Uji,Kyoto:Bastion of Cormorant Fishing

The city of Uji in Kyoto prefecture is situated between the of Japan`s old capitals, Kyoto and Nara. As a result, there is an abudance of historic sites such as shrines and temples like the Phoneix hall of the Byōdō-in temple featured on the 10 yen coin.

Phoenix Hall

The last chapters of the world`s first novel, the Tale of Genji written in the 11th century are set in Uji. The novel was written by a noblewoman and is about the love life of the son of the emperor, Genji. There is a very stylish museum in Uji dedicated to the novel with recreations of notable scenes.

  • statue of man and woman near a bridge

Uji is renowned for its green tea and produces the highest quality of green tea in Japan. Uji was also where the method for making sencha or middle-grade green tea was developed which today accounts for over 80% of tea production in Japan.

Green Tea plantation

So Uji is a great place for history lovers, literati, and tea drinkers but what about animal lovers?

Well, Uji is one of only 13 places in Japan, where cormorant fishing or Ukai is still done. The cormorant is a coastal bird that is trained to catch fish which are then retrieved by the fisherman. A snare or ring is placed around the bird’s necks to prevent them from swallowing big fish but loose enough to allow it to consume small ones.

Commorant enclosure
Commorant enclosure that I came across when I was in Uji

In the past, it was widely done as a method of fishing but nowadays it is primarily done for tourism. While at first, the practice may seem cruel, the snare or ring around their neck is not tight so it does not hurt them and they are treated like my family by the fisherman. Fisherman will often pet them to both show them affection and to check their health.There is a strong bond between the fisherman and their cormorants that enables them to be successful in their pursuit of fish. It takes one year for a cormorant to become used to humans and to be trained how to fish. While they are not able to eat the big fish, they are ensured a constant supply of fish to eat even on days when they didn’t catch any fish. Trained cormorants lived a lot longer than their wild counterparts,some have to lived to 30 years old compared to just 7-8 years for those in the wild.

Woodblock print of Commorant fishing

You can see Ukai from July 1st to Sept 30th in Uji where Commorants fish for a river fish called sweet fish or Ayu under the light of a fire. The fire is used to attract the fish. There are boat tours available to witness this ancient practice. Tourists from a separate boat watch the fishermen and commorant fish from a close vantage point.

Commorant fishing in Uji
From Uji City Association website

Here is Uji City Tourist association page on Commorant fishing for more information.

Access

Uji station is a 30 minute train ride from Kyoto station(¥240). The area where the commorant are kept and where commorant fishing occurs is about a ten minute walk along the river.

Commarant Fishing Boat tours

Hours: (July 1st to August 31st) boarding time is at 6:30pm and the boat leaves at 7pm. (September 1st to 30th) boarding time is at 6:00 pm and the boat leaves at 6:30 pm. The boat tours lasts about one hour.

Admission: ¥2000 for adults and ¥1000 for elementary students.

9 thoughts on “Uji,Kyoto: Bastion of Cormorant Fishing

  1. I never finished reading “The Tale of Genji”. I got fed up with it about half way. What I didn’t realise from reading (or not finishing) the book was that the emperor gave “extraneous” sons surnames to exclude them from succession rights.
    As for cormorant fishing, yes, sea cormorants are used as opposed to river cormorants.

      1. Some people say that The Tale of Genji is the world’s oldest novel. Some remind us that it is one of the longest.
        What I am sure of is that Shikubu had access to the world’s first photocopier, copied several chapters and just changed a few of the names. What I remember from trying to read it was it was tediously repetitive.

      2. Haha being the oldest(maybe) certainly doesn’t mean its a good read. The parts about the customs of the aristocrats are interesting though.

      1. Sorry, not the photo, the Woodblock Print of Comorant fishing. I’d love to buy a copy of this print but I’ve searched the above website but cant find a reference to it.

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