June 07, 2015 · ASIA
cormorant fishing on Nagara river gifu japan

Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara River Japan.

There are few places where one can observe the ancient practice of fishing using cormorants. One is on the Nagara river at Gifu Japan, and another is on the the Li river at Xinping old town near Guilin China (see this website, Li River China/).

Cormorant fishing area map. (Google maps)

fig 2. Cormorant fishing area map. (Google maps)

 Cormorant fishing boat. (Ukai sightseeing office booklet)

fig 1. Cormorant fishing boat. (Ukai sightseeing office booklet)

Although Cormorant fishing on the Nagara river is no longer commercially viable, it is re-enacted nightly during the summer (May 11-October15) for tourists and for school children, as a means of preserving an imperial tradition that dates back more than 1000 years. The fishermen use a traditional flat wooden boat, with a pole at the bow that holds a wire basket of burning wood to attract Ayu, a variety of fresh-water trout. See fig1. The fishermen also wear  traditional costume, consisting of a straw skirt that repels water, a dark cotton long-sleeve vest, and a black linen hat to fend off sparks.
There are 6 cormorant boats, and up to 18 spectator boats each capable of seating from 15 to 50 persons. Most of the latter are regular scheduled boats, but some are privately charted boats. All follow a similar route, but the time of departure of the chartered boats is up to the individual. Departure time for the scheduled boats, is 6:15pm for Course A, which includes dinner, and 6:45pm (group 1) and 7:15pm (group 2) for Course B, which excludes dinner.
The spectator boats pole upstream about 1km and anchor on the southern bank of the river for dinner, where people can get off and walk around, see Cormorant fishing map fig2. There are also toilet facilities at the mooring place. Around 7:30pm when it is dark, fireworks herald the start of the fishing. As each cormorant boat approaches the spectator fleet, 1 to 3 spectator boats leave their mooring and accompany the fishing boat as it drifts downstream with the current. Near the bridge, the six cormorant boats move away to the centre of the river, and fish as a single group in parallel formation. Finally, the fishing boats move alongside the spectators where the master fishermen demonstrate how they recover fish from the cormorants.  As the fishing boats approach the spectators, they present one of the best photographic opportunities of the evening.

Preparing for final fishing formation.

fig 3. Preparing for final fishing formation.

Getting to the Cormorant fishing boarding area and ticket office by bus.

♦ Take one of the following buses at JR Gifu Station or Meitetsu Gifu Station and get off at “Nagara-bashi bus stop.  Bus “N80 Bound for Takatomi, and  buses “N32” to “N86” bound for Gifu Park /in Takatomi direction.
♦ Go down the steps to the local road and walk 1 minute towards river.
♦ Nagara- bashi is the last bus stop just before the Nagara River. See fig 2. If you are on the bridge over water you have gone too far. There is another bus stop just after the bridge.

Some Observations.

♦ The first week or so of the new season can be very crowded with many spectator boats sharing the same 6 cormorant boats, so viewing conditions will be more difficult.
♦ There is an orientation demonstration by the fishing master in Japanese at the boat terminal starting at 5:45pm.
♦ Boarding starts when the demonstration is finished.
♦Your assigned boat is indicated on the ticket or paper to be handed to the boat organizer.
♦ Seat allocation on the boat is first on, first choice.

Street of the cormorant boarding area and Juhachiro.

fig4. Street of the cormorant boarding area and Juhachiro.

cormorant fishing boarding area Nagara River

cormorant fishing boarding area Nagara River


♦ In general the best seats for taking photographs are the first seats at the bow. For serious photographers, the person helping you on board, may tell you the best position for photographing the fishing for that night’s condition. However you must enquire early before anyone has taken their seat.
♦ Fill in flash is very useful to counter the brightness of the fire.
♦ My observation was that course A got better positions at the mooring and slightly more time accompanying the cormorant fishing boat.
♦ Dinner is brought onto the boats by the guests themselves or delivered by tour companies or hotels.
♦ It is advisable to book a reservation in advance. Booking can be done at Gifu City Cormorant Fishing viewing boat office. 1-2 Minato-machi, Gifu City, 500-8009. Tel: 058-262-0104, fax: 058-264-2061.
♦ We stayed at the Juhachiro http://www.18rou.com on a B&B plan having the other meals at neighbourhood cafes. The Juhachiro is on the same street and very close to the Cormorant fishing boarding area.

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