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Goin’ Fishin’ Japanese Style

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.

Happy fishing!

What’s a Tanuki? Oh, a Japanese Raccoon Dog

When my Japanese friends ask me to translate the word tanuki I am always a   little unsure of how to answer. The most popular translation I have seen is “raccoon dog” but I have also heard “raccoon,” “badger,” and “mischievous demon.”  The tanuki is a real life animal rarely found outside of Japan. It’s cuddly, it’s cute, and it is well referenced in Japanese literature, proverbs, mythology, and art—particularly statuary. The tanuki is most famous for several distinct characteristics and the fact that it loves to play tricks on people.

According to Wikipedia, the tanuki has 8 traits it can be identified by:

*a hat to be ready to protect against trouble or bad weather;
*big eyes to perceive the environment and help make good decisions;
*a sake bottle that represents virtue;
*a big tail that provides steadiness and strength until success is achieved;
*over-sized testicles that symbolize financial luck;
*a promissory note that represents trust or confidence;
*a big belly that symbolizes bold and calm decisiveness; and
*a friendly smile

Most laughable to foreigners are the tanuki’s in-your-face…um…pokéballs. You’ll see the smiling tanuki in storefronts, sold in gift shops, and I even found one in a men’s restroom with everything hanging out. We had a bit of a staring contest. He really made me feel stupid then uncomfortable, but alas that is what the tanuki specializes in.

A tanuki in Japanese folklore can shape-shift. It is said a kitsune or fox has seven forms, but a tanuki has eight. While the fox uses its powers to tempt people (sexy jutsu anyone?) a tanuki changes its shape to deceive. I recall reading an old Japanese tale where a tanuki becomes a teapot, but he is discovered when someone puts the pot on a fire to prepare some tea. Tanuki are not the smartest of creatures.

I’ll leave you with a proverb about tanuki:

捕らぬ狸の皮算用

Reading: Toranu tanuki no kawa zan’you
Japanese Meaning: Counting the skins of badgers you have not yet caught

English Equivalent: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch”

What Really Happens in a Love Hotel?

The mountainous terrain of Japan crams people into a few major concentrated cities whereby sidewalks can be just as crowded as local streets. Everywhere you go it seems there is nowhere to relax–a real problem if you want some alone time with a spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend. One of Japan’s solutions is the love hotel. When Westerners hear the word “love hotel” images of cheap, sleazy, and dirty motels come to mind. Yet Japan has made the love hotel experience a clean, fun, and relaxing world of privacy.

Sometimes love hotels are hidden and other times they are right out in       the open. During the 80’s and 90’s it was normal for love hotel   architecture to take on fantastical form. Castles or loud designs to attract attention were widespread and can still be found in parts of Japan. More common is a plain-looking establishment slightly off the main streets of highways. Many love hotels look just like ordinary buildings from the outside. There is no sign that says “Love Hotel Here,” but there is one way to tell if the place you will lodge is a regular establishment or one of a more intimate nature. A sign outside the front entrance will have two prices: one for overnight, and one option for a few hours “rest.”

Today’s love hotels stress the importance of privacy. Busy city love hotels have an entrance with only a control panel to greet you. You choose a room from what is lit on the control panel (darkened rooms mean they are occupied). Select the room, pay for it there at the panel and follow lit up arrows on the wall or floor to you room. Other hotels have their own systems. Some have interaction with a human, but there is no visual contact. A small counter is where money is exchanged and voice communication is over intercom. This prevents any embarrassment. In the countryside where a car is essential, love hotels are a bit different. Parking lots open up to over a dozen small buildings with attached garages. Pull into a garage and pull and lock the curtain to show others that the attached room is occupied, but more importantly to prevent anyone from catching a glimpse of your car or license plate. Pay at an ATM in the hallway and the door to your room unlocks.

It is hard to say what happens exactly in a love hotel. Since they are private and the rooms are much larger than regular hotel rooms, the options are endless. Sometimes people hold parties in them. Also there is often karaoke systems in the room included in the room charge, so in reality a karaoke outing in the room and bringing your own alcohol can end up cheaper than going out to karaoke, plus you can sleep in the room. Since pets are not allowed inside most hotels, my friend stays at love hotels because she can sneak her dog in. After entering the room though, there are obvious hints that this is a place of romance. Often a Jacuzzi style bath or large shower, an emperor’s sized bed, and sexy toys or costume catalogues are there to use at your leisure or a small fee.

Love hotels are uniquely Japanese. What you decide to do inside them is your choice.