This is a picture of the Japanese trout called “Amago”. Our friends John Pearson and Paul Gaskell of Discover Tenkara, just returned from their trip to Japan where they went to spend time with our teacher Dr. Ishigaki and other well-known tenkara anglers. They captured some beautiful images of the Japanese trout. We’ll share them with you here and I’m sure you’ll see them in their blog pretty soon too.
On a recent visit to Japan, I spent time with one of the longest-practicing tenkara anglers in the country, Mr. Yuzo Sebata. One of Mr. Sebata’s students had created a cartoon character after Mr. Sebata: Sebatake Kun (せば茸くん). Mr. Sebata is known throughout Japan for his wild forays in search of fish and mushrooms; he’s both an expert in tenkara fishing as well as identifying mushrooms. Sebatake is a play on words where “take” means mushrooms, “kun” is wizard. So, essentially the character is the Sebata, Wizard of Mushrooms. The Sebata name is already synonymous with tenkara.
Once we posted pictures of Mr. Sebata wearing his trademark dark blue, long-sleeve shirt featuring Sebatake Kun, we were inundated with requests by customers asking where they could get the shirt. So we asked Mr. Sebata and his student for permission to use the character for making some shirts. All they asked in exchange were a couple of the Tenkara USA ITO rods, with which Mr. Sebata had become a huge fan. The shirts are now here and available for sale for $24, a great stocking stuffer for sure.
If you haven’t seen this video of me with Mr. Sebata yet, check it out. It is one of my favorite videos:
We have put out a lot of videos since our inception in 2009. 88 to be exact. Here are 5 videos we think you must watch to learn tenkara, tenkara fly-tying, or just for your entertainment as the cold weather sets in:
1) How to cast with tenkara:
2) Tenkara Techniques:
3) Tenkara Pronunciation Guide:
4) Tenkara Knots:
4B) You may also want to watch this video on my “one knot”, used for tippet to level line and fly to tippet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eemGKr-GYrE
5) How to tie a tenkara fly:
6) Landing a larger fish on tenkara and long line:
7) Tenkara and Canyoneering
I decided to let the images speak for themselves in this video of an epic adventure this week. I think there are few places in the world that you can combine epic “shower climbing” as they call it here (or sawanobori) and fishing. Luckily Japan has an abundance of it. And, even more luckily Japan also has an abundance of onsen, or hot-springs, which can come in very handy when you’ve been swimming in 40 degree water all day.
P.S. I’m contemplating hosting a small group trip to Japan in 2014. This would be an opportunity to learn from some of my teachers as well as do a combo “shower climbing/tenkara” adventure trip. Let me know if that could be of interest. I’m still very much on the fence about doing it, as I’m used to traveling by myself, but this is something I’d love to share with those truly interested.
I’m now working on a new tenkara diaries video showing yesterday’s shower climbing and tenkara trip. It was epic, gnarly, cold, but tons of fun!!! Shower climbing and tenkara make for some real epic and memorable adventures. After talking to my friends here yesterday I’m starting to consider more seriously bringing a group to Japan next year to learn from some of my teachers and also do a shower climbing/ tenkara trip (let me know if this would be of interest to you). Here are some of the pictures.
The canyon you see cutting the mountains in the middle of the