Ukai on the Kiso River
It is a 1300 year tradition in Japan to fish with the help of trained cormorants and this tradition is called ukai. The season starts in June and ends at the beginning of October. I have always wanted to see ukai but I never said it to my boyfriend because I thought it was very expensive. You can imagine my surprise and happiness when he said we were going to see ukai fishing during our trip to Nagoya. He can read my mind!
By the way it was a bit expensive but not as much as I thought, for one adult the price was around ¥3500.
We spent the night in Nagoya and after lunch we went by car to Inuyama but it is possible to reach Inuyama also by train in a 45 minutes ride. The ukai experience starts at sunset but we arrived earlier and had a walk in the city. Inuyama is worth a visit with a scenic castle on the Kiso river which is a National Treasure. We enjoyed a fresh drink in a local café before going to the river. There is never too much freshness to endure the Japanese summer.
Cormorants are trained by their owner called usho, the fishing takes place from a long flat boat, in every boat there are 2 usho and each of them controls 10 cormorants. Tourist enjoy the view from larger boats. Cormorants prey for fish called ayu and there is also the chance to have dinner on the boats before watching ukai but it was a bit expensive for us. The fishing boats have big fires hanging from their bow to provide light for the usho and also to attract the fish.
There are both men and women practicing the usho traditional job, they wear a black or dark kimono and a traditional straw raincoat. Each usho leads up to 10 cormorants on leashes, cormorants swim alongside the boat and dive under the water to catch ayu. The fish are kept in a special pouch in the cormorant’s throat and the rope around the neck not only connects the cormorant to its trainer but also prevents the cormorant from swallowing and eating the fish.
The fishing scenes are magnificent and the beauty is enhanced by the illuminated Inuyama Castle in the back. A fresh breeze blows on the Kiso river making it an excellent escape from the summer heat. We were so close to the fishing boats that we could actually feel the heat of the fire and the drops of water splashed by the cormorants.
The rhythmical and energetic calls of the trainers and the elegant moves of the cormorants diving in and out of the river created a particular atmosphere and I am so happy I could enjoy it.
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