|Magnificent historical spectacle loved by Basho and
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.