Ukai Matsuri – Cormorant Fishing Festival in Gifu

  • GIFU
  • Gifu prefecture is famous for its ceramic ware. The popular sightseeing areas in Gifu are the Gifu castle and the Park area situated on Mount Kinka. But during the summer season, from May to the middle of October, there is a famous festival being held on Nagara river of Gifu: the cormorant fishing festival. It started some 1300 years back, now too, the traditional fishermen called the Usho conduct this famous festival on most summer nights except harvest Moon days. The cormorant fishing festival is conducted in some other regions of Japan as well.

    Ukai – The Cormorant Fishing

    These fishermen use Japanese cormorant birds to assist them in fishing. These birds are raised by the fishermen at their homes and are given special training for accompanying them at fishing. During the festival, a lot of visitors come to the Gifu city to enjoy the barbecue on the banks of the Nagaragawa set some fireworks on the riverbanks, and watch the fishing festival. The special foods and drinks sold here also attract many visitors to this area during this festive season. Many stalls are opened near the river banks and on some boats selling food, small fireworks and etc. When the evening comes, a special performance boat will be moving through the river with some traditional dances being performed by women in Kimonos. People watch the fishing from the bank of the river or from the special boats set for viewing at closer distances on the river. There is a ticket fee for the viewing boats.

    The fishing festival starts at night only, at around 8:35 pm. Until then, visitors enjoy their food and find their own means to entertain themselves. There are six special fishing boats made of wood. Each boat has a fisherman wearing dark dress and a straw skirt. He is the leader and stands at the front portion of the boat. There are also two assistants, one at the front and the other one at the back of the boat, who have long wooden poles to move the boat. A torch is hung in front of the boat and is lit up. The lights attract the fish. The cormorant birds are controlled by the ropes tied around their necks.
    There are around 12 cormorant birds for each boat. These birds are swimming in front of the boat and catch the fish. The rope prevents them from swallowing the fishes. Once a bird catches a fish, the fisherman will pull the bird inside the boat and remove the fish from its mouth. These fish are collected and grilled later. The first fish caught during the season are sent to the Imperial family.

    This summer festival attracts many tourists to Gifu city every year. A single whole day trip to the Gifu area during summer will be enough to enjoy the Park, the Castle and its surrounding areas, as well as this traditional night fishing festival.

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