Sunday, 12 February 2017

Cormorant Fishing in Arashiyama

Cormorant Fishing Arashiyama

In Arashiyama I stepped into a dream. It began with the bus ride from Kyoto: waiting in the moonlight at a deserted stop, winding through empty streets, past tiny restaurants and bars big enough for only a few locals. The world of a Japanese anime lay outside my window.
Some half hour later I reached Arashiyama. A fat orange moon climbed into view as I crossed the Togersu-kyo, or Moon Bridge. Coloured lights lit the narrow streets, and lanterns hung amongst the trees down by the water. Small balls of fire floated across the bay: the cormorant fishing had begun.
Watching these boats I felt witness to a world of fairy-tales. Marco Polo witnessed the fishing in China, but I didn’t believe it still existed. I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor as my kindergarten teacher recounted her exotic tales of travel. She had spoken of seeing the fisherman and their cormorants, and at the age of five I wondered if I would ever be witness to such wonders. On a warm summer's night in Japan, I walked into this world I thought long gone.
A perfect place to dine

Japan is like that: an eclectic mixture of the past and present, all wrapped within the Japanese culture. It is a land of flashing neon lights and cormorant fishing; of blood ceilings and modern technology. A land where there is always something non-touristy to do.
To attract the fish, a burning brazier is hung from the front of the boat. The cormorants dive from the boat to catch the fish; a ring around their neck prevents them from swallowing larger fish, but as they return to the boat with their prize the fishermen reward them with smaller fish to eat. The birds are obviously well cared for, and after their swim they sit on the edge of the boat, drying their wings, a silhouette against the burning brazier.
Although the fisherman put on their display for the tourists barges in the bay, by walking along the edge of the water I could get quite close to where the fishermen pulled ashore. They were dressed in traditional garb, with the traditional dark kimono, a straw skirt to repel water, and a linen cloth wrapped around their heads to protect them from sparks.

Lanterns in the trees

Fishing is only in the summer months, and a balmy breeze floated around me as these little balls of fire floated across the water against the backdrop of dark mountains. The lights of hidden restaurants dotted the hillside, and the moon climbed ever higher into the sky.
One day I will return to Arashiyama , designated by the Japanese government as a Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty. It has been popular since the Heian period (794-1185), when the nobles would visit during the summer months (and yes, they too watched the cormorant fishing). I want explore the town by daylight; her temples and groves of bamboo, see the cherry trees in blossom and watch the hills don their autumn hues. For now, however, I was content to see an ancient world come to life, to live on in my memory.

Cormorant Fishing Arashiyama

(c) A. Harrison 

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