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Conversations: Japan with Adam Trahan and Adam Klags

On November 2, 2016 • Comments (0)


This blog entry is a transcription from the Tenkara Cast podcast episode “Conversations: Japan with Adam Trahan and Adam Klags.” We have had many requests to have the podcasts in this format and are happy to present the first one here. The podcast episode may be found here

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Tenkara Magazine: digital version now available

On April 14, 2015 • Comments (0)

It’s been overdue for sometime, we know. But, I’m happy to announce we finally built up the functionality on our website for you to download the digital version of the Tenkara Magazine. 
Tenkara magazine online version
You can order the 2014 and the 2015 versions online. The 2015 is available in two electronic formats, one is the original layout of the magazine, the other is a narrow layout optimized for reading on a phone or tablet. Either costs $4.00 (print version is $9.00). The 2014 magazine is only available in one electronic format, the original layout, and costs $2.50.

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My 1st Kotsuzake

On October 9, 2014 • Comments (1)

[Editor’s note: We, as a company, heavily promote Catch and Release practices. Yet, we believe on occasion keeping a fish, where they are very abundant can provide an experience that puts us in touch with nature in a different way. We do not encourage keeping fish that are native to the water, the story below is of catching brooke trout in California, where they are not native to and are also prolific breeders. Please practice Catch and Release as much as possible]

My 1st Kotsuzake….. been waiting 4.5 years for this. It ended up being a solo adventure and that was probably how it was meant to be.

In almost 5 years since becoming a tenkara fisherman, I had never taken the life of a trout for edible enjoyment. I happily released each trout go to be caught another day. But… my tick-tock clock been ticking for a while now and I knew soon, even after all these years, I would do the deed.

This morning I decided to explore new places to fish along with hopes of finding a nice mountain lake where I could take my wife for some Fall kayaking fun. I was a bit all over the place, driving around a lot, but with little fishing…. but I still did fish and caught a nice Brownie right off highway 49 in Northern California. I did eventually find a cool mountain lake to take my wife to this coming weekend. So my efforts were being rewarded…but I still needed to get some serious fishing in as most the day I had been putzing around in the FJ Cruiser.


Around 1:30PM I decided it was time to head to my secret Mountain Meadow, which I have written about before, in hopes to catch a few brookies. So off I went figuring I would be fishing again around 2:30PM and could get in at least 2+ hours of solid fishing. I went prepared with the normal goods…. Sato, Rhodo, 3.5 Orange Level Line, Salt & Pepper Sakasa Kebari, some snacks and drinks. When I arrived out came the Rhodo and I went to work. Continue reading

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30-second tenkara pronunciation guide

On August 23, 2013 • Comments (3)

We are often asked about the correct pronunciation of some tenkara words, so I asked Mr. Yuzo Sebata, Ms. Akiko Takamatsu, Mr. Mano and Mr. Yoshida to share the correct way of saying them. This 30-second guide to pronouncing common words used in tenkara was fun to put together. Learn how to say: tenkara, sakasa, kebari, amago, iwana, yamame and ito.
Tenkara: Japanese method of fly-fishing that uses only a tenkara rod, tenkara line and tenkara flies.
Sakasa: “reverse” and normally used in conjunction with the word kebari, which means artificial fly. Sakasa kebari is the reverse-hackle fly commonly used in tenkara.
Amago, Iwana, Yamame, and Ito are names of Japanese trout and char and also the names of the tenkara rods made by Tenkara USA.

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Weekend reading: Sebata-san Go deeper upstream with skill

On July 19, 2013 • Comments (14)

Last year I was honored to be featured in the Japanese magazine Fishing Cafe alongside some of the great names in tenkara in Japan. Among these names is Yuzo Sebata, who’s been featured in almost all Japanese magazines that discussed tenkara. I would see pictures of him wearing crampons while fishing from steep sloping cliffs, casting his simple fly into saphire-colored waters for Yamame, hoping to join him one day. Dr. Ishigaki told me he was in his 70s, and was frequently fishing some of the most inaccessible places in Japan.

