Lidice’s Memorial

After the war, a memorial was built on the land that had formally housed the town of Lidice. Moreover, just outside of the memorial, a new town was built. The town itself is beautiful and quaint. Every building there along with its streets has such an unassuming nature. Coming from the city feeling of Prague (which is magnificent in its own right) it was a welcome and much needed change. I had not realized how much I had been craving quiet. But alas, this post is not about the town but about the memorial that now remembers its horrific past. Continue reading


Ukai: Cormorant Fishing

Japanese cormorant fishers use wild-caught cormorants (birds) to catch fish and deliver them to their handlers. This unusual fishery has been practiced in several parts of the world, including Japan, China, Europe and Peru. In Japan, cormorant fishing is known as ukai. These fishers have practiced their craft for at least 1,300 years and were noted in the earliest Japanese records (Taihou Ritsuryou no Koseki, Legal Code and Family Records, 702 AD, and the Kojiki, Record of Ancient Matters, 712 AD, see Photo 1).


Photo 1: ‘Gifu no Michi no Eki: Gōdo, Nagaragawa Ukaibune’ (Gifu Road Station: Goudo, Nagara River Cormorant Fishing Boat), by Keisai Eisen, a woodblock print in the ukiyo-e style, from the early 19th century. Image in the public domain, downloaded from Wikipedia.

Today, twelve ukai groups fish the rivers of Japan. Most of these groups are less than 100 years old, renewing ancient fisheries for the purpose of tourism. However, the ukai fishers of Gifu City on the Nagaragawa (Nagara River) have fished continuously for hundreds of years. These fishers received a special title 450 years ago: Kunaichoushikibushoku Ushou – ‘Imperial Household Agency Board of Ceremonies, Cormorant Fishing Master’– usually shortened to ‘Ushou’ (see Photo 2).

Statue in Gifu

Photo 2: This statue of a cormorant and Ushou (Royal Fishing Master) overlooks the Nagara River (Nagaragawa) in Gifu City.

As a student and professor of marine biology, I read about these birds in American textbooks – usually one photo with a sentence or short paragraph. To learn more about cormorant fishers, we visited the ukai of the Ujigawa (Uji River) on the southeast border of Kyoto. Mariko Sawaki-san of the Uji City ukai welcomed us multiple times to watch her fish, and provided much information on cormorant fishing (see Photo 3). She suggested we go to Gifu City for more research. Thanks in part to her introduction, we were granted an interview with Masahiko Sugimoto-Ushou of Gifu City on the Nagara River (see Photo 4). The following report is based on interviews with both of these cormorant fishers and observations of their fishing methods.


Photo 3: Mariko Sawaki-san and the other cormorant fishers of the Uji River (Ujigawa) ready themselves for the opening night of cormorant fishing.


Photo 4: Masahiko Sugimoto-Ushou of Gifu City shows one of his cormorants before a night of fishing on the Nagara River.

Ukai History and Practice

It is unclear how cormorant fishing arose in Japan. According to Sugimoto-Ushou, birds might have been used initially to herd fish into nets. As the fishery evolved, they began to specifically target ayu, a popular type of smelt (aka sweetfish, Osmeriformes, Plecoglossidae Plecoglossus altivelis).

Umiu – Japanese cormorants – (Pelecaniformes, Phalacrocoracidae, Phalicrocorax capillatus, Photo 5) can catch over 100 ayu per hour. By tying a rope around the bird’s neck, fishers can prevent large ayu from being swallowed. Rather, fish are held in the umiu‘s gular pouch (similar to the pouch of their pelican cousins). The birds cough up the fish into the hands of the Ushou. The birds leave distinctive bite marks on the ayu – proof that they were caught by umiu. Importantly, ayu caught by umiu die instantly – ‘ike jime’ (squeeze the life out) – and taste better than ayu caught in nets, which die slowly (Photo 6).


Photo 5: A Japanese cormorant – Umiu – at work. Cormorants are related to pelicans, and can hold fish in their gular pouch. Taxonomy: Aves, Pelecaniformes, Phalacrocoracidae, Phalicrocorax capillatus.

Freshly Caught Ayu

Photo 6: Freshly caught ayu, or sweetfish (Osmeriformes, Plecoglossidae Plecoglossus altivelis). The bite marks provide evidence that the fish were caught by cormorants, and increases the value of the catch.

Thus, ukai provided a unique delicacy. The ayu from Gifu were particularly favored as Mino no Tokusan Buttsu – ‘special food of Mino’. Shogun Oda Nobunaga captured Mino in 1561 and re-named the city Gifu. He built a castle on top of the hill overlooking the Nagara River, and supported many traditional arts and crafts. Shogun Nobunaga gave the cormorant fishers of the Nagara River their royal title of Ushou. This new status allowed them to carry one sword; swords were otherwise forbidden for common people. The first catch of ayu each year was sent to the emperor and the shogun. Later, Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) expanded the number of Ushou along the Nagara River to the current six Uhsou in Gifu City and three others in Seki Town, upstream from Gifu. These Ushou continue to send specially caught ayu to the Emperor (see Photos 7-9).


