Japan Travel Guide
The Yamasa Institute
Edited by: Declan Murphy
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Ukai, or cormorant fishing, is a traditional method of river fishing that has been practiced in Japan for some 1300 years. This method involves fishermen using cormorant birds on leashes to catch sweetfish (such as the Ayu). Ukai is not as widespread as it once was, because it is no longer an economically viable form of fishing. However it has managed to preserve its traditions and is increasingly popular with tourists.
|The Usho and Nakanori working behind a cormorant - Click to enlarge|
Nowadays, there are only a few people authorized to perform ukai, and it is protected under the Imperial Household Agency. Positions are usually inherited and passed on within each family.
|Heading upstream just before darkness - Click to enlarge|
|Forcing an Ayu fish out of a cormorant. - Click to enlarge|
|Cormorants searching for fish - Click to enlarge|
|Senior bird on prow - Click to enlarge|
Every time a cormorant manages to catch a fish, the Usho pulls them back into the boat and forces them to disgorge the fish. Why don't the cormorants just eat the fish, you ask? Because the metal ring around the base of the cormorants neck is just large enough to let extremely small fish through, but too small to let a bird swallow any fish of the size that fishermen, tourists and imperial family members are hoping to eat.
|Usho - Click to enlarge|
|Usho and Nakanori - Click to enlarge|
One of the techniques used in Ukai is a technique called "Sougarami". This method consists of six fishing boats lined up side by side to drive the sweetfish (usually Ayu) into shallow water so they can easily be caught. Calling out "Hou, Hou," the cormorant fishing master - the Usho, the cormorants, and then the boats form one body and chase the Ayu.
Photographs - click on any image to enlarge...
As mentioned above, there are a few different places where one can go to watch ukai. In Gifu City, visitors can watch ukai on the Nagara River 7:00-9:30 p.m. every night during the Ukai fishing season (generally May to October), except for the night of the full moon in September and when the river rises.
For watching Ukai without leaving the prefecture, you can head to Inuyama in the north of Aichi. The Ukai fishing season there runs June through to the end of September. A guided boat tour is available for between 2500-3000 yen, but a reservation is required.
Tours - Japan Discovery visits Inuyama.
Click here for more information regarding when Discovery visits this destination.
Photographs and contributions
|Inuyama castle - Click to enlarge|
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