What is Ukai Fishing?
Photo Credit: Vanessa@flickr
“Ukai fishing” is a traditional fishing method by using some trained cormorant birds to catch particular kind of fish in the river that had been carried out since ancient times in Japan, and its history goes back to more than 1,300 years ago. For Ukai Fishing, the type of fish that the cormorant catches in the river is called “ayu (鮎)”, often called as “sweetfish”, which is well known and preferred by the Japanese people for its delicate taste.
Photo Credit: Kentaro Ohno@flickr
In order to catch ayu (sweetfish) in the river, Ukai Fishing is usually carried out at night so that the fish would gather around the fire torchlight on the boat which creates a magical scenery with reflections of the light on the river water. During the 16th century, one of the powerful and the famous feudal loads (Daimyo 大名), Oda Nobunaga, enjoyed this traditional fishing as a spectacle. Since then, it became well preserved by other Daimyo as well for hundreds of years as an important tradition.
Where can we see it?
Photo Credit: T.Kiya@flickr
There are a couple of places in Japan where you can enjoy watching the Ukai Fishing spectacles, but one that you must go and see is the “Nagara River Ukai Fishing” carried out at Nagara River in Gifu city (Gifu Prefecture in the center of Japan). The masters of Ukai Fishing at Nagara River are officially appointed by the Imperial House Agency of the Japanese Government in charge of all the matters regarding the cultural activities of the Imperial Family of Japan, and it is one of the very few Ukai Fishing spectacles preserved by the Japanese Government as an important traditional activity.
Photo Credit: Damien McMahon@flickr
In fact, there are only two Ukai Fishing sites out of the fourteen in Japan are appointed by the Japanese Government, and the “Nagara River Ukai Fishing” is one of the two. To go and watch the spectacle, you can take a local train from Nagoya station to Gifu station, which takes about 20 to 25 minutes. Then take a local bus or taxi from Gifu station to the site for about 10 to 20 minutes.
Nearby Interesting Sightseeing Spots
The “Nagaragawa River Ukai Fishing” spectacle is not the only activities that you can enjoy around the area. Because Ukai Fishing is carried out at night, you can come and visit some interesting sites during the daytime before boarding to the Ukai Fishing boat.
#1. The Gifu Castle & Mt. Kinka
The Gifu castle built on the top of small mountain (Mt. Kinka 金華山) would be one of the interesting sightseeing spots to visit which is only about 5 minutes walk from the Ukai Fishing boarding dock. The castle was first built in 1201 and had been used by powerful feudal loads up to the 17th century. After the modernization of Japan, the castle was once burnt down by a fire accident in 1943 and was reconstructed later, and is now used as a small history museum inside. The panoramic view of the Nagara River from the castle is a must see. Don’t worry, you can take a cable car to go up the mountain.
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Gifu Castle and Mt. Kinka
Address: 18 Kinkazan Tenshukaku, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture
Admission fee for Gifu Castle: 200 yen
Fare for the Cable Care: 1,080 yen (Adult & Round trip)
Castle Opening Hours:
Mar 16 – May 11 9:30 am.- 5:30 pm
May 12 – Oct 16 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
Oct 17 – Mar 15 9:30 am – 4:30 pm
Website:Mr. Kinka & Cable Car
#2. Traditional Street “Kawaramachi”
Photo Credit: mrhayata@flickr
There is a beautiful small old town called “Kawaramachi” alongside the Nagara River Ukai Fishing dock where you can find some traditional craft shops, traditional Japanese pastry shops, cafes, restaurants etc. and can enjoy strolling before boarding to the Ukai Fishing boat starts at night.
#3. Japanese Ryokan “Juhachiro”
Photo Credit: Booking.com
Juhachiro is the only ryokan in the area where the hotel guests can directly board to the Ukai Fishing boat from the hotel.
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Address: 10 Minato-machi, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture
Access: 20 minutes bus ride from Gifu Station
#4. Traditional Pastry shop “Tamaiya-Honpo”
Tamaiya-Honpo is a traditional style pastry shop very well known in the area for its taste and quality. One of their most famous pastry is called “Nobori Ayu (登り鮎)” that it has a unique Ukai Fishing fish, ayu, shape. It is a pastry made with sweet rice cake wrapped by the pastry made mainly from flour, sugar, and eggs. This is a simple pastry yet with very delicate taste that everyone will like. You can buy some other authentic Japanese pastries to bring back home or can also enjoy them at the cafe inside with some matcha etc.
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Address: 42 Minato-machi, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture
Hours: 8:00 am – 20:00 pm
*Closed on Wednesdays
Website: Tamaiya-Honpo (Japanese)
#5. Kawaramachi-ya Cafe
This cafe was created by restoring one of the old Japanese style wooden town houses built more than one hundred years ago in the Kawaramachi street. Wooden walls give warm and nostalgic atmosphere of the old Japanese times, but we can feel some modern comforts with the table and chairs. You can enjoy breakfast and lunch menu or some coffee with sweets to enjoy and relax your day.
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Address: 28 Tamai-cho, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture
Hours: 9:00 am – 6:30 pm
*Closed on the new year’s eve and the new year)
Website: Kawaramachiya Cafe (Japanese)
#6. Ayu restaurant “Izumiya”
If you wish to try ayu very well known among the Japanese people for its great taste, you should definitely try Izumiya restaurant specialized in ayu cuisine located in Kawaramachi street. You can enjoy different kind of delicious specialty ayu dishes at the restaurant, or can order an ayu bento box to bring to the Ukai Fishing boat. To order a bento box, you will need to make a reservation two days prior to your Ukai Fishing spectacular reservation date.
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Address: 20 Motohama-cho, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture
Hours (during Ukai Fishing seasons):
11:30 am – 2:00 pm, 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Hours (out of Ukai Fishing seasons):
5:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Tips & advices for Nagara River Ukai Fishing
To enjoy Nagara River Ukai Fishing spectacular, here are some small tips and advises. Nagara River Ukai Fishing spectacular is carried out from May 11th to October 15th every year (except the last week of Friday in July and the first week of Saturday in August when there is firework festivals as well as the full moon day in mid September). If the river water level becomes above normal due to some heavy rains, the spectacular will be cancelled.
Photo Credit:Damien McMahon@flickr
You can book the fishing boat to board with three different hours (at 18:45, 19:15, or 19:45). Though there are differences in the boarding time, all the price remains the same (3,400 yen for adults), and the actual spectacular starts and finishes all at the same time (start at 19:45 and finishes at 20:30). Those who board earlier can enjoy relaxing time with bento box, drinks etc. on the boat on the river. No food or drinks will be served on board, so you can bring anything you wish (e.g., sandwiches, bentos, snacks, alchohol, etc.). No credit card payments are accepted for the purchase of the ticket, it can only be paid by cash.
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Nagara River Ukai Fishing
Address:1-2 Minato-machi, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture
Bullet Train Nozomi Super Express from Tokyo to Nagoya
JR Tokaido Line (Rapid or Local) from Nagoya to Gifu
Local bus from Gifu to Nagara-bashi
Fare: 3,400 for adults
Period: May 11 to October 15 every year (with a few exceptions)
Website: Nagara River Ukai Fishing
Reservations: Nagara River Ukai Fishing Reservations (Japanese)