Photo 7: Ubune (cormorant boats) tied up along the west bank of the Nagara River. The river has been protected since medieval times and supports a healthy population of ayu (sweetfish). The Ushou of Gifu fish these waters from May 11-Oct 15.

Gifu Castle

Photo 8: Gifu Castle overlooks Gifu City and the Nagara River. In 1561 Shogun Oda Nobunaga conquered Mino and renamed it Gifu. He directed the building of this castle and elevated the cormorant fishers of Gifu to Ushou – Fishing Masters of the Royal Household.


Photo 9: The Gifu City Office of Tourism promotes the ukai of Gifu and related characters, such as this city elder dressed as Shogun Oda Nobunaga. He provided color and background information outside the ukai office as tourists gathered for the evening event. He posts information and recent photos with tourists on his website.

The Ushou title is hereditary. Masahiko Sugimoto-Ushou comes from a long line of Ushou, at least 6 generations, and presumably as far back as Shogun Nobanaga. The Nagara River has flooded many times, however, and the local records have been lost. Sugimoto-Ushou gained his title 34 years ago, upon the death of his father.

Cormorant fishers work from narrow, shallow boats – ubune – that can navigate in the fast flowing waters of the Nagara River. These boats, approximately 13 meters (43’) in length, remain relatively unchanged from the past. The primary difference is the addition of motor mounts. Motors easily transport the boats upriver, although they are not used while fishing. Previously, men pulled the boats upriver by foot, walking along the shore, a daily chore that required hours of hard labor; they fished as they moved downriver with the current. Ukai fishing occurs at night, therefore the ubune (boat) carries a kagari – a metal fire basket – that can be swung out over the water. A fire of pinewood lights up the water for the boatmen and illuminates the ayu for the umiu (Photos 10 & 11).

Arriving By Boat

Photo 10: Sugimoto-Ushou arrives at the ukai tourist center in his ubune (boat). Note the attached motor, one of the few changes made to these boats since historical times. The motor will be removed for fishing. Also note the bundles of pinewood and metal fire basket – kagari – on the bottom of the boat (see also Photo 15).

Fishing in Gifu

Photo 11: An Ushou at work by the light of his pinewood fire. He holds 12 cormorants (four underwater) by their leashes. The cormorants are visual predators. Firelight reflects from the silvery bellies of ayu, which are startled by the fishers.

A crew of two or three men handles the boat and assists the Ushou. The Tomonori is the primary boat handler, usually situated at the stern of the boat. A second boatman, the Nakanori, works with the Tomonori. These men use long poles and oars to maneuver the boat in the shallow, flowing river. Some boats include a Nakauzukai – ‘middle cormorant handler’ – but he is not a fisher, yet. The Nakauzukai acts as an apprentice and ‘gofer.’ Sugimoto-Ushou began his fishing career as a Nakauzukai when he first worked on a boat with his father. He can perform all the tasks on the boat, but only he fishes with the cormorants (Photo 12).

Fishing the Nagara River

Photo 12: Sugimoto-Ushou fishing the Nagara River. Next to him is one of the two boatmen that maneuver his boat and assist with his work.

Every day before fishing, the Ushou must decide which birds to use. Each Ushou owns and cares for his own birds. Sugimoto-Ushou had 24 birds when we met in July 2011. When he was a boy, the birds were kept in baskets in the doma (entranceway) of his home. They could be very smelly. Now, he keeps the birds in a large enclosure behind his home (still smelly). The birds naturally pair up, but not necessarily as male-female pairs. The birds are not named, but the Ushou knows each bird by its markings, partner and personality. An individual ushou can handle as many as 12 birds at a time (Photos 13-15).

Bird Cage

Photo 13: Inside the cormorant cage behind the home of Sugimoto-Ushou. He keeps 24 birds. The birds can swim in a shallow pool or roost at various levels within the enclosure. Historically, birds were kept within the Ushou’s home in baskets (see Photo 15)

Pair of Cormorants

Photo 14: A pair of cormorants. Japanese cormorants do not breed in captivity, but they do form pairs. Pairs assort regardless of their sex (male-male, male-female, female-female).

Boat and Baskets

Photo 15: Cormorants in baskets in an ubune (cormorant boat). Each basket is divided into two sections. Also note the boatman and motor mount.

Ushou wear special outfits while fishing. Most distinctive is their koshimino, a custom-made skirt of straw. The koshimino is a typical skirt used by many types of fishermen in the past. It sheds water and provides warmth during cool evenings on the river (Photo 16). The Ushou wear a jacket and headscarf – kazaoreboushi – of dark blue (Photo 17). The scarf protects their hair from sparks, and the dark color does not distract the birds at night (they are startled by bright colors). Half-length woven sandals provide stable footing in the wet, unstable bottom of the ubune (boat, see Photo 18).


