Ukai: Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara River
Ukai -cormorant fishing on the pristine Nagara river - is one of the most summer sights of Gifu City.
Cormorant fishing on the Nagara River is held every night during the season from May 11 through October 15, with the exception of the harvest moon period, when river water levels are swollen.
Ukai is a traditional night fishing method in which an usho (Cormorant Fishing Master) and u (cormorant birds) work together to fish by the flames of Kagari-bi (fishing fire lanterns) reflecting on the dark surface of the river, with Mt Kinka and lofty Gifu Castle on its summit providing a dramatic backdrop to the scene.
Cormorant fishing has about 1,300 years of history, and has traditionally been protected by both local and national authorities. It is said that the Sengoku ("Warring States Period") general ODA Nobunaga took the Ukai fishermen under his official patronage and created for them the official position and title of usho (Cormorant Fishing Master). The Shogun TOKUGAWA Ieyasu who established the national Edo Shogunate (1603-1868) government often enjoyed watching Ukai when visiting Gifu, and also gave his patronage and protection to the fishermen. He loved ayu-zushi (sushi with wild sweetfish) made in Gifu and ordered it to be brought to Edo city (modern day Tokyo).
Many notable intellectuals also loved Ukai. Haiku poet MATSUO Basho wrote a famous haiku when he visited Gifu and watched cormorant fishing: "Exciting to see / but soon after, comes sadness / the cormorant boats" (English translation: Wikipedia). The great actor Charles Chaplin visited twice to watch cormorant fishing and praised it highly.
There are six usho Cormorant Fishing Masters working the Nagara River, and their skills have been carried on by hereditary succession within their families. Their formal title is "Imperial Cormorant Fishing Master, Board of Ceremonies and Rituals, Imperial Household Agency". The Emperor also had a chance to watch Ukai. U'ayu are sent to the Imperial family several times a year.
The set of 122 pieces of Ukai equipment is designated as an important tangible folk cultural asset of Japan, and Nagara River Ukai is designated as an important intangible folk cultural asset of Gifu prefecture. The "ho-ho" calls that Cormorant Fishing Masters make to encourage the cormorants and the sound made by tapping the upper edge of the boat are counted among the 100 finest soundscape items in Japan.
A variety of events such as performances of Japanese drums and fireworks are held to celebrate the opening of the Cormorant Fishing Season on May 11 every year.
May 11 - October 15
Ukai is not held on the harvest moon day and/or when river water levels are too high.
Closed on the Harvest Moon day
|Ukai Starting Time||Around 7:30 p.m. (subject to change according to the season or event)|
|Departure time of the Ukai viewing boat||
|Parking||Gifu Park Parking Lot|
Boarding area to Ukai viewing boat
|Contact and Reservation||
- About Ukai ... Information about Ukai's history, equipment, etc.
- Gifu City Cormorant Fishing Viewing Boat Office Web Site (Japanese page) ...
Boat availability information and Ukai starting times are shown.
Reservations can also be made over the internet.
- Ukai Q&A ... Frequently-asked questions and answers
A typical Ukai watching schedule
- 1. Reception
- Please check in before the departure time of your boat at the reception counter at Cormorant Fishing Viewing Boat Office.
(If you made a reservation at a hotel, please check in at the hotel.)
- 2. Brief Orientation by a Cormorant Fishing Master (around 5:45 p.m.~ )
- at the Cormorant Fishing Viewing Boat boarding area.
This is a highly popular event.
- (Note) Orientations may not be held, depending on the schedule and event.
- 3. Boarding 5:30 p.m.~
- Please board the boat as named on your ticket.
- 4. Departure
- The boat cruises to the Ukai watching point, where you can also enjoy the scenery of the Nagara River and Mt. Kinka.
- 5. Anchorage by the side of the river and meal/refreshment time
- The boat is anchored at the side of the river. Please enjoy your meal until Ukai begins if you have reserved or brought refreshments.
If you eat a meal in the boat, please enjoy it while anchored.
- 6. Start of Ukai Around 7:45 p.m.
- Ukai begins with a firework starting signal.
- 7. "Karikudari" or "Tsukemise"
Depending on the river conditions, you will observe cormorant fishing in "Karikudari" or "Tsukemise" style.
The observation boat goes down the river along with the Ubune (cormorant boat).
You will observe the Ubune (cormorant boat) while the observation boat is anchored.
- 8. So-garami (Final chase)
- The climax of Ukai
Forming a line from one side to another side of the river, the six boats chase the ayu to the shallow end.
- 9. End of Ukai/getting off the boat Around 8:30 p.m.
- The time for getting off the boats may vary depending on the season and the number of boats.
* The time schedule above is subject to the weather, the number of the boats, and the type of event.