Next stop: Gifu. Its main claim to fame is the ukai (cormorant fishing) show on the Nagara River, the largest such display in Japan. In a tradition dating back over 1,300 years, six fishing masters use their birds to catch ayu (sweetfish). Although the show is for tourist consumption, the ukai remains a time-honored practice as the cormorant fishing masters in Gifu are patronized by the Emperor.
Since we were just overnighting in Gifu, we decided to take a short stroll down the river bank to the Fishing Masters’ Village. It’s adjacent to Kawara-machi, literally ‘riverside town’, which is lined with restored Meiji era wooden structures. Some of these buildings now house tourist craft shops, restaurants and cafes.
The semi-circular indentations in the concrete walkway make good docking places for the baskets. In the distance is the Nagara bridge.
Although the show can be seen from the banks, these boats allow tourists a closer look at the action. Depending on the schedule, there is a briefing by a Fishing Master before boarding the boats.
This wired glass window’s overlay depicts two of the city’s top attractions: the ukai with cormorants in a fishing boat and the Gifu Castle which can be seen in the background during the event.
Ukai themed lanterns line the lattice-walled houses of the Kawara-machi. The area remains surprisingly quiet till tourists show up in force for the evening performances.
Some shops in Kawara-machi make and sell traditional ayu gashi, which is only available during the Ukai season between May 11 and October 15.
I would have loved to see the ukai. Unfortunately part of our group was held up due to flight delays, so we weren’t able to attend, but here’s a picture of what could have been… I also found this very detailed blog on cormorant fishing for those really interested in the subject!