Photo 16: The straw skirt, or koshimino, of Sugimoto-Ushou. This skirt was custom made by one of his boatmen. It sheds water off the cormorant fisher and provides some warmth on cool evenings.

Ushou Costume

Photo 17: A young Ushou poses in his costume with Marina and Ami. Cormorant fishers wear a dark coat and headscarf to avoid distracting the birds. Each group of cormorant fishers has a distinctive knot in their scarves. Compare this man to the outfit of Sawaki-san of the Uji River (Photo 3).


Photo 18a: The Ushou of Gifu wear half-length sandals that allow better grip on the bottom of the cormorant boat. An Ushou displays his sandal.

Shoes on Feet

Photo 18b: The Ushou of Gifu wear half-length sandals that allow better grip on the bottom of the cormorant boat.

The Ushou of Gifu live in a small neighborhood on the western bank of the Nagara River (Photo 19). Their boats are tied to rings embedded in steps that descend into the river (Photo 20). After selecting their birds and dressing for the evening’s work, the Ushou and their crews load their boats. It takes a few minutes to cross the river to the welcome center (see Photos 21 & 22).

Ushou Sign

Photo 19a: The six Ushou of Gifu live within a few blocks of each other, on the western bank of the Nagara River. The sign in front of Sugimoto-Ushou’s home.

Wood Garage

Photo 19b: Firewood used for cormorant fishing stored next to the Ushou’s home.

Boats Tied

Photo 20: A view from the western bank of the Nagara River, near the homes of the cormorant masters. They tie their boats to rings embedded in the steps. They travel by boat to the tourist center on the opposite shore, just below the bridge. They fish this section of the river, upstream from the bridge.

Boat Arrival

Photo 21: Sugimoto-Ushou walks up the steps of the tourist center, after arriving by boat (see Photo 10, taken a few moments before this Photo).

Gifu Center

Photo 22a: The Gifu City ukai tourist center stands on the eastern bank of the Nagara River. This is a view of the ukai center from the steps to the river.

Front of Gifu Center

Photo 22b: The front of the Gifu City ukai center.

At 5:30 PM one of the Ushou demonstrates his craft (see Photos 17 & 18). The birds are kept in pairs, inside baskets. The Ushou pulls out one bird at a time and prepares it for fishing. He handles the bird by its strong neck, often massaging the neck as he works (Photos 23 & 24).

Bird Massage

Photo 23: Ushou handle cormorants by their strong necks. They frequently massage their necks to calm them.


Photo 24: A cormorant displayed on its basket.

The tanawa – a complex system of ropes – connects the bird to its handler. It includes the kubiyui – a short piece tied around the bird’s neck, the haragake – a longer rope tied around the bird’s body and under its wings, and the long leash held by the Ushou. Historically, baleen was used for sections of these ropes to prevent chafing of the bird or entanglement of the ropes. Today, these sections are coated with plastic. Importantly, the rope around the neck must be tight enough to trap large fish in the birds pouch, but loose enough for small fish to pass through, otherwise the birds become frustrated and stop fishing. Once the rope is attached, a tray of large fish is presented to the cormorant. The cormorant swallows the fish in seconds. The Ushou quickly massages the birds neck and opens it mouth, and the cormorant spits the fish back into the tray (see Photos 25 & 26, and Video 1).

Rope Complex

Photo 25: The complex of ropes that encircle the bird’s body and neck.

Coughing Up Fish

Photo 26: The Ushou opens the cormorant’s mouth so that it will spit out the fish held in its gular pouch.

Tourism makes up a substantial portion of the ukai earnings. Before and during the demonstration, boats are being loaded along the riverbank. Tourists board their boats for the journey upriver to view the ukai. Options include a full package with meals and drinks, or boat only (you can bring your own food and drink). One boat carried dancing girls. Once night falls and all is made ready, the fires are lit in the ukai boats, and a brief show of fireworks herald the start of fishing (Photos 27-29).

Tourist Boats

27a. Dozens of tourist boats line the riverbank at the ukai center. Boats hold from 20-50 passengers. Down-river view of tourist boats.

Tourist Boats

Photo 27b: Gifu ukai flags adorn the walkway to the riverbank.

Tourist Boats

Photo 27c: More tourist boats are kept in a protected channel under the bridge.

Tourist Boats

Photo 27d: The colorful boat at the end of the channel carried dancing girls.

Tourist Boat Departing

Photo 28: A boat departs upriver to the viewing area.

Beached Tourist Boats

Photo 29: Tourist boats beached along the Nagara River before the start of cormorant fishing. The Ushou will demonstrate their skills in the main channel of the river, in front of the tourist boats.

