Gifu is famous for its cormorant fishing (ukai) on the Nagara River. After dark from mid-May to mid-October, excursion boats can be hired, from hotels and at the booking office just below Nagara Bridge, to participate in a traditional practice of catching Japanese sweetfish (ayu) using comorants.
Tethered by rings around the neck so that they don't swallow their catch, the birds are released in to the water in search of Japanese trout (ayu) from long, covered, wooden fishing boats with braziers out front to attract the fish.
The captured fish are grilled and traditionally served up with Japanese beer and sake.
Ukai cormorant fishing from river boats also takes place in Arashiyama in Kyoto and other river towns around Japan.
The best view for spectators is the far bank of the Nagara river. Gifu Castle is clearly visible on the hill above.
Cormorant fishing has been employed in Japan since at least the 8th century. Traditionally each fishing boat is manned by four men, the captain (usho), two assistants (uzukai) and the man who tends the burning grate at the front of the boat to attract the fish. The birds are captured from the sea and tamed and trained by the boat masters to fish from the river.
Fishing expeditions are cancelled on nights with a full moon (the fish are not attracted to the boats by their fires on bright nights) or on evenings after heavy rain.
The hired excursion boats, lit with Japanese lanterns, go out in a group to watch the fishing. The masters of the boats are local bigwigs and live in large, often traditional houses on the banks of the river.
Cormorant Fishing Season
May 11-October 15
Nagara River Access
Take a bus 20 minutes from JR Gifu Station (Platform 11) or Meitetsu Gifu Station (Platform 4). Get off at Nagarabashi. Gifu is around 30 minutes by Meitetsu or JR train from Nagoya Station.
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Thursday, May 24, 2007