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Cormorant fishing in Gifu

JAPAN | Thursday, 31 July 2014 | Views [288]

Gifu cormorant fishing

Gifu cormorant fishing

Gifu is a large modern town, through which runs a clean, clear, gravelly river. It is here that one of the oldest traditions takes place each night - cormorant fishing. 

The cormorant fishermen inherit their roles from their fathers and their fathers before them, and in this way this old tradition is passed down father to son through the generations. 

There are six fishermen at the moment. Accompanied by their sons who act as assistants, they row their wooden boats out into the river, lighting the way using fiery torches at the end of long bamboo poles. When a shoal of fish are found, the trained cormorants dive into the water - about 6 birds per boat - and swim down catching the fish. Around the neck of each bird is a copper ring, which prevents them from swallowing the larger fish. The cormorants are on long ropes which the fishermen use to pull them back in. The fish are then taken from the birds' mouths and a new search for more fish begins.

Accompanying this spectacle of fire, water, bird and man along the river are as many tourist boats as you can imagine, their occupants dining, being entertained by a boat of Japanese dancers and treated to a display of fireworks. And not a westerner in sight apart from the two of us, standing on the river bank in the darkness.
It seemed so interesting but at the same time I couldn't help wondering about the life of the captive birds. The C17th century Japanese traveller and poet, Matsuo Basho, summed up exactly my feelings when he wrote ....
“So fascinating /but then so sad/ cormorant fishing boats.
Omoshirote/ yagate kanashiki/ ubune kana ” 


Tags: cormorant fishing, gifu


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