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Ayu Season


Fishing fans try to get to the best part of the stream for catching ayu. (Kyodo)

Around June marks the first day of ayu season in Japan. On this day hordes of people eager to catch some ayu, or sweetfish, grab their fishing rods in the morning and head for the rivers and streams. Fishing for ayu is prohibited except during a specified season, to make sure the ayu remains a plentiful species. The official season may sometimes start on different dates in different areas of the country, depending on how large the ayu grows. The season runs until September or as late as December, depending on the area of Japan and the particular river or stream.

As a country surrounded by the sea, Japan has a long history of fishing, and is to this day one of the top fishing nations in the world. Japan is also located in a warm, wet climate, which means it gets plenty of rain to feed the many fast streams that flow down from its mountains. Many kinds of freshwater fish live in these streams, making river fishing a very popular pastime in Japan. And the ayu is one of the most prized of all those freshwater fishes. It is cooked in various ways - because of its delicious taste, the ayu has long held a special place in the lives of the people of Japan. Indeed, the Japanese have been fishing for ayu for many centuries: The oldest poetry collection in Japan - the Manyoshu, which was compiled in the eighth century - contains some poems about fishing for ayu.

The method used today to catch ayu is a very interesting one found only in Japan. It takes advantage of the fish's own territorial instinct. A ring is attached to the nose of a live ayu, and another hook to its belly. The ring is then attached to the fishing line, and the fish is sent out into the stream. When the bait fish comes near to another fish, the second ayu will attack the bait fish to defend its territory. And when it bumps into the other fish and hooks itself, the person fishing reels the ayu in.

Other methods are used to catch ayu as well. On the Nagara River in Gifu Prefecture, bonfires are lit to attract ayu to fishing boats, and trained cormorants are sent to catch the fish and bring them back to the boat. This famous way of fishing has a history 1,300 years long.