Cormorant Fishing (Ukai)

People have used animals to assist with hunting food for hundreds and thousands of years. They can even be used to assist in fishing. Cormorant fishing is the use of specially trained birds to help fisherman catch fish. It’s particularly famous around the Nagaragawa River in Gifu prefecture, near Gifu City. I was incredibly fortunate enough to be in the area during the Cormorant Fishing season and hopped on a boat to see the fishing up close.


Cormorants are birds that hang out around the water and fish for their food. Through the traditions of cormorant fishing (ukai in Japanese), these birds have been trained to pluck fish out of the rivers and bring them to the eagerly awaiting fisherman on his boat. The tradition stretches back nearly 1300 years into the past and was practiced most commonly in the Gifu rivers. Nowadays, the cormorant fishing is mainly for show, not livelihood, and it can be seen in more areas around Japan, such as Uji City in Kyoto prefecture and Arashiyama in Kyoto City itself. It can be experienced only in select times during the summer.

Usho Cormorant Fishing Master - Two Second Street -
An Usho (Cormorant Fishing Master) explains the process of training the birds before your departure

Cormorant Fishing Tour

I made my reservation on the English site for the Gifu Cormorant Fishing Observation Boat Office (the link to reserve a ticket for purchase is at the bottom of the Information table. Here is a quick link to the actual reservation site). After you reserve, they will send you an email with a reservation number that you show the boat office when you arrive. After the number is verified, you are free to purchase your ticket (3400 yen, or about 31 USD).

Preshow Dancing - Two Second Street -
Traditional Dancing on a special boat

The boat ride is a bit of a party. Every departure time will see the same cormorant fishing display, which starts around 8:00 PM. While you wait, most patrons will bring their own dinners, usually a nice bento meal, and some alcoholic drinks to enjoy while waiting for the fishermen. I, unfortunately, did not come prepared, and came only with some edamame chips and water. The family next to me saw that I was traveling alone and was woefully unprepared, so they shared a cream puff and some juice with me. It turns out the daughter had studied abroad in America 30 years ago and lived just outside of Nagoya. They were interested in my university teaching, so we chatted for a half hour before the pre-show, a floating stage of traditional women dancers floated by. The daughter and her sister had been dancers on the same boat years ago as well! You meet all sorts of interesting people in the world!

Cormorant Fishing - Two Second Street -
Cormorant Fishing (Ukai) in action!

At 8:00 PM, the fishing boats come by and it is truly a sight to behold.

Would you all like to experience the cormorant fishing party boat experience? What do you think would be the perfect dish to eat for the experience? Let me know what you think in the comments!


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