Japanese Traditional Fishing Method

May 15, 2017

by Hosono Natsumi and Haruka Onishi

Cormorant Fishing at Night

Ukai, or ‘cormorant fishing’ is a traditional fishing method using a cormorant bird to catch ayu (sweetfish). The season for cormorant fishing is from the middle of May to the middle of October of each year. Interestingly, ukai is often practiced at night. Fishermen make a fire on the fishing boat because ayu have a habit of gathering in lighted places in the dark. This allows the cormorants to catch the fish more easily. However ukai is never practiced on the night of a full moon, because the ayu do not gather around the light of the fire so well. The people who train and control the cormorants are called ‘cormorant fishermen’. The number of cormorants used at one time differ by region and fisherman, but the average number is five to ten. Cormorant fishermen have to know exactly when cormorants swallow the fish so that they can call the cormorants back to the boat and have them regurgitate the fish into a basket.

History of Cormorant Fishing

Cormorant fishing in Japan has a long history. It is unknown who began cormorant fishing. However, a history book published in 712 A.D. mentions cormorant fishing. This suggests that it has been practiced for at least 1300 years or more. Not only do Japan and China have a history of ukai in their cultures, but surprisingly ukai was practiced as a sport in Europe from the 16th to 17th centuries. The fish caught by cormorants lose consciousness in esophagus of the cormorant without injury. This keeps the fish fresh and uninjured, making them highly valued in the marketplace. However, due to its inefficiency in comparison with standard methods of fishing with nets and hooks, the popularity of cormorant fishing gradually decreased over time. Now, it is mostly done in Japan for the tourism industry.

Cormorants

Cormorant in Kyoto

Cormorants are highly intelligent birds and can understand hierarchical relationships. They are about 80 cm in length and have a sharp crooked bill. Therefore they are suited for fishing. Cormorant craftsmen catch wild cormorants.

Wild cormorants are well-trained. Cormorant fishermen take care of them every day for 2 or 3 years. In general, the longevity of a cormorant is from 4 to 5 years, but the cormorants used in Ukai are treated carefully. For this reason, their lifespan is from 15 to 20 years. Cormorant fishermen do their work with the birds around the noon. This practice is what is often shown to the public.

What is the life cormorant fishing like? In the morning, after checking the condition of their birds, the fishermen decide which cormorant take to fishing. In the afternoon, fishermen give the birds free time to relax in the water. The fishermen don’t feed them so much because hungry cormorants can catch their own fish quite well. In the evening, fishermen take chosen cormorants fishing. It is important not to tie their throat too strongly because it will decrease the birds’ motivation. On the other hand, if the rope is too loose, most of fish get swallowed completely. After fishing, fishermen feed and stroke their cormorants to thank them for their efforts.

Cormorant Fishermen

Most cormorant fishermen are born into their craft via long lines of cormorant fishermen. Still, they need a long training period to become fully qualified. First, they need a strong grip and skillful hand movements because the power of cormorants pulling the ropes is quite strong. In addition, it is difficult to make cormorants eject the fish from their throats. This is done by holding the birds’ throats in just the right way. Although cormorant fishing is done only in during the warmer months of the year, fishermen must still take daily care of their birds year round. They have to feed them, take care of their bills, and clean their cages with love.

Where to Observe Cormorant Fishing

The best ukai season is in the summer evenings. If you are interested in observing ukai, you should reserve an ukai tour in advance because it is very popular and crowded. Moreover the road to the spot is also crowded, so you ought to arrive as early as you can.

In Japan, there are about a dozen famous ukai locations, one of them being Kyoto. Kyoto actually has ukai areas, one of them is near the Uji River and the other is near Ooi Arashiyama. But it is the one near Arashiyama that is the most popular.

Getting to Arashiyama

From Kyoto station, take the JR Sagano Sanin Line (#3) to Saga Arasiyama station. It takes about 15 minutes and it costs \240. From the Randen station (Keifuku train), take the train to Arasiyama station, the last stop on that line. On the other hand, if you have One-Day Bus ticket, take the No. 28 bus, which takes about an hour from Kyoto station.

Reference

Ukai

Arashiyama

Kamogawa River Wildlife

by Koudai Kobayashi & Akari Mihashi

KamogawaThe Kamogawa River is the fourth longest river in Kyoto, with a length of 31 km. The source of the Kamogawa is Sajikigadake, which is located in the northern part of Kyoto prefecture. The water from the Kamogawa is mostly used for agriculture. In addition, there are five famous bridges crossing the Kamogawa, lots of beautiful views, and many kinds of animals living there.  Furthermore, if you stroll along the banks of the Kamogawa, you can feel the spirit of traditional Japan, not only in its scenery, but also in its atmosphere.

Animals of the Kamogawa

Many kinds of animals inhabit the Kamogawa River. There are not only fish, birds, but also, surprisingly, mammals. For example, from any bridge over the water, you can see various types of fish swimming below, such as ayu and the Japaense Catfish (zacco platypus). You can also see birds almost anywhere along the river. In addition, there are several species of rare wildlife that you seldom see in Kamogawa River. Now, we will introduce some rare wild animals.

