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Cormorant fishing on the Nagaragawa River
Cormorant fishing: history and technique
ukai
Magnificent historical spectacle loved by Basho and by Chaplin
Handlers tug on leashes to send birds after sweetfish
Passed down through the generations, in an evocative summer spectacle, the ancient techniques of ukai (cormorant fishing) are still alive on the Nagaragawa River. Dating back 1,300 years, the art has been patronized by Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu and other great men of the past. Revered poet Matsuo Basho even composed a famous haiku: Cormorant boat, where / Before long, what looks like fun / Perhaps ends in sorrow. Moreover, Charlie Chaplin was so enchanted that he came to Gifu to witness the sight a second time. The wonderful spectacle of the cormorant fishermen exercising their skills has won the admiration of artists, who make repeat visits.
Through the amazingly skilled use of leashes, each fisherman controls ten to twelve birds. This method of sending cormorants down, and down again, to fetch sweetfish is one of the traditional fishing methods of Japan. The handlers, who spend time with the birds everyday, inherit the right to fish. Because they are with the birds on a daily basis, their movements mesh smoothly with the cormorants and they display wonderful artistry when fishing with their trained birds. Over the river surface, which is shrouded in darkness, the cormorant boats, lit by baskets of fire, slowly emerge, along with the sounds of the commands the handlers give to the birds, which commence fishing by plunging into the water all at once. Beckoned into ancient mystical world, you witness a spectacle that unrolls before your eyes like an animated historical scroll.


Cormorant boat: birds and human crew of three
Cormorant boat: birds and human crew of three
Each of the three crew members has different role. As well as the fully fledged usho, or cormorant fishermen, there is a nakanori (assistant) and a tomonori (helmsman).
Ubune (cormorant boat)
About 13 meters long, the boat carries a complement of three: the usho, nakanori, and tomonori.
Kagaribi
The fire that provides light for cormorant fishing.
Kagari
The iron basket fire that holds the fire.
Kagari-bo
The kagari is suspended from this pole.
Matsu-wari-ki
Split-pine firewood for the fire basket
Tanawa
The leash rope that is used to control a cormorant. An usho controls ten to twelve birds at the same time.
Tomonori
The helmsman, who is responsible for maneuvering the boat.
Nakanori
The nakanori assists the usho.


Ukai no Sato
Ukai no Sato
Visit the usho, handle the birds, experience the charm of cormorant fishing.
To enhance your enjoyment of cormorant fishing on the Nagaragawa River, Ukai no Sato awaits. Just a step away from the right bank of the river is the home of cormorant fishing, the row of buildings where the usho live. Here, day to day, they live with the birds and look after them. All you have to do is ask and you can learn all kinds things directly from the usho. In particular, you can encounter the birds up close. Visitors come away with a deeper understanding of the masterful skills of the usho. Each of the cormorant fishermen is keen to get across how their art is rooted in the natural behavior of the birds. If you ask, they also have to plenty to say about the history of ukai. Learning about this art directly from the masters, you can better appreciate its compelling charm.
You can also take a walking tour that takes in the sight of the riverside lighthouse in Ukaiya Park (Nagaragawa Hiroba) - Shinmei Shrine, where memorial services for sweetfish are held - the row of houses where the fishermen live - Ukai Hiroba, with its statue of a boatman - Cormorant Tomb, a mound where the deceased birds are laid to rest. While enjoying the riverside and the soaking up the ambience, you can get to know more about cormorant fishing and the Nagaragawa River.


Nagaragawa Hot Springs
Nagaragawa Hot Springs
Popular with visitors especially for its beautiful views of the pristine waters of the Nagaragawa River.
Japanese inns and hotels line a road within sight of the Nagaragawa River. The location offers guests stunning views of a beautiful river. You'll find it easy to relax and recuperate.
The waters here have a high iron content. This gives the baths a cloudy russet hue that adds color to a unique spa experience. Placed among Japan's top hundred spa resorts by the Nikkei Shimbun, accommodation here is a great launching point both to see the cormorant fishing or to just to let the beauty of nature through the seasons perform its healing work. As well as locally caught sweetfish, guests can try medicinal yakuzen dishes, which are prepared with health-promoting oriental herbs and ingredients.


Pristine Nagaragawa River
Pristine Nagaragawa River

Pristine Nagaragawa River
A homeland for the heart with natural scenes
Beautifully woven by the passing seasons
Flowing through the middle of Gifu City, the Nagaragawa River ranks with Gifu Castle as one of the first things that come to mind when the city is mentioned. Numbered as one of Japan's hundred finest rivers, the ever-abundant flow of the Nagaragawa has a gentle rolling ease. What is more, it is also among the 88 best natural places in Japan for swimming. In summer you will even see people swimming in the river. From couples to families, people are attracted to the waterside where, typically, they set up barbecues and enjoy playing by and in the river.
Not only is the river close to the heart of local citizens as a key place for recreation, it is also home to many species of fish. You can even see the rare masu salmon swimming in the water. Meanwhile birds and animals flourish in natural surroundings that include castle-topped Kinkazan and other peaks that rise along the Nagaragawa River. Even at the heart of a major urban area that embraces 400,000 people, nature remains largely unspoiled and the scenery retains much of the appearance of bygone days. Here you can see sights that are close to the ideal homeland of the Japanese.