Wednesday, July 14, 2010

John The Fisherman

Continuing from where we left off yesterday (it's August 28, 1990 and I'm on a surprise road trip courtesy of my boss at the Ohtawara Board of Education), Hanazaki-san and I are touring the Basho-no Sato Museum in Kurobane Village (now a part of Ohtawara-shi as of 2005).

Looking at some armour, the samurai wore a metal face shield that had a permanent scowl on it complete with long grey whiskers added for ferocity. True or not, I was told that because so few Japanese could grow a decent beard (that doesn't seem right), the facial hair was added to make it seem like the wearer was a wild man. On the samurai helmets is a gold inlay - and it looks beautiful.
There are also arm and ankle protectors that appears to have bamboo on the outside with a metal mesh underneath. Hanazaki-san tells me the whole get-up could weigh between 30-40 kilograms. Man, no wonder the face masks had a scowl.
We examine some maps and scrolls showing how to travel from Kanemaru House (MY Kanemaru-san's family comes from a famous line of samurai!) here on the property down south to Edo (the old name for Tokyo). One map unfolded is about 30-feet long and when folded four inches thick.
We walk over to a meeting area where the samurai would eat, drink green tea (o-cha) and relax in front of a fireplace of sorts. I drew this (in 1990) to show you what it looks like (It says  'sand embers for fire' and 'table':
We then walked to an expansive garden with Hanazaki-san telling me I should build one like this in Toronto - I wish. We exit through a big red gate (after a total of 40 minutes).
Driving down the road towards a bridge over the Nake Gawa (Nake - pronounced nah-kay - River), Iso-san of the OBOE, who has actually been our chauffeur (but deigned not to accompany us in the museum), asks me in decent English (he must have been studying while I was touring!) if I have ever seen yana.
 I say 'no' because I have no idea what yana is - so we drive into a valley to see some up close. At first I think he means bamboo (take - pronounced tah-kay)... but then I realize he means a traditional Japanese fishing trap made from 8-metre-long bamboo poles - because that's what Hanazaki-san explains to me.
Anyhow, out in the river sits a yana fish trap. It's about 75-feet long made of bamboo that is tied together like a raft. One end of it is immersed into the fast flowing river. Water can and does flow through the cracks in the tied together yana, but they want that. With one end submerged, the other end is raised maybe six feet out of the water.
This is another drawing I made that day - obviously I'm not an artist, but hopefully you get the idea (from left it says: water/log/yana/bridge to edge):
Okay... if my drawing was not good enough, go here, but COME BACK.
The fish are forced onto the bamboo by the river, but with the water falling through the cracks, the fish are left ripe for the plucking.
The types of fish caught here are: Ayu (Japanese sweetfish) that have the same silvery sheen as a mackerel but are only five to six inches long; carp (koi) 12 to 18 inches long; and eel (unagi) in the nine to 10-inch range.
I walk along a flimsy wooden bridge to the yana - holding onto a rope on the side, I make my way down. I nearly wipe out in to the river six or seven times because I'm wearing dress shoes, but I make it down to pick up a flopping ayu. The water is suzushi (cool), but not samui (cold), and I don't mind getting a little wet.
As we leave the river, we walk to a restaurant 100 metres away where they cook ayu. They take them still alive and kicking from a bucket and dump them into a large square pan where they flip around some more. Three men each take six-inch long skewers and impale the fish through the gills and then through the body twice, sort of scrunching it up a little. Thank goodness the fish finally dies (I hope).
One of the men (Vlad the Impaler) tells me in perfect English (what the heck??!!) that the ayu have a very short life span of one year, with its name translating into the aforementioned sweetfish. I have four or five - it's extremely tasty and salty - and this is coming from a guy who doesn't care for fish all the much.
I'm not sure how much money these guys could possibly make in a day, but because they were able to practice their English with An-do-ryu sensei (he knew who I was??!!), there was no charge.
As I left, he yelled out to me: "Please enjoy your stay in our country!"
Anyhow... that's all for now... we'll continue with our trip through the outskirts of Ohtawara tomorrow.

Somewhere enjoying my stay, but wishing I had an ayu on a stick right now,
Andrew Joseph
PS - Today's title was caught by Primus... weird but their Sailing on the Seas of Cheese album is one of my all-time favourites! Have a listen to the title song - HERE.
PPS - crappy drawings aside, at the top is a photo of some bamboo growing near an Ohtawara playground situated (without fences) beside a graveyard.

PPPS - John is my first name.
PPPPS - Okay - Here's a photo I took of a yana on the Nake Gawa:

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