I have not yet had the fortune of meeting him in person. Two years ago, when I spent a couple of months in Japan I was supposed to meet him. But Sebata-san, who is from the Fukushima region, was volunteering in the recovery efforts after the devastating tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster that affected his hometown. I admired him for that.

In about a month I’ll be returning to Japan once again. As with my yearly trips over the last 4 years, I intend to learn more from the long-time practitioners of the method (yes, I do still feel there is a lot to learn). I’m supposed to spend 4 days camping, climbing, rappeling and fishing with Sebata-san, who is now researching places where he can take me that won’t have many of the huge and venomous Japanese giant hornets common at that time of year. In the meantime, I figured I should do a little more research on him, so I asked my friend Akira to translate the article he wrote for Fishing Cafe. I learned that besides tenkara, Sebata-san is very interested in foraging for wild edibles. In fact, I heard that about 3 years ago he got lost in the mountains. He spent an entire week lost in the mountains but surviving with his skills at picking wild vegetables and catching fish. His family and friends were worried about him because of his age, but after a week he appeared in a town, with no idea where he was, and hitched a ride and go back home. Hope you enjoy the reading.

Go deeper and deeper upstream with ultimate skill

By Yuzo Sebata

My fly-fishing style is generally called “Nikko Tenkara”. Tenkara fishing around this area has a long history and it’s been passed from generation to generation for couple hundred years. The Gorocho fly is famous in Nikko, But the “fly” being used in Nikko tenkara is different from “Gorocho fly”. The meaning of “Gorocho” is “long beard caddisflies” (Latin name: Stenopsyche marmorata). The fly which imitates the “long beard caddisflies” is called the Gorocho fly. People who do tenkara around here keep chicken varieties as pets so that they can get feathers from them to make flies, but they are different from the Gorocho fly.

An Incident of “Delayed Timing”

I started tenkara fishing about 50 years ago. The reason I started is that my friend from Tochigi prefecture, Isamu Tanaka’s grandfather, Juntaro Tanaka was a master of tenkara fishing. When I stayed with my friend, Isamu-chan, his grandfather, Juntaro told me “If you catch 5 fish, you won’t be able to stop fishing, so why don’t you try it?” His explanation of fishing was very abstract. It was, “Just throw the fly in the river, play it in with good timing, and then you can catch a fish,” so I didn’t really understand what he meant at that time. But once I started mastering some of the techniques, what he was saying was exactly right.

The night I stayed at their house, he showed me how to make flies while we are chatting about random things. I was able to understand how to make them just by watching him do it. How fishing line is made around here is that they repeat the process of dipping kite string made out of cotton in persimmon juice, and then tan it. I used to use the same process to make it, but I was not totally satisfied. So through my own trial and error, I figured out nylon twine worked the best.

Some people were using horse tail hair, but it wasn’t easy to get even in my generation. I was looking for something similar to horse tail hair, and I found nylon. In fishing magazines in those days, they were showing how to connect horse tail hair to make a taper line. Since this taper line has heavy knots, there is a benefit of being able to throw the line in, but it didn’t look good. I myself wanted to make smoother fishing line, and when I finally succeeded, I had to shout “I did it!” My journey to making perfect fishing line was completed before mastering my fishing skills.

I tried fly fishing before making my own fishing line, but I was not able to fish as I hoped. I still clearly remember when I was able to catch my first fish. As soon as the fly touched the water, a Yamame fish about 30 cm long jumped out the water then disappeared. I was surprised by it and lifted my hand with the fishing rod, but the fly was strongly pulled under water. Before this, I would pull the rod as fast as I could, thinking “I can’t be faster than this”, but I was not able to catch any fish. But this time I was surprised, so I was not able to control my timing as quickly as I want to, but I was able to catch a fish anyway. Later on, I really thought though why I was able to catch that fish, and I started to understand why.

At that time, the line didn’t go so far and the fly landed on the water while the line was still slack and floated on the water. That Yamame appeared where the line was slack and floating on the water, and the Yamame bit it and tried to take it away. As a result, I was not able to quickly adjust the timing of pulling up, but rather it became a “slow adjustment”. That made me realize “Ah ha, I need to slow down by one breath. This is the secret of tenkara fishing”.

