Every May the town of Nakatosa holds a Katsuo Festival at Furusato Beach. Katsuo is the Japanese name for the bonito fish that is used in Kochi’s famous dish ‘katsuo no tataki’ – sashimi that has been grilled on the outside and is eaten with ponzu sauce, salt, or raw garlic. Think you’d be interested in catching your own katsuo? My friends were, so we caught the train from Kochi City to join in the fishing fun.
On the express train, the journey was just under an hour and gave us ample opportunity to enjoy Kochi’s green hills and rocky coastline. Once we got off the train, we visited a few shops and stalls on our way to the heart of the festival. Typical festival foods like octopus balls (takoyaki) and fish-shaped cake (taiyaki) were available as well as sweets and some small souvenirs.
We passed a shrine and park before arriving at the collection of white tents near the beach where we promptly proceeded to enjoy fresh katsuo no tataki, curry rice, and ice cream. Then, my friends began preparing for the main event – the ipponzuri race.
Ipponzuri（一本釣り）means ‘fishing with a pole.’ Ippon is the Japanese counter for a long, slender object, and tsuri (zuri when preceded by another word) means fishing. Each ipponzuri team has three members who take turns racing across floating planks to a fishing boat where they then “catch” a katsuo with a fishing rod. Indulgent fishermen attach freshly caught (though certainly no longer swimming) katsuo to the end of the line. The contestants must then unhook their catch and hang the fish around their neck as they make their way back to the starting point and their teammates. For their hard work and participation, all contestants get to keep their katsuo.
I should probably mention that most teams wear costumes and that the winners are those who display the most style and spunk while catching their katsuo, not those who get there and back the fastest. This year Superman flew, a maid sprinted, and a trio of Waldos tried to splash their way to salty victory. Cosplaying and fishing? Even after more than a year in Japan, this was a new experience for me. What better way to spend an afternoon than by watching Spiderman try to run while wearing a large fish around his neck?
Fishing is an important part both of Kochi’s historical and contemporary local culture and industry. Nakatosa’s annual Katsuo Festival provides a wonderful opportunity to explore the Japanese countryside while enjoying delicious food and beautiful scenery.
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