Fish

There are many fish in Kamogawa River, for example, the Pale Chub (zacco platypus) the Japanese Catfish. The adult of the Pale Chub grows to about 15 cm in length. And on the spawning male, you can see a beautiful design along the length of their bodies. The female is slightly smaller, and the color of their bodies is silver and silver-white. There are many Pale Chub in the Kamogawa, so you can see schools of them in the shallows. In the winter, Pale Chub are targeted by fishermen for their tasty meat, which is usually grilled. It is very delicious. However, we recommend that you just watch them and enjoy the nature.

In case of the Japanese catfish, the length of their body ranges around 40 cm.  They are good eaters, so they gobble up any food you give them.  Japanese catfish can’t be usually seen, so you should try to observe them when you have an opportunity to go to the Kamogawa.

Pale Chub (zacco platypus)

Zacco playpus

Japanese Catfish (Silurus asotus)

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Birds

There are also many fish in Kamogawa River, for example, the Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) and the Grey-headed Lapwing (Venellus cinereus). The Great Cormorant is a bird, which has recently increased in number. The adult of Phalacrocorax carbo grows to about 80 to 85 cm in length, and their wing span is about 31 to 34 cm. The female is slightly smaller, but it’s hard to make out the difference. It look blacks on the surface, but basically its color is emerald green.

The Grey-headed Lapwing is as big as a pigeon and it has long feet. The color of its head is a mottled grey and their beak is bark-colored. When they are flapping, we can see the beautiful contrast of black and white. In Japan, they make their habitat around the Kinki area.

The Great Cormorant
Phalacrocorax
The Grey-headed Lapwing
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The Giant Salamander

Giant salamanders can be seen in the Kamogawa sometimes. The length of their body ranges from 50 to 60 cm. They have many bumps on their head and slimy skin. When they are irritated, they excrete a sticky liquid, which has a peculiar smell. They appear in the upper stream of the Kamogawa and are registered as a nationally protected species. Originally, giant salamanders didn’t exist in this river. The reason why they inhabit the river now is because someone introduced giant salamanders from China. Originally they were brought over for food, but now they are getting wilder. Moreover, the genetic crossing between Japanese giant salamanders and their Chinese counterparts has become a big problem. So in the Kamogawa, there are now three kinds of giant salamander: those indigenous to Japan, those that came from China, and genetic crosses between the two.

However, now almost all giant salamanders are mixed breeds, because their genes are strong. According to a recent survey, of 11 recently captured giant salamanders, 13% were of Chinese origin, while 44% were mixed breeds. So the problem is the decreasing the number of giant salamanders of purely Japanese origin. Japanese giant salamanders are conserved and displayed in the Kyoto aquarium, and there you can experience the true character of a giant salamander.

Giant salamander

Black-headed gull

Along the Kamogawa you can find black-headed gulls during certain times of the year. The length of their body is around 40 cm, while their maximum wind span reaches 100 cm.  They have a red beak and red feet. Interestingly, their heads change to a blackish brown color when summer comes. However, their heads turn white when winter comes. That’s their peculiar characteristic. Black-headed gulls arrive to the Kamogawa at the end of October, and they stay to the beginning of May. They are famous as seasonal tradition. Usually we can’t see black-headed gulls, but you occasionally see them when winter comes. But long ago, we could only see at most 10 black-headed gulls along the Kamogawa River. Nowadays, we can see over 5,000 black-headed gulls. That’s a rapid increase. The food shortage in the winter is a big threat for migratory birds. However, because of urbanization the birds are now fed in the winter by Kyoto residents. That’s why black-headed gulls have increased along the Kamogawa River recently.

Black-haded gull

Nutria

Nutria are similar to beavers. The difference between nutria and beavers is the size of the tail. Nutria’s tail is rounder and not as flat as beaver tail. In fact, nutria seem to be more like big rats than beavers. The length of their body is around 80 cm. They are mammals, who are good at swimming. They can hold their breath under water for over 5 minutes. They have orange-colored front teeth and small ears. That’s how you can distinguish between a nutria, beaver, and muskrat. Recently, the number of nutria has been increasing. It is in fact an invasive species. So since 2014, in a strategy of capturing nutrias had started in earnest.

nutria

Recommendations

As you can see, in addition to its beautiful views, there are also different types of wildlife inhabiting the Kamogawa River. When you come to Kyoto, you will be satisfied with seeing just the Kamogawa River itself. But we recommend that you try to observe some of its rare birds, mammals, and other nationally protected species with your own eyes. That would be a fantastic experience, and one that you will enjoy for sure. Come to see what kind of animals inhabit the Kamogawa River by all means.

Sources
http://gw-daisen-hiruzen.com/tt/hanzaki/han2.htm
http://www.pref.kyoto.jp/kamogawa/1232411453216.html
http://kasenseitai.nilim.go.jp/index.php/%E3%83%A6%E3%83%AA%E3%82%AB%E3%83%A2%E3%83%A1
http://www.kc-center.co.jp/suishitsu/column/kamogawa/