The power of life I got while fishing at the headwaters

The time I started to go the headwaters of streams was around the time I learned how to make flies. I have hiked a lot since I was young, and I had confidence in my physical strength. My motivation was that I would be able to catch lots of fish if I got to the headwaters where nobody else goes. I just wanted to catch a lot of fish and catch big ones; it was “fishing greed”. I looked at the map and decided to go over the mountains on my own two feet. Once I gained more confidence in doing this, I started going to the next valley and deeper into the forest. As soon as I heard someone say, “If you go deep into that forest, you will be able to find Iwana (Char).”, I immediately looked at maps to find out more about that place.

To tell you honestly, I went some places where I would have been dead if I was not careful enough. I have experienced slipping off of cliffs, and lost my sense of direction and was about to be completely lost several times. When we fall into those kind of emergency situations, whether we live or die depends on the “destiny of your own life,” NOT “fate”. Fate is something decided by God, but I think destiny of your own life can be controlled by your own effort. When I have narrow escapes, I believe “this is not my fate; my own life power must be much stronger”.

When I just learned tenkara fishing, I always wanted to go farther and farther, which expanded the area where I could go. Once I could expand the area I could go, my skills of going to the upper valleys and living in the mountains improved. I am able to set a camp fire in the rain and I can cook rice very well over it.

Different natural foods grow season by season. If I want to eat them with rice, I need to learn about those natural foods like wild vegetables and mushrooms. I don’t learn about them by reading a book but through real life experience. By seeing someone who is hunting wild vegetables, I learn, “Ah, I can get those kinds of wild vegetables around here!”. This is how I keep learning.

By going through hard situations, you will be able to strengthen your physical and mental states. This is like improving our driving skills. Veteran drivers avoid dangers by realizing potential dangers in advance. If the road is slippery, then the driver slows down. If the driver starts to feel sleepy, then the driver takes a break. That is how avoid potential dangers. I believe being able to act on that kind of common sense is the power of living.

If I fall off of a steep cliff, I would die, too. Being able to judge whether I can climb up the cliff with my own ability or not, that is very important. If I judge this is something I can do, I will keep moving forward with courage. If you aren’t sure or hesitate, you will fall off from the cliff.

Fish teach me how to fish.

Going to the headwaters of a stream in a deep forest. My surroundings getting dark after the sun sets. Feeling sleepy while watching the camp fire. Waking up early in the next day. Getting up before dawn and making a camp fire and seeing my surrounding slowly get brighter. I really like these feelings. Tenkara fishing is very simple, which makes me feel I am a part of the mountains. If you want to submerge yourself deep in nature, it is the best fishing style. But just through the act of fishing, we won’t be able to enjoy real thrill and joy of tenkara fishing. Fishing becomes much more fun by experiencing the joy of being able to be a part of nature and learning something new in nature. I have been fishing for a long time so that I will be to master that kind of style of fishing.

During the long journey of fishing, you will start to feel that fish are adorable. When I started fishing, I used to feel that I wanted to catch as many fish as I could. But by going upstream, I started to feel that I didn’t need to fish more than I needed. I reached the conclusion that I will just catch as many fish as I can eat, then release the rest of the fish. It made me feel I won’t be able to kill more fish than I need.

The most important thing about fishing is that you need to fish “where fish exist”. If a fish is there, you will be able to catch a fish. We can’t learn anything from fishing that doesn’t let you catch a fish. By being able to catch fish, we will be able to learn new methods of fishing. That is all. It’s all that simple. If we think more than we need to, it will make us even more confused. You will be able to learn fishing from fish. You will be able to learn how to live in nature from nature. There are lessons I learned through tenkara fishing.

