After leaving the mountains of Takayama, we made our last stop in Gifu before heading back to the Tokyo area. Our friend Miwa is from Gifu and just happened to be home visiting her family!
We were met at the train station, and to our pleasant surprise our itinerary for the day had been completely taken care of. Miwa was a great, informative guide, and really made her city shine.
Our first stop was lunch. We went to and Indian restaurant, which, coincidentally, we had been craving since our Nepalese lunch in Osaka. The daily curry special was unusual: azuki, or red bean. It tasted much better than it sounded. After lunch we head to Miwa’s family home to drop our bags and gear up for the evenings festivities.
After a quick rest and some awesome Japanese sweets with tea, we left for Kinka Mountain. It’s home to Oda Nobunaga’s Gifu Catsle and has a ropeway, or cable car that will take you to the summit. We had amazing views of the whole city of Gifu and could even see nearby Nagoya in the distance.
A quick ride over to the river front and we were walking the streets Kawaramachi. This area served as the customs area when the Nagara river was still the means of transporting goods in the region. The old-style buildings made for a relaxing atmosphere, and some nice photos. The Nagara River, which runs through the middle of the city, is serene yet full of life. It’s the center of much activity throughout the year.
The highlight of the day was a river cruise, but this was not just the kind that heads up and back down the river while the captain points out famous buildings and other landmarks. Every year from May to October the locals have been continuing a tradition that has been practiced for around 1300 years, cormorant fishing! We were incredibly lucky to get a boat to ourselves (almost unheard of) to enjoy our dinner box of local treats and beer while waiting for the demonstration ti begin.
There are only six remaining Cormorant Fishing Masters left in Gifu. This position is one of heredity and there were only two family names among the fishing masters. They wear special clothing designed to keep them safe, dry and to keep from slipping. There are two other men who ride in the boat, one to control the rudder and one to help bring the fish into the boat. They use a boat called ubune, about 40 feet long, with a pinewood bonfire suspended from the front to light the way.
The birds are captured and made tame in order to fish for the Master. They live together like family, and have a very tight bond. There are 10 to 12 birds used on each boat per night, each controlled by a thin rope. As the bird catches a fish, the Master brings the bird aboard and takes the fish, then the bird is the released back into the water in order to continue the hunt. The skill and precision needed to keep a dozen birds from getting tangled must be tremendous.
At the end, the 6 boats demonstrate the sougarami technique where they line up side by side and drive the fish to shallow spots, using teamwork to collect as many as possible. We were able to get a peek at how many ayu (sweetfish) had been caught at the very end, while the cormorants were getting loaded back into their baskets and given their rewards for a job well done.