As an island nation, it is no surprise the Japanese took to fishing from early on. But the fishing industry has continued to grow beyond just a means of survival, incorporating leisure and tourism industries.
First and foremost, fish is grown in fish farms and caught in oceans as a means for food. Japan has been criticized by the international community for its “research” based whale hunting, or violent dolphin drives brought to light in the documentary “The Cove.” Fishing globally is endangering fish populations as the human demand for consumption increases annually. On a brighter note, the Japanese government and other nations are beginning to cooperate and develop fishing technologies that fish more efficiently. The future will tell if these promises and efforts become reality.
There are two “traditional” forms of fishing that can still be seen today, though as a tourist attraction. Ayu fishing was practiced by the samurai, and yours truly a few months ago! It involves fishing with a very long 15 feet (three meter) bamboo pole. Often you then have to catch your own bait of bugs or small crabs hiding in the ocean rocks. Then pierce them while they are alive so the bait moves– it’s not for the squeamish. Another form of fishing is cormorant fishing. Fishermen in row boats would tie one end of a string partially around the neck of cormorant birds. The birds would swim along the boat hunting their own meals. They could swallow small fish, but large fish become stuck in their tied throats, becoming meals for the fishermen.
Leisure fishing has also taken off in Japan. Fly fishing is popular in mountain streams, but what do the city dwellers do when they don’t want a long trip to the mountains? Welcome to urban fishing. These areas within city limits are pools filled with fish. You rent your fishing equipment and pull up a seat along the other dozens of fishermen along the edges of the pool. Catch and release and call it a day.
There are two favorite fishing activities I enjoy in Japan. First is the fishing game at matsuri, or festivals. You are given a piece of circular paper and must try to catch as many goldfish as you can before the paper breaks. But my all time favorite fishing activity is Doctor Fish. In this activity, you are the bait. You put your feet in a pool of water and hundreds of little fish come to eat the bacteria and dead skin cells off your feet. It tickles a bit, but afterwords your feet feel fresh. And you can be happy you gave the fish a tasty meal.