In this traditional fishing method “ukai” a cormorant master called “usho” succeeds cormorants to capture ayu or sweetfish. The ushos of River Nagara have been the official staff of the Imperial Household Agency of Japan since 1890 famous for it’s limpid stream, in Gifu Prefecture. Master trainers of cormorants dressed in ancient costume freely manipulate 10-12 wild sea cormorants to skillfully catch small trout and this fishing is performed every night between May 15th and October 15th except during a full moon or in heavy rain. This 1300-year-old occasion is protected by the Japanese government.
You can look out the whole spectacle aboard a small wooden boat while dining and drinking sake. Cormorant fishing normally starts at 7:30 in the evening. The wooden boats are illuminated with pine torches lit on the boats. The master trainers slowly down to boat sail out into the river, and when the cormorants swallow small trout all at once at the shouts of the master trainers, the audiences applaud and cheer.
The evening closes with six boats sailing side by side to corner the small trout into the shallows, which is a quite incredible view. Famous comedian actor Charlie Chaplin visited Nagaragawa River two times to see this cormorant fishing, kept on exclaiming “Wonderful!” throughout the spectacle. Master trainers of cormorants belong to the Imperial Household Agency, and a vital duty of theirs is to make offerings of small trout to the Emperor.
It is well prescribed that in every generation the eldest son succeeds his father, and these men live with cormorants in order to educate them every day. At the Ukai-no-Sato home of cormorant fishing nearby the river, you can take a close look at the lifestyle of these cormorant fishermen.