water and flames of the hanging fire lantern. Lured to the river's surface and startled by the flames, ayu try to escape in the reflection of the light. The cormorants dive and catch the ayu with their large beaks. Larger fish can be retrieved later as the cormorants are leashed loosely around their necks.

We got to experience this ancient method up close and I have to admit I had mixed feelings about it. Seeing these birds tied up and have them catch fish then grab them by their necks when it catches a fish or two then throw them back in the water. Even though I know they’ve trained these birds it really hit that soft spot in my heart.

Then again, it is hard to go against tradition that has been a huge part of Japanese heritage. What do you think?

We met up at their booth around 5:30pm wherein we were directed to our assigned boat. We paid ¥3500 each which doesn’t include anything so we bought food and drinks elsewhere.

A boat can fit 15-20 people. They have a smaller boat usually for private groups or hotel deals. It’s usually ¥1,000 to ¥2000 more since it comes with a set meal.

We were taken in the middle of Nakagarawa river and wait until the sun sets that evening. As soon as the sun went down, there were 7 boats with trained ukai on the side of the boats.

We saw how they’ve caught fishes and the boatmen demonstrated the whole process. It was interesting to witness another culture’s methods that’s for sure.

If you do want to see it, I’ve added the link below for the local company who handles this activity. Let me know what are your thoughts about this, would love to hear from you.

1-2, Minato-machi, Gifu City 500-8009
Phone: 058-262-0104

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