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The Proverbial Last Cast (with tenkara)

On June 23, 2013 • Comments (5)

Vine video, you may have to click on the sound icon on the top left corner to get sound.
This is my first attempt at using the new social networking app called Vine. Vine has been likened to a video version of Twitter since it has a length constraint: 6 seconds. The first time I hear of Vine, soon after they launched this January, I couldn’t picture ways that a 6-second video could add value to anyone’s life. And maybe it can’t but now I can see the length constraint can be fun to play with. Here is my first attempt, which Margaret filmed as we hit different spots yesterday.

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Tenkara Tattoo 5: Chris Fahrenbruch

On June 13, 2013 • Comments (3)

Tattoos are permanent and, as it’s become obvious, so is the passion anglers feel for tenkara.

Tenkara tattoo, Tenkara USA logo

Today we learned of the 5th person to get a tenkara tattoo, Chris Fahrenbruch. Chris says, ” [It] just felt it was appropriate considering I fish Tenkara. And while not completely into the Japanese culture I do have a respect for it (I own a real Samurai sword and entire Samurai armor set) and lived in Okinawa for 2 years. Got it on the right arm beings I’m right handed and hold my Tenkara rod with the right hand. I feel like it will increase my Tenkara “Zen Level” up a few notches Besides that, Tenkara just fits with the way I have always viewed fly fishing. Sure it’s not always appropriate for some of the conditions I fish in, but overall it just feels right.”

Here’s a gallery of the other tattoos done so far:

Tenkara tattoo tenkara fly
Brian Howerton

Tenkara tattoo テンカラ

Kevin Brooks

Tenkara tattoo tenkara fly

Daniel Galhardo

Tenkara tattoo tenkara fly


















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In Search of Tenkara, story

On June 7, 2013 • Comments (5)

Slightly over a year ago I wrote about my experience spending 2 months in a village in Japan exclusively to learn more about tenkara. It was published in the Fly Fish Journal. While I wrote about most of my experiences in this blog, I also wanted to write something that could have longevity and encompass my experience as a whole. Today I booked my plane ticket to go back to Japan this August. As I thought about what adventures I’d be seeking I decided to revisit the article I wrote. And, I realized I never had a chance to share it with you. If you’re looking for some reading this weekend I hope you’ll consider reading my story. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it too.

PDF - In Search of Tenkara article by Daniel Galhardo

In Search of Tenkara

article by Daniel Galhardo

I was clinging to mossy rock with half my body under a waterfall. Fifty feet below, the torrent crashed into a small basin sending mist into the air, keeping my companions soaked. Mr. Futamura, watched apprehensively. Next to him, Kumazaki, about 20 years younger than Futamura-san and slightly older than me, preferred to stare at the pool in front of him for any signs of iwana, the wild char found in the mountains of Japan. A fishing rod, small box of flies, spool of line and a spool of tippet were stowed away in my backpack. No reel required.

Tenkara fly fishing in remote mountain stream in Japan

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Takenobu Music

On October 9, 2012 • Comments (9)

I love writing stories of serendipity, so it surprised me that I hadn’t shared this one with you yet.

Earlier this year I was very focused on writing an (still) upcoming book on tenkara. I established a ritual; every morning I’d wake up, make myself some coffee, and for the first couple of hours in the day I’d turn off my email and internet, and focus on writing. I found that I loved the peace and quiet of early morning, but I felt that I couldn’t fully wake up on the merits of coffee alone, so I started turning on the music. Since I do not have an extensive music library, I turned to the internet radio service Pandora.

One day in the middle of writing, a song caught my attention. It was an instrumental song, and it also had a very distinct feel to it. It was relatively fast, played mostly on a cello, it had a folksy/bluegrassy feel to it, but for some reason I thought I could hear Japanese influence within the song. I stopped writing and went to see what song it was. It was called ” Fishin’ “!!! And, the artist had a Japanese name, Takénobu. Wow!

Here’s the song:

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Cops Crash Tenkara Tea Ceremony

On August 5, 2012 • Comments (5)

written by Jason
John preparing the tea ceremony

John preparing the tea ceremony

Never in a million years would I guess that a peaceful streamside tea ceremony would draw the attention of local law enforcement, but the day before this year’s Tenkara Summit, several tenkara anglers (including yours truly) almost spent the night in the slammer.