The Nagara River is a wild river, protected by government edicts. The stretch in Gifu is relatively shallow, typically no more than 3-4 meters (10-13’) deep during the ukai fishing season. The water is clean and clear. The bottom consists of smooth, round rocks that provide shelter for the ayu as they sleep. These are ideal conditions for ayu, and for ukai (Photo 30).

River Water

Photo 30: The clear water and round-pebbled bottom of the Nagara River.

As soon as the Ushou releases his birds, they begin to fish. The boatmen bang on the side of their boat to stimulate the birds and startle the ayu. The ayu – disoriented and half asleep – flush from the rocks. As they right themselves in the moving water, the light of the fire reflects off their silvery bellies, and the cormorants gobble them up. The Ushou, holding 10-12 leashes in his left hand, pulls in one bird at a time. He tucks the bird under his right arm and massages the bird’s throat. The bird’s head and beak are held in the Ushou’s left hand to direct the coughed up fish into the boat. In a few seconds, the bird is back in the water and the Ushou pulls in the next one. The Ushou spends much of his effort to keep his birds fanned out, to avoid entanglements of their leashes (see Photos 31-34, Video 2).

Gifu Fishing

Photo 31: Ukai on the Nagara River, Gifu City. The Ushou holds each bird by its leash. The fire lights up the water and the sleeping ayu (sweetfish).

Gifu Fishing

Photo 32: The Ushou constantly adjusts the dozen leashes of his birds to prevent entanglements.

Gifu Fishing

Photo 33: Two umiu (Japanese cormorants) come close to the tourist boat as the Ushou makes a pass.

Gifu Fishing

Photo 34: Another close-up of fishing cormorants. Note the plastic coatings on their leashes.

At the end of the event, the six Ushou bring their boats side-by-side and head down the river in a spectacular finish. Their collective noise awakens any remaining fish for the birds to catch. This style – sogarami – was once reserved for royal spectators, but has become a regular finish to a night of cormorant fishing in Gifu (see Photo 35).


Photo 35: The Gifu Ushou end the nights fishing with a display of Sogarami: all six boats work together, side by side, as they make a final pass going down the river.

Afterward, the Ushou beach their boats nearby the tourists and untie their birds. The birds sit on the gunnels of the boats and spread their wings to dry, while the crew stores their leashes. A tray of freshly caught ayu are displayed. They will be sold in the local resorts for the next day’s lunch and dinner (see Photos 36-38).


Photo 36: The birds rest on the side of their boats after fishing, while the Ushou begins to unleash a bird.

Bird Into Basket

Photo 37: The Ushou returns a cormorant to its basket.


Photo 38: A sample of the nights catch, ayu (sweetfish). Note the bite marks on the fish.

We visited Gifu twice to watch these fishers, once in July and again in October. It rained on our first visit (July 27, 2011). The runoff muddied the waters and raised the river – difficult conditions for ukai, and difficult to watch and photograph. We were fortunate to be able to interview Sugimoto-Ushou the next morning. Later that day he went to the Goryou jyo – ‘honorable fishing place’ – a stretch of the river reserved for imperial fishing. Ushou only fish here eight times per year. Sugimoto-Ushou explained in English, “I send ayu to Emperor tonight” (see Photo 39).

Sign No Ushou

Photo 39: Sign at the Gifu City ukai center on July 28, 2011. I took this picture after my interview with Sugimoto-Ushou. There were no Ushou available for the demonstration that day, because they were catching fish for the Emperor.

Capture and Care of the Cormorants

Japanese Cormorants do not breed in captivity. For centuries, umiu have been captured near Hitachi City, along the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture. Only a few men have permission to take these birds (similar to the royal cormorant fishers). They supply birds for all the ukai of Japan, with the exception of Wakayama Prefecture, where they capture their own birds.

The cormorants stop in Ibaraki in the spring and fall on their migrations. Men work from blinds made of straw. They tether a tame cormorant nearby, on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. The tethered bird attracts young cormorants, which are readily snared when they land next to the ‘lure’. This method works best to capture young, naïve birds (1-3 years old), which are easily identified by their lighter plumage (Photo 40). Fortunately, young birds are preferred. These birds are initially quarantined, and later blindfolded for the journey to their new homes. Birds must be ordered a year in advance.

Young Umiu

Photo 40: Young cormorants have light brown plumage speckled with white. Mature adults are nearly black (compare to Photos 14 and 41).

Wild-caught cormorants know how to fish, but must learn to tolerate their human handlers. Younger birds tame more easily. Also, they more readily accept the existing pecking order of their new group. Japanese refer to the relationship between senpai – the elder, or one who came first, and the kohai – the one who came later. Similar relationships develop between the cormorants. Importantly, the young bird will learn from its senior partner how to work with a human on a leash. It may take 2-3 years before a new bird is ready to work. Over time, dominance relationships can change. However, when selecting birds for fishing, the Ushou must be careful to place only paired birds into the same basket. Otherwise, they may fight to the death (Photo 41).

