Watch Ukai Cormorant Fishing or Meet an Ukai Master in Gifu

Overview

‘Ukai’ is an over-1300-year-old fishing method that uses trained birds called cormorants to catch ‘ayu’ (sweetfish) from rivers. 'U' (pronounced “ooh”) means “cormorant” in Japanese, while ‘kai’ means “to keep or raise an animal.” In ancient times, ukai enjoyed the patronage of the nobility, including warlords and the Imperial Family. Today, on summer nights, ukai is staged for sightseeing purposes — and as a way of preserving Japanese culture — at 13 rivers across Japan. It’s a dramatic spectacle that involves ‘usho’ (ukai masters) setting out on wooden boats with flaming lanterns hanging from them. These masters then deploy cormorants on leashes to dive for sweetfish. The methods for ukai have remained unchanged since ancient times, so ukai is truly a well-preserved Japanese tradition. There’s no better place to learn about ukai than Gifu! Here, ukai is held on the Nagara River from mid-May to mid-October (late spring to mid-autumn), longer than usual. Among those who have been captivated by Gifu’s ukai are the warlord Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the famed poet Matsuo Basho, and Charlie Chaplin. Gifu’s ukai is the only one that still receives the Imperial Household Agency’s patronage to this day. Sweetfish caught during ukai season are delivered to the Imperial Family, and the Nagara River is considered a ‘goryoba’ — official fishing grounds for the Imperial Family. Gifu is also home to the Nagaragawa Ukai Museum, where you can learn about ukai's history, methods, and more through photos and videos. You can also see actual tools and equipment that are used for ukai. Take this tour to familiarize yourself with ukai no matter what the season. This tour has two available plans: Plan 1: Ukai Walking Tour & Viewing This plan is available from May 11 to October 15. It lasts for about four hours and 20 minutes, and roughly follows this itinerary: 15:55 — Meet at Nagaragawa Ukai Museum 16:00 — Take a guided tour of Nagaragawa Ukai Museum 16:45 — Stroll around town for a guided walking tour 17:30 — Visit an usho’s home 18:00 — Head for the venue for ukai viewing. At the ticket counter, wait to board the sightseeing boat. Your guide will leave at this point. The onboard dinner does not include drinks, so you can buy drinks at a nearby convenience store while waiting 18:45 — Board the sightseeing boat; have dinner and watch ukai 20:15 — Tour ends at the ticket counter for ukai viewing Plan 2: Meet an 'Usho' (Ukai Master) on a Walking Tour This plan is available off-season (October 16–May 10). It lasts for about two hours and 35 minutes, and roughly follows this itinerary: 14:55 — Meet at Nagaragawa Ukai Museum 15:00 — Take a guided tour of Nagaragawa Ukai Museum 15:45 — Stroll around town for a guided walking tour 16:30 — Meet and chat with an usho. Learn about their livelihood, daily life, and the close relationship that they have cultivated with their cormorants. The secret to training a cormorant to catch plenty of sweetfish is to treat them well! 17:30 — Tour ends at Nagaragawa Ukai Museum

Highlights

  • The best place to familiarize yourself with ukai — Gifu's ukai is the only one that enjoys the Imperial Family's patronage
  • Visit the home of an 'usho' (ukai master) to get a glimpse into their daily life
  • During ukai season, watch ukai from a sightseeing boat as you enjoy a delicious dinner
  • Learn about ukai all year round: watch this dramatic spectacle from May to October or meet ukai masters off-season
  • The best place to familiarize yourself with ukai — Gifu's ukai is the only one that enjoys the Imperial Family's patronage
  • Visit the home of an 'usho' (ukai master) to get a glimpse into their daily life
  • During ukai season, watch ukai from a sightseeing boat as you enjoy a delicious dinner

Key Information

Important Information

• This tour may be canceled due to inclement weather or other conditions. In this case, we will contact you beforehand to refund or reschedule • COVID-19 measures are in place, including disinfection of equipment, mask-wearing requirements for staff and guests, and temperature checks - Participants must be aged 10 or older

Description

‘Ukai’ is an over-1300-year-old fishing method that uses trained birds called cormorants to catch ‘ayu’ (sweetfish) from rivers. 'U' (pronounced “ooh”) means “cormorant” in Japanese, while ‘kai’ means “to keep or raise an animal.”

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