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Tenkara, the ninja fly-fishing?

On December 11, 2011
Comments (3)

Tenkara ninja fly fishing

Now, I’m not crazy about associating tenkara with stereotypical images of Japan (e.g. samurai fishing, martial arts references, etc), but yesterday I ran across the image above on the web and just had to post it. The image was in an online magazine by Keith at the Jersey Bass Guides blog. It was not a reference to tenkara, but about using poles for “close range harbor fishing” techniques (page 185 of issue #2 of their mag).

Coincidentally, later in the day I was communicating with a fly-fishing author writing an article about tenkara. He was going to use the title “Samurai fly-fishing”, which of course I begged him not to use so the myth that samurai ever practiced tenkara would not continue to live on. Instead, I told him, sometimes we joke that tenkara is the ninja type of fishing (Again, this is a joke, there is absolutely no evidence it was ever practiced by ninjas); but whereas the samurai did practice ayu fishing, standing proudly in slower rivers with 30ft long rods, the tenkara anglers had to be stealthy in their approach to fishing, a bit more like ninjas :)

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3 Responses to Tenkara, the ninja fly-fishing?

  1. Keith White says:

    Hi. Just to add, we do use ayu techniques in the saltwater using 9mtr poles and soft lures instead of a real ayu decoy and, we also fish 4, 5 and 6mtr poles with flies in running saltwater so whilst not true テンカラ it is in the spirit of it.

  2. yaminomusuko says:

    Hi just my two cents, historically samurai and fishing have been closely related. there are records of samurai fishing for squid (ancient eging), ayu tomozuri, tenkara, tuna cane pole fishing etc.

    the reason for this is that the belief was that fishing and hunting were great tools to hone their fighting skills as well as for meditation.

    keith recently wrote a post about becoming a part of the environment when fishing and sensing a fish nearby. this is the same kind of thing these guys worked on.

    now i agree that these stereotypes of japan may not be the best thing but odd thing is in this case it fits the topic. lol

    • Thanks for the comment on the post.
      Indeed a couple of the “romantic” images of Japan, such as samurai, do fit in with fishing. We’re aware they practiced tomozuri, ayu fishing with flies, and even fishing for squid, but as far as we know there haven’t been records of them actually doing tenkara. The reasoning, as we have been told by our teachers in Japan, is that tenkara was a practice isolated to the higher mountains, whereas the samurai tended to be at valleys and lower elevation streams where ayu fishing was done but tenkara was not.
      Do you have any references to samurai doing tenkara? Would love to see if there are any.

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