Ukai (Cormorant Fishing)
Traditional fishing method manipulating seabirds, praised by Charlie Chaplin
Ukai is a traditional method of catching small Japanese trout by manipulating seabirds called u (cormorants) in the Nagaragawa River, famous for its limpid stream, in Gifu Prefecture. Master trainers of cormorants dressed in ancient costume freely manipulate 10-12 wild sea cormorants to skillfully catch small trout. This fishing is performed every night between May 11th and October 15th except during a full moon or in heavy rain. You can watch the entire spectacle aboard a small wooden boat while dining and drinking sake. This 1300-year-old event is protected by the Japanese government.
Cormorant fishing starts at 7:30 in the evening. The only illuminations are the pine torches lit on the boats. Boats carrying the master trainers slowly sail out into the river, and when the cormorants swallow small trout all at once at the shouts of the master trainers, the spectators applaud and cheer. The evening closes with 6 boats sailing side by side to corner the small trout into the shallows, which is a quite fantastic view. It is said that Charlie Chaplin, who visited Nagaragawa River on two occasions to see this cormorant fishing, kept on exclaiming "Wonderful!" throughout the spectacle.
Master trainers of cormorants belong to a national agency (the Imperial Household Agency), and an important duty of theirs is to make offerings of small trout to the Emperor. It is prescribed that in each generation the eldest son succeeds his father, and these men live with cormorants in order to train them every day. At the Ukai-no-Sato home of cormorant fishing near the river, you can take a close look at the lifestyle of these cormorant fishermen. Feel free to speak to them and they will kindly reply to any questions you might have.
From Tokyo:[Rail]3 minutes'walk from Nagarabashi bus stop.Nagarabashi bus stop is about 15 minutes from JR Gifu Station on the Gifu Bus bound for Takotomi via the Nagarabashi route.JR Gifu Station is on the JR Tokaido Honsen Line (Rapid Service) from Nagoya Station.Nagoya Station is on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line from JR Tokyo Station.
Place: Nagaragawa River
Dates: May 11th - October 15th
City: Minato-machi, Gifu Prefecture