The thrilling performance on the water which has charmed Basho Matsuo and Charlie Chaplin
Cormorant fishing has been a custom that has lasted over 1300 years on the clear Nagara River. Traditionally garbed usho handling the birds as they catch fish is a classic fishing method. The unfolding spectacle of the usho and cormorants working together as one while scarlet bonfires are reflected on the water is a sure sign of summer on the Nagara River. A world of delicate beauty opens up as if the visitor has gone back in time to the ancient past. The only sounds that are heard in the quiet are the usho yelling “Ho, ho” to encourage the cormorants and the tapping of the upper edge of the boat. These sounds have been selected as two of the Top 100 Soundscapes of Japan. Currently, there are 6 usho on the Nagara River. Officially known as Imperial Cormorant Fishing Masters, Board of Ceremonies and Rituals, Imperial Household Agency, they take on the special duty of Imperial cormorant fishing to catch the ayu for the Imperial family. The title of usho is passed on through hereditary succession so that the techniques are passed on from parent to child.
Closely observe this traditional fishing method from more than 1300 years ago
You can rent out a yakatabune boat and observe ukai, but you can also enjoy the experience for a reasonable price. After visiting the Ukai Pleasure Boat Office, you can listen to an explanation by the usho before boarding. While enjoying the view of the Nagara River and Mt. Kinka, the boat will head for the observation point for the fishing. Once night falls, fireworks will fly up finally signalling the start of the ukai. The pleasure boat will then run alongside the usho’s boat down the river so that you can witness the cormorants catching the ayu. Then comes the climax for the ukai, the so-garami. 6 usho boats line up across the breadth of the river and chase the ayu into the shallows in a spectacular performance. The usho’s deftness in the handling of the cormorants to catch the fish is incredible. You will want to board a boat to see this performance up close.