PHOTO: Season of 'ukai' cormorant fishing starts in southern Japan

May 21, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

ASAKURA, Fukuoka Prefecture--The reflection of 3,000 fireworks colored the surface of the Chikugogawa river in the Harazuru hot springs area of Haki district here on May 20, commemorating the opening of the "ukai" traditional cormorant fishing season and heralding the start of summer.

The great birds, maneuvered by skillful fishermen known as "usho," searched for fish attracted by a light installed at the nose of a fishing boat.

In the dark of the evening, the birds frequently ducked underwater to catch fish, such as sweetfish, with their long beaks. When they pulled their prey from the river, spectators on a nearby "yakatabune" houseboat broke into a cheer.

Ukai fishing in the river, which dates to the Edo Period (1603-1867), is a common sight in the summer. The cormorant fishing season simultaneously starts with the opening of the fishing season for sweetfish.

Last July, torrential rains hit the northern Kyushu region and prevented cormorant fishing for one and a half months.

"We hope everything goes smoothly this year," said an official of the Harazuruonsen Ryokan Kyodo kumiai (Cooperative association of inns in the Harazuru hot springs area), which comprises 16 inns.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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The "ukai" traditional cormorant fishing season opens on May 20 on the Chikugogawa river in Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture. (Takeshi Iwashita)

The "ukai" traditional cormorant fishing season opens on May 20 on the Chikugogawa river in Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture. (Takeshi Iwashita)

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  • The "ukai" traditional cormorant fishing season opens on May 20 on the Chikugogawa river in Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture. (Takeshi Iwashita)
  • Fish-gulping cormorants maneuvered by a fisherman duck underwater to catch sweetfish in the Chikugogawa river. (Takeshi Iwashita)

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