Pair of Cormorants

Photo 41: A pair of cormorants. The younger bird, on the right, defers to his senior partner. The senior bird helps integrate the younger bird into the life of captivity.

Cormorant fishers take great care of their birds. Wild birds only live a few years. Cormorants used for ukai often live 15 years or more. It takes patience to tame the birds, and intimate knowledge of each bird and its partner to decide who will fish each night. The hands and arms of both Sugimoto-Ushou and Sawaki-san were covered in scars from the bird’s bites, and burns caused by sparks from the fires used while fishing (see Photos 42 & 43).


Photo 42: Sugimoto-Ushou in his living room. He describes the history of the ukai fishery with pictures from an old book. Note the scars on his left arm. His birds interact with him with their beaks. Also, sparks from the fire onboard burn through to his skin.


Photo 43: A closer view of Sugimoto-Ushou’s left arm and hand, with scars from bird bites and burns from sparks.

Sugimoto-Ushou learned his craft from men that used to walk the boats upriver. They made more of their living from the fish they caught, rather than tourists. It was hard physical work, and they were strict. In his grandfather’s era, the birds were taken upriver for days at a time in the winter, the offseason for ukai. The cormorants could feed themselves freely in the river, returning to sleep in their baskets on the boat. Men would stay with them during the day, but return home each night by bike to sleep in their own beds. Boys were left to sleep on the boats and watch after the birds. This winter style of feeding was called egai. Today, Sugimoto-Ushou takes his birds to the river in winter to feed themselves, but he uses a motor on his boat for travel (Photo 44).

Sugimoto & Me

Photo 44: Sugimoto-Ushou and myself, standing outside his cormorant cage.

Sustainability and Modern Ukai

The Nagara River is one of the last rivers to sustain an active ukai fishery. Its natural quality and historical protection have preserved this nearly-wild river for the ayu that mature and spawn here. The young develop downstream in Ise Bay, and then return in the spring. Ukai fishing begins May 11th each year and ends October 15th. They compete with a net fishery for ayu, which begins at the same time, but continues later in the fall. A limited number of Ushou and a relatively large mesh size on the ayu nets protect the population from being over fished (see Photos 45 & 46).

Nagara River Nets

Photo 45: A view of the ayu nets on the Nagara River. This picture was taken from the bridge that spans the river, immediately below the ukai fishing area. Many pieces of white cloth are placed in a line across the river to divert ayu to the western side (see Photo 45).

Nagara River Nets

Photo 46: Ayu are caught in nets within these ‘pockets’ of a larger barrier made from white cloth. The cloth does not physically trap the ayu, but the fish do avoid it. Ayu that swim along the far western bank can escape downriver.

Still, the Nagara River ukai depends more on tourism than the sale of fish. According to Sugimoto-Ushou, it has been this way from the time of Shogun Nobunaga. In those days, it was the attention and support of the shogun that kept the fishery viable. After the Meiji Restoration, it was the Emperor who provided critical support. Since the 1950’s, the local government and development of modern tourism have been the primary source of funding, although Ushou continue to receive imperial support. The Ushou of Gifu learned long ago to adapt to the current business conditions, and their various supporters. This lesson is passed down from generation to generation. During our October 7, 2011 visit, 36 boats of tourists (capacity 20-50 people per boat) paid an average of $40 or more to watch the ukai (estimated gross receipts $35,000-50,000). Sugimoto-Ushou has a young son. He expects his son will take over his title when he passes on (Photo 47).

Father & Son

Photo 47: A photograph and newspaper article about Sugimoto-Ushou and his young son. The Ushou position is hereditary. His son may take the position when his father retires or dies.

Historically, ukai fisheries were active on many rivers throughout Japan. Most of these fisheries ended in the Heian Period (794-1185). The cormorant fishers of the Ujigawa (Uji River) were made famous at this time by Lady Murasaki in her classic, ‘The Tale of Genji’, Japan’s first novel (see Photo 48).

Lady Murasaki

Photo 48: Statue of Lady Murasaki holding her novel, ‘The Tale of Genji’. This statue sits on the bank of the Ujigawa (Uji River), just downriver from the Uji ukai. Uji City is situated on the southeast border of Kyoto City, the ancient capital. ‘The Tale of Genji’ describes the life of the imperial court, written 1,000 years ago. Several chapters take place in Uji, including a mention of cormorant fishing.

Like many of the current ukai fisheries, cormorant fishing in Uji died out for nearly 1,000 years. During the Taishou Period (1912-1926) a group of local boatmen were looking for more business. One of them knew the Ushou of Seki City on the Nagara River. They studied with these fishers, and brought their techniques back to Uji (Photo 49). They restarted cormorant fishing to attract more tourists. Uji City’s tourism office provides support.

