( ukai )

photo by misty

Ukai or cormorant fishing is a traditional method of catching freshwater
fish, such as the ayu ( sweet fish ).  The fish are lured towards the
boats by torches and then caught by manipulating a trained cormorant.

Cormorants used for fishing are wild Temminck's cormorants.  They are
naturaly very agile, smart and adaptable to new circumstances.
Usho ( cormorant fishing masters ) live with them and train them for two
or three years to be full-fledged stars of cormorant fishing.

Kisoji no eki, Godo, Nagaragawa-Ukai-fune by Keisai Eisen

The most renowned comorant fishing can be observed on the Nagara River,
Gifu Prefecture, where it has been practiced for some 1,300 years.  Every
night from May 11 to October 15, except on days when the river rises and
the day of harvest moon, ubune (13 meter wooden fishing boats) bearing a
basket of torches go to work on the river.  Three crews, usho, tomonori
(the pilot) and their helper nakanori, make a fishing team.

Usho is a official responsible for court ceremonies in Imperial Household
Ministry since 1890.  Positions are usually inherited and passed on within
each family.  They wear ancient costume (a chest protector, a cap called
kazaore-eboshi in order to fend off
sparks of the torches, and koshimino or lower straw raincoat to protect
from water spray) and manipulate 12 cormorants harnessed with
approximately 3.3 meters (11ft) long rope.  Fishing starts around
7:30p.m., and usho shout " Ho, ho " to encourage the cormorants.
As soon as the cormorants catch the fish, the usho pulls them back into
the boat and forces them to cough up the caught fish.  The cormorants wear
a ring around their lower necks prevent them from swallowing the larger
fish.  The climax of cormorant fishing is called sougarami in which six
ubune (fishing boats) line up side by side to drive the ayu into shallow water. 
This is a kind of technique allows the cormorants easily to catch fish.


* Just behind the right bank of the river, you see usho's houses.
You may visit there and ask them about fishing or their history.

* Ukai on the Nagara River in Gifu City runs daily between May 11 to
October 15 and starts from around 18:00.
However it will be canceled if the river's water level is too high or rough weather.
You can view ukai from the riverside, but if you would like watch it closer, please take a boat.
Reservations are required. You may also do it at the riverside ticket office.
For more information and reservations/ TEL: 0582-62-0140 (English is available)


Omoshiroute Yagate Kanashiki Ubune-kana
The cormorant fishing boat....How exciting ! But after a time...(the light of the torches are turned
out, and only darkness remained...) I felt saddened...

This is a very famous Haiku ( Japanese 17-syllable poem) about cormorant
fishing composed by Matsuo Basho (mԁj