|Handed Down through Many Generations: A
Traditional, Spectacular Way of Fishing
The spectacle of Ukai (cormorant fishing) on the Nagara River flowing from east to west through Gifu City, still delights visitors. This traditional technique of fishing, handed down through the ages, has been practiced for some 1,300 years; the method involves using tame cormorants to catch river fish such as Ayu (sweetfish). Japan's most ancient anthology of poetry, the Manyoshu, which was compiled in the eighth century includes of a waka (Japanese poem) composed about cormorant fishing. Subsequently, Ukai-method was used to catch sweetfish for the Emperor, and it thus came under special patronage. Since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the tradition of cormorant fishing on the Nagara River has been well-preserved as the Imperial Household Agency approved Ukai as a purveyor to the Imperial Family.
The fisherman, known as an "Usho", manages the cormorants to catch fish. Visitors can not only enjoy the sight of this unusual fishing technique but also relish the tasty sweetfish that have been caught. That is why Ukai has often been presented in front of the noble families. These days, the activity is a major tourist attraction and the fishermen still wear the same old-fashioned clothing when Ukai was performed for the Imperial family. On summer evenings, in the light of burning torches, the cormorant fishermen get on small wooden boats and handle masterfully more than ten birds at once with their distinctive calls. Diving, swimming and catching sweetfish in the light of flaming torches, the cormorants enchant the audience. Charles Chaplin, the comedy king, also saw Ukai and was enchanted by this traditional technique when he visited Japan.
Photo: Cormorant fishing on Nagara River (Gifu City).
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