Uji River

Photo 49: Wild cormorants wade in the Uji River (Ujigawa). The Uji River supported an ukai fishery 1,000 years ago. A portion of the river is channeled around the island (right side of the image), and ukai can be practiced here today.

Today, these fishers work a protected stretch of the Uji River (Photo 50). They hire out their boats to tourists, who can enjoy an evening on the river with food, drink and the spectacle of cormorant fishing. Dinners can be ordered from the small restaurants that line the riverbank. The restaurants coordinate with the boatmen to deliver their meals on board (see Photo 51).

Uji Day Boat

Photo 50: Tourists enjoy lunch on the water. At night, ukai will be demonstrated on this section of the Uji River. Note the boatman’s purple jacket with cormorant pattern and the small restaurants that line the river.

Boats Lined on Uji River

Photo 51: Boats lined up along the Uji River. These boats are available for tours on the river, particularly for evening tours to observe the ukai. Boat rentals are made at the ukai office on the bank of the river (center, next to stairs).

We first visited Uji City on June 12, 2009, the day before the season opened. At the ukai office, we met Matsusaka-sensei – the head (‘teacher’) cormorant fisher; his grandfather studied with the Ushou of Seki City (Photo 52). He invited us to return the next night and join the media boat. Also, he invited us to interview his protégé and current lead cormorant fisher, Mariko Sawaki-san (Photo 53).


Photo 52: Matsusaka-sensei, head of the Uji River ukai, standing in front of their cormorant cage.



Photo 53: Sawaki-san, cormorant fisher of the Uji River, dresses on the riverbank, opening night, 2009.

At dusk on June 13th, Shinto priests performed a Shin Shiki (‘god ceremony’) from a boat on the Uji River. Local officials and the ukai fishers joined them onboard (Photo 54). At the conclusion of the ceremony, the ukai began. They lit their fires and released the cormorants. The boatmen banged on their boats to stimulate the birds and startle the fish. The birds came close enough to splash us, and our cameras. The fishers showed off the ayu as the cormorants spit them out. The Uji River is no longer rich in ayu, however, so they stock this section of the river. The fish caught here are given back to the cormorants at the end of the show (Photos 55-61 and Video 3).

Shin Shiki

Photo 54: Shinto priests perform a Shin Shiki (god ceremony) on the opening night of ukai on the Uji River, June 13, 2009. One priest throws salt in the river; salt purifies. Another priest waves pure white paper over the water. The cormorant fishers are standing in the boat, on the left side of the photo.

Uji Fire

Photo 55: Mariko Sawaki-san and her two boatmen have lit the fire onboard in preparation for the night’s fishing.

Uji Bird Release

Photo 56: Sawaki-san releases cormorants from their basket. They began to hunt within seconds of hitting the water.

Uji Fishing

Photo 57: Sawaki-san handles six cormorants (umiu) – three are visible on the surface, the others are fishing. A second boat behind her carries another female cormorant fisher with two boatmen.

Uji Fishing

Photo 58: The cormorants fish beneath the light of the pinewood fire suspended from the ubune (boat).

Uji Fishing

Photo 59: Sawaki-san pulls in a cormorant to retrieve its catch of fish.

Uji Fishing

Photo 60: Sawaki-san holds the bird on her right and uses her left hand to open the bird’s mouth. The bird spits up its catch.

Uji Fishing

Photo 61: Cormorant fishing continued into the night, the more typical time ukai. Note the boats of tourists. Tourism provides support for the ukai of the Uji River.

Because this first night of fishing began early, it was easy to see the actions of birds and handlers. Also, this narrow section of river allows spectators to view the ukai from either shore and from two bridges. The ukai brought their boats alongside the press boat and tour boats. It provides a very intimate view of cormorant fishing (see Photos 62 & 63).

Uji Fishing Bridge

Photo 62: A view of the Uji River ukai from the bridge that spans the downstream section of this channel. Cormorant fishing on the Uji River is an intimate experience, although best viewed from a boat

Uji After Fish

Photo 63: Sawaki-san poses for pictures after a night of cormorant fishing.

We returned a few days later to interview Mariko Sawaki-san. Sawaki-san represents a new type of cormorant fisher. She is the first woman cormorant fisher on the Uji River, and one of only four women cormorant fishers in Japan. Also, she did not inherit her position. Rather, she has had a life-long interest in animals and animal-human interactions. Her interests in ukai and the changing business environment brought her to this new position.

Sawaki-san works full time in the Uji City Tourism office, two blocks from the ukai office (Photo 64). Her ukai work keeps her extra busy for the 100 day summer season. However, the short season presents a problem to the fishery. The boatmen hold most of the jobs in the industry and they need work all year round. They take tourists for rides on the river both day and night, but business is much slower outside the ukai season.

Sawaki-san & I

Photo 64: Standing with Mariko Sawaki-san, cormorant fisher, in her Uji City Tourism office. She works for the tourism board throughout the year, and as a cormorant fisher for 100 evenings in the summer.

