Ukai is a traditional fishing method which uses trained cormorants to catch river fish such as sweetfish (ayu). This type of fishing has been around for over 1300 years, back to the Heian Period.
We were talking about it a lot last year, but due to heavy rain toward the end of the Summer, we couldn’t go for it. This year, we reserved seats on a boat and were able to see how this goies. Ukai, the traditional Cormorant Fishing can be enjoyed at Arashiyama on the Katsura river. The season runs from the mid-June to mid-September.
Ukai is practiced by master fisherman working from long wooden boats. Each fisherman leads four or five, to about a dozen cormorants on leashes who swim alongside the boat and dive under the water to catch fish by swallowing them whole. The fish are kept in a special pouch in the cormorant’s throat to be retrieved later and are prevented from being swallowed by a snare around the neck of the bird. Each boat has a large fire that hangs from its bow to provide light for the boatmen to steer and the birds to fish by.
In the heat of the Kyoto evening, while you ride a boat, the cool breeze of the river is pleasant, and the torchlight flickering over the boat and cormorant fisherman creates a magical atmosphere impossible to forget.