It started out innocently enough.  John Vetterli of Tenkara Guides has studied the meticulous Japanese Tea Ceremony and thought it would be a good cultural bridge to host a tea ceremony for our Japanese tenkara guests while we were fishing the Little Big Cottonwood.

Traditional Japanese tea ceremony gear

Traditional Japanese tea ceremony gear

We all arrived at the stream, but the complicated ceremony takes time to set up.  There was a lot of gear to carry down and prepare so John did that while the rest of us went fishing.  The idea was to meet up later when the water was heated up and the tatami mats laid out (among other preparations).

In the meantime, John practiced one of his other hobbies while waiting for us to return:  Japanese swordplay.  Here’s a shocker:  a guy dressed in a black ninja outfit wielding a sword in the middle of the woods is considered “suspicious” by some people in Utah.

John practicing swordplay

I guess I can see how this might look suspicious

I was taking a quick break from filming the ceremony (video to come) when I was approached by four very serious looking police officers.  They told me they had a report of a guy with a “big sword” and and “urn”.  The conversation went something like this:

Police:  What’s going on here?

Me:  We are hosting an event with some Japanese fly fishermen and are having a traditional tea ceremony.

Police:  We got a report about someone with a sword.

Me:  It’s part of the ceremony.  It’s not a real sword.  (complete lie.  It was a real sword and wasn’t part of the ceremony).

Police:  Do you have an urn?  Someone reported seeing an urn.

Me:  An urn?  No. You’re welcome to go and check it out if you want.

Police:  No, that’s OK.  (after scanning the situation from a distance).

Dr. Ishigaki trades his tenkara rod for a Samurai sword

Dr. Ishigaki trades his tenkara rod for a Samurai sword

And with that, they left.  I can only think whoever reported the “urn” must have mistaken that for the pot the tea is heated in.  At any rate, the SLC cops were pretty cool about it even though it probably did look pretty suspicious.  It’s a good thing too.  Because I couldn’t really come up with a good answer to the requisite question, “what are you in for?”.

Here are a few more pics:

Tenkara Ikebana

Tenkara Ikebana


John serving tea

Daniel also participated


Serving tea

The ritual is beautiful but so complicated, you might just die of thirst before getting your tea


John getting in "the zone"

John getting in “the zone”

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The practical tenkara fly

On July 16, 2012 • Comments (11)

Written by Daniel

Ishimaru Shotaro, an 89 year old tenkara angler in Japan, offered to give me some of his tenkara flies. He opened the box and out came an unexpected tenkara fly pattern. Why unexpected? For most of my fly-fishing life I had come to somewhat expect the look of a fly to improve in proportion with the time an angler had been tying it. Mr. Shotaro has been tenkara fishing for over 77 years and is the longest practitioner of the method I have met. Yet, his flies were, for lack of a better term, the sloppiest I have ever seen.

Tenkara fly by tenkara master
This is a tenkara fly Mr. Shotaro gave me
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Gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish prints

On June 18, 2012 • Comments (1)

When John Gierach contacted us expressing his interest in tenkara, I had no idea his interest in Japanese culture would extend so far beyond the type of fishing we were introducing here. In 2010 I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days at his home, where I learned that in college he enjoyed Japanese literature, not long after became interested in bonsai, and then even tried making his own gyotaku.

Gyotaku of trout tenkara

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Tenkara Oregon

On May 21, 2012 • Comments (7)

Oregon has some truly overlooked, yet world-class tenkara waters! As I mentioned on my last post, I had been invited to come speak in Bend, Oregon and decided to stay for a week and enjoy my time here.

The day after my presentation I was joined by eight folks from the Central Oregon Fly Fishers club for a day on the Crooked River. Only one person already had experience with tenkara, and the group’s interest for the method was contagious. It made for a very enjoyable day on the water.

Tenkara oregon group

One of the best things about these gathering is how much I get to digest what I have learned of tenkara by explaining and perhaps defending it. A simple question, like “how would you approach this section?”, or “what technique would you use here?” turns into an opportunity to learn more about why I do what I do in some situations.

