I've been living in Gifu City for over 2 years now, and I've had the opportunity to see a lot of exciting things that this city has to offer. But something that never ceases to amaze me is a traditional fishing practice, which is called "ukai (鵜飼)" in Japanese.
In ukai, cormorants are used to catch small river fish. The cormorant handler, called an "usho," conducts the birds as he rides in his boat. The cormorants are held by a thin leash which prevents them from swallowing the fish that they catch. The usho brings each cormorant back to the boat in turn, and retrieves the fish that they have stored in their throats. It's a really interesting practice with about 1,300 years of history in the area. The fishing is conducted at night, and a suspended bonfire is used to attract the fish. Visitors can watch from the banks of the river, or they can ride in spectator boats that float down the river in tandem with the fishing boats. Nagara River ukai is done every night from May 11 to October 15, except on days of heavy rainfall and on the night of the Harvest Moon.
I have seen ukai several times, and each time it has been interesting and different. Last year, I took my sister to watch the fishing. We bought some snacks and drinks and sat down on the northern bank of the Nagara River to watch. When you're riding in the spectator boats you get to see the fishermen up-close, but you sometimes can't see what the other fishing boats are doing because they are all further up stream or down stream. However, from the riverbank, you can see what all the boats are doing and how each usho works a different area of the river.
But either way, ukai is really exciting and I definitely recommend it as one of the best things to do in Gifu Prefecture, or in Central Japan in general. Especially since Nagara River ukai is the only form of ukai in Japan that is officially recognized by the Imperial Household.
Take any Gifu Bus heading towards Nagara from JR Gifu Station (Bus Platform 11) or Meitetsu Gifu Station (Bus Platform 4). Alight at "Ukai-ya," approximately 15 minutes from the train stations.
To reserve a space on the viewing boats by phone:
[TEL] 058-262-0104 (in Japan)
Online reservations can be made here (Japanese).
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