Discover the beauty of Cormorant Fishing in Uji, Japan

Last Updated on 30/09/2023 by secretmoona


When it comes to rich cultural heritage and unique traditions, Japan is a country that stands out. One of its most captivating traditions that has been around for centuries is cormorant fishing, which takes place in the picturesque city of Uji in the Kyoto Prefecture. This ancient fishing method not only offers a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s past but also showcases the enduring bond between humans and nature. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at cormorant fishing (鵜飼 – ukai) in Uji, exploring its techniques, history, and significance in modern-day Japan.

I visited Uji after exploring the temples in Kyoto and spending a day in Osaka. Uji is a charming city located between Kyoto and Nara, known for its excellent green tea. As we walked along the riverbank, we decided to grab a bite to eat before our cormorant fishing adventure. The area is packed with tea houses and restaurants serving tea-infused dishes. We opted for a soba restaurant and savoured a delicious green tea-flavoured soba dish.

What is Uji Known For?

Uji is renowned for its green tea production and is intersected by the Ujigawa River, which originates from Lake Biwa. This historical city boasts two UNESCO World Heritage sites – the Byodo-in Temple and the Uji Kamijinja sanctuary.

History of cormorant fishing

For over 1,300 years, Uji has been home to the ancient fishing practice known as “Ukai” or cormorant fishing. This tradition dates back to the Heian period (794-1185) when it was introduced as a means of providing fish for the imperial family and aristocrats. Throughout the centuries, cormorant fishing has become an important cultural event and a way of life for the local fishermen.

What is cormorant fishing?

In Japan, fishermen have found an ingenious way to catch fish using trained cormorants. These birds wear small wooden rings around their necks that prevent them from swallowing larger fish while still allowing smaller ones to pass through. The cormorants work in tandem with their human masters, who guide them using long bamboo poles. The relationship between the master and their cormorants is built on trust and mutual understanding, developed through years of training and companionship.

Fishermen navigate traditional flat boats, called “Ugoko-bune,” with lanterns hanging from the front to attract fish at night. The cormorants dive beneath the water to catch the fish drawn to the light. These birds are skilled at catching a variety of fish, including sweetfish (ayu), which is considered a delicacy in Japan. After catching the fish, the cormorants return to the boat, where the fishermen retrieve the fish from their beaks. This unique method of fishing not only preserves the fish but also strengthens the bond between humans and animals.

Cormorant fishing today

The practice of cormorant fishing in Japan has undergone a transformation from being a source of income to becoming a cultural tradition and a popular tourist attraction. The Uji Cormorant Fishing event held between May and October is a significant event that attracts numerous visitors from various parts of the world who desire to witness this historical practice.

In addition to being a popular tourist attraction, cormorant fishing in Uji also serves as a way to conserve the environment. Instead of using modern fishing methods like large nets and trawlers that can harm the ecosystem and decrease fish populations, fishermen use cormorants to catch fish, which helps to reduce the environmental impact.

The practice of cormorant fishing in Uji, Japan, goes beyond a mere fishing technique. It stands as a tribute to the everlasting bond between man and nature. Watching these skilled birds dive elegantly into the Uji River is an awe-inspiring spectacle that highlights the preservation of a cultural legacy that has stood the test of time. Cormorant fishing serves as a reminder to cherish our traditions and maintain a delicate balance with the environment that supports us, especially in a world that is constantly changing.

The experience is available from mid-June to late September, and tickets can be purchased at the venue for approximately 2000 yen. Unfortunately, reservations cannot be made, and purchases must be made in Japanese. Boarding usually begins around 18:30, and the boat ride lasts approximately one hour.

I thoroughly enjoyed this activity because it takes place at night, after sunset. The flickering of the torchlight over the fishing boat creates a beautiful, romantic, and unique experience. The boat is filled with people of all ages, including many locals, providing an excellent opportunity to practice your Japanese by conversing with your neighbour.

Practical Information

Address: Uji Tonoshima Area, Uji City

Dates: End of June to End of September (except during a full moon or in heavy rain.)Access: By train from Kyoto, 16 minutes of express train on the Nara JR Line, stop at Uji train station. 15 minutes walk. Free travel with the JR Pass:Fee: Cormorant Fishing Boat Trip booking here
Public Boat: 2,000 yen

Map Uji

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Cormorant fishing in Uji - Japan

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Hi there! I'm Mayi. Welcome to my blog SecretMoona! I hope to share with you the hidden secret of places I visit.

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