We returned later that summer with our family to watch the ukai on a more typical evening (Photo 65). Eleven tourist boats of various sizes were available for hire. We rented a boat for ten, the smallest size available. The ukai of Uji use two boats for fishing, with two female fishers. On this night, the women took turns fishing from the same boat. At the start of the evening they poled upriver, just below a small dam. The tourist boats followed. Here, the two women and Matsusaka-sensei demonstrated the tying of the birds and other aspects of their craft (Photos 66-71).

Yasui Family

Photo 65: Our family standing on the bridge over the Uji River, on a night of ukai.


Photo 66: The Ukai demonstration on the Uji River was conducted on the cormorant boat (ubune). Here, Sawaki-san displays the rope complex used to tie cormorants.

Roping Bird

Photo 67: Matsusaka-sensei pulls a cormorant out of its basket, ready to be roped up. Cormorant fishers handle their birds by the neck, and massage the neck frequently.

Tying Bird

Photo 68: Matsusaka-sensei massages the bird’s neck while the rope is being tied around it’s neck and body.

Rope Tied to Bird

Photo 69: Close-up of the cormorant with it’s rope attached. Note the dark leash hanging down from the bird. A plastic coating covers the leash next to the bird’s body. Historically, baleen (from whales) was used for this section.

Bird Into Basket

Photo 70: The tied bird is placed back in its basket until the fishing begins.

Sawaki & Bird

Photo 71: Sawaki-san poses with a cormorant.

The fishing was enjoyed by all. They Uji fishers hold six birds at a time. They do not catch fish for sale, and fewer birds are easier to handle. Their boat takes turns moving amongst the tourists, providing excellent views. They fished for more than 30 minutes (see Photos 72-75).


Photo 72: Ukai on the Uji River. Each fisher holds six birds.

Spits Out Catch

Photo 73: A cormorant spits out its catch into the hands of Sawaki-san.

Birds Close

Photo 74: Ukai on the Uji River is an intimate experience. The boatmen keep tourists very close to the action.

Reiko & Birds

Photo 75: Reiko leans over the edge of our boat, enjoying a night of ukai.

We returned to Uji in October 2011 and spoke with Sawaki-san and Matsusaka –sensei. Their business has improved over the last two years, despite the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. One of their birds escaped last year and did not return. They have 15 birds now. We watched the birds being fed that day at 2PM (Photo 76). They eat frozen fish throughout the year, and are fattened up in the winter. They lose weight over the summer, when they are kept hungry.

Sawaki-san Frozen Fish

Photo 76: Sawaki-san pulls out frozen fish for her cormorants. The fish are thawed and fed to the birds each day at 2:00 PM during the off-season.

It was interesting to compare the two styles of ukai. Fishing a wild river for ayu to sell is quite different from demonstrating this ancient fishery for tourists. However, the basic techniques are the same. The Gifu ukai is more dramatic on a wild river with more boats, fishers and birds. On the other hand, we were able to get closer to the ukai in Uji and could observe more of the event. We are grateful to Sugimoto-Ushou for speaking to us, and showing us his craft in the free-flowing Nagaragawa. We are indebted to Sawaki-san and Matsusaka-sensei for their hospitality, many interviews and fishing demonstrations. The expertise and dedication of these cormorant fishers will maintain the ukai tradition for at least one more generation.

Note: Torrential rains hit Uji August 14th, flooding the river and some of its streets. A man and woman are missing, as well as one of the ukai boats.

10 tips to be successful in college

Here we are, kicking off the start to another semester or year of college. Whether you’re a brand new student, or a returning student, here are 10 tips to being successful in your college career.

