Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara River

Cormorant Fishing, called Ukai in Japanese, is a 1300 year old fishing technique that uses cormorant birds to catch fish.

The masters of this traditional technique are appointed by the Imperial Household Agency and the title is hereditary, being passed down from parent to child.

The masters raise the birds and train them for several years before they are ready to fish. Cormorants have good eyesight and are skilled at diving into the water to catch the fish. After catching the fish, the cormorants hold the fish in a special pouch in their throat until they are ready to be retrieved.

The master uses ropes to operate the cormorants and can handle 10-12 ropes at one time.

Cormorant Fishing Boat

The wooden fishing boat is 13 meters long and has three people on board. The master fisherman stands at the front behind a bonfire, which lights up the water. The steel bucket burns pinewood, which continues to burn even if there is light rain.

The center rower serves as an assistant to the master and to the rear rower, who is responsible for controlling the boat.

Where to Watch

In Gifu Prefecture, you can watch cormorant fishing on the Nagara River. There are six master fishermen that perform the technique nearly every night from May 11 until October 15.

What to Expect

As a spectator, you can sail in a boat alongside the cormorant fishing boat to watch the traditional style of fishing. It lasts a little over an hour and is about 3,500 yen per person. Reservations are recommended.

There are also ryokan along the river that offer dinner and boat tours.

How to Get There

From Gifu Station, take a bus to Nagarabashi bus stop. It takes about 15 minutes. The dock is next to the bus stop.

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