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Manzanar Fishing Club (Movie)

On April 20, 2012 • Comments (4)

Manzanar Japanese angler with golden trout

Quite sometime ago we talked about the beginnings of a fascinating film project, the Manzanar Fishing Club. This project documents the stories and history of Japanese and Japanese Americans who were imprisoned at the Manzanar internment camp (Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada) but would risk their lives to sneak out of the camp and pursue freedom in some moments of fishing.

We’re happy to share that the film has been completed and is opening soon in several theaters. I had the pleasure of watching a pre-opening showing a couple of months ago and it is a touching story that is very well told by the film-makers and those who tell us their personal stories.

Manzanar Fishing Camp film schedule

The angler pictured above was an angler from Japan who would disappear for days at a time to go fishing in the mountains nearby. In this particular stance he was gone for 2 weeks, leaving the camp with absolutely nothing on him, and for 2 weeks surviving off the harsh terrain of the Eastern Sierras. The fish he proudly displays are golden trout, which were only found miles and miles away from the camp.

We will never know whether he, or anyone else who suffered the injustice of being imprisoned, was aware of tenkara or not. It is actually irrelevant. If tenkara really means from heaven, then I’m certain they practiced their tenkara. Those who fished outside the camp found their tenkara, their moment of freedom and their gift from heaven, on the streams on the other side of the barbed wires.

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Kotsuzake, a “ceremonial” cup of sake

On September 11, 2011 • Comments (10)

Over two years ago my friend Masaki and I went fishing together to shot the first video for this website. It was then that I was exposed to my first glimpse of a rich tenkara culture, and a part of it that has become some kind of a ritual in my outings: kotsuzake, a drink which requires only sake and the lightly charred bones of an eaten fish.

Kotsuzake, to me, is underpinned with ceremonial and philosophical significance – though you should not picture a tea ceremony here. It is primitive and raw. The bones of the precious trout, after being separated from the meat, are placed over the coals of the fire and lightly roasted to bring out oils and flavor, after which they are immersed into the warm sake. The result is sake with subtle and tantalizing fish flavors, and a practice that is a personal routine if I must eat a trout that I catch.

The only way I ever prepare trout nowadays is with a simple coating of sea-salt over its skin, what is called “shioyaki” (or salt-grilled). The trout is skewered firmly, with a skewer never puncturing its flesh until the end. The absence of other seasonings, only salt enhancing its flavor, and the skillful use of a skewer preserving the integrity of its flesh are the best way to honor its meat.

Shioyaki trout, skewered trout over coals
Small trout from a fish-farm in Japan, lunch for 5.

Kotsu means “bone”, zake is just a modified version of “sake”. However, while the traditional drink, and even the drinks’s name imply the use of the bones only, another common way of drinking it is to use the entire fish, cooked, and submerged in sake. The correct name for that being “Iwanazake“, after the fish more commonly used for such a drink the Iwana. I have not yet tried this way of drinking it, thinking of it as a waste of trout.
In the mountain areas I spent time in, kotsuzake made this way (whole fish) is somewhat a staple. In a few local farmers’ markets I even found the neat prepackaged kotsuzake sets of the picture below. The package on the left side contained a piece of hollow bamboo that would serve as a cup along with a dried Iwana. The instructions illustrated heating the fish, putting it in the container, and finally pouring sake over it. The one of the right, I have no idea, I gave it to a friend as a gift. It looked like a cup with pieces of dried Iwana, not the entire fish. When shaken, it rattled. The package was neat, a good souvenir.

kotsuzake and tenkara

Preparing and drinking kotsuzake, is an act of homage to the principle of not wasting the resources that nature provides. I wish I had a better, cleaner picture of kotsuzake. The image below, in contrast with the sterile packages above, will automatically make you think “disgusting!” As I said, it is primitive, particularly when done stream-side. However, do not be taken back by it, it tastes much better than it looks. The ritual feels even better.

Kotsuzake and tenkara

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