  1. Study! Whether it is in groups or by yourself, studying is not overrated and it really works. It is impossible to get good grades in college without really studying the material.
  2. Take the time to figure out which way you learn best. In my English 101 class, we did an essay on our learning styles. I found this very useful because it allowed me to explore the different ways everyone learns. I found out that I am an auditory learner, which means I learn best by hearing things. Because of this, I have really made an effort to listen in class and take notes in order to help me remember what I heard during class. Finding out your learning style will help you reach your full potential in all your classes.
  3. Don’t procrastinate. I know, I know, this one is hard. Coming from a fellow procrastinator, this is going to be the most difficult to overcome. However, it will be so worth it. In college, you get a lot of your assignments in advance. This is for a reason. Using the most time as possible to complete the assignment, will allow you to do your best and in turn, receive the best grade for it. Also, college has a lot of deadlines other than assignments. Scholarships, graduation, and enrollment all have deadlines. Not procrastinating will better your chances of avoiding the headache you receive when you miss one of these deadlines.
  4. Get to know the different types of teachers. Just like high school, college has those teachers that are easier, and the ones that are harder. Knowing what kind of teacher you are working with will allow you to know what kind of things you need to work on to get your two styles to mesh. For example, I have a teacher that is very harsh on grading grammar, but when I write, I pay more attention to content. Learning that she is more harsh on grammar, has forced me to pay more attention to that as well. I maximize my chances of success by learning about her teaching/grading styles.
  5. Turn off all competing distractions while studying. When I study, I like to have three different social networking sites, music, and my phone are all available to me. However, I have found that when I turn all of that off, I retain more knowledge. Go figure!
  6. Try to eat healthier. Eating healthy is not only good for your body, but for your brain too! It’s not a myth! Even if it’s just doing one thing like cutting out soda, or eating breakfast everyday, it will make a difference.
  7. Get enough sleep every night. Getting adequate sleep will allow you to fully use your brain and concentrate in class. Like eating healthier, the powers of sleep are not a myth.
  8. Exercise. I am a firm believer in exercise for many reasons. First, it allows for an outlet when you’re stressed. It is a quick, thirty-minute break, at the least, from whatever is on your brain. Everyone needs a break sometimes. It also helps you sleep better at night so you can accomplish number 7!
  9. Pay attention to your grades before the last week of class. Nothing annoys the teachers more than when you’re only willing to do extra credit during the last week of class because you just noticed you have a D. Most of the time that extra credit will not be available anymore. Keeping track of your grades before the last week will obviously avoid this problem.
  10. The most cliché-have fun! College is a great time in your life. Not only can you expand your knowledge skills, but your social ones as well. Take time to talk to the people in your classes. Classes are more fun when you look forward to going to them because you have made a few new friends. You can learn just as much from them as you can your teacher. It also helps to know people to create study groups.

Lidice’s History

First, I’d like to start off with an apology. I had written my last blog post in a journal that I carried with me and then typed it up and posted it while I was on my plane ride home. Unfortunately, the blog post never made it. I was unaware of that until very recently and so I will try to post it again now.

I was able to visit a town called Lidice that rests just outside of Prague. Before I tell you about what it was like, I must first tell you its story. The short version is that after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, Hitler was incensed and demanded retaliation. Due to a suspicious note that was found in the aftermath containing the name Lidice, the revenge would be taken out on that town. Soon afterwards German troops invaded the small town and rounded up all of the villagers. They were separated into two groups: men and boys over the age of 15 and women with all remaining children. All 173 men were lined up against a wall ten at a time and shot. The 19 men that had been gone at work the day the town had been invaded were gathered later and also shot. The women, who numbered 198, were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. There were 98 children and of those a handpicked number was selected for “Germanisation.” The majority and rest of the children were gassed. Moreover, the village of Lidice was utterly and completely destroyed. Even after being burned to the ground, it was bombed. Hitler’s goal had been to literally clear Lidice off of the map and annihilate it. This was one of Hitler’s acts of revenge and example to all others of what he was capable of; decimating an entire town.

Hitler’s plan backfired. After what was done to the village of Lidice and its people there was an outrage. Instead of the town’s existence being forgotten, it became more well known that anyone could have anticipated. People even began to name their daughters after the village. A film was made within the last year depicting a framework for this event. I was fortunate enough to have viewed the film and I can report that it is quite moving. I highly recommend it.
To read the fuller story of Lidice (which I strongly suggest) you can visit the History Learning Site.

A Teacher’s Homework

As an online instructor, there is plenty to do each semester to get ready for the semester. First, all the online courses need to be updated and copied over to a new course shell. This year has an added task of moving the content over from an old LMS to a new one. Many GCC faculty, as well as faculty from 8 other colleges in the district will be moving courses over to the new LMS, Canvas, in the fall. Others will use the next year to make the change with everyone having moved by the start of Fall 2013. This is a big step for many, including myself, as Canvas is very different from Blackboard.

So for several weeks now, I’ve been updating online content and moving it over to the new system. There’s a lot of tedious cutting and pasting involved, but I’m also using this time to update assignments and lessons. After each semester I ask students to give feedback on the course and to offer suggestions for improvement. Now is the time to incorporate some of those suggestions, so I’ll be using this time to do that. I’m checking links and videos to make sure they are all still active, and I’m incorporating more of the online textbook materials into the course. Good technology is always changing, so I need to make sure I’m using the best available and not just doing the same thing each semester without thought.
With new technology and change I also have to keep the end user in mind, and that would be my students. As part of my preparations for the start of the semester, I have to find and create support materials for them. Learning the course content can be challenging enough, so I want to make learning the technology needed to complete the class as easy to learn and use as possible. This involves creating screencasts to show students how to use the LMS or the textbook supplemental materials or even how to do an assignment.
To keep up with all there is to do, I create a To-Do list to help keep me on track. Here is a modified version of my To-Do list created in Gmail Tasks.
Keeping a To-Do list is a great way to keep up with all the things you need to do to get ready for school. And it’s such a great feeling once you’ve completed the list and you know that you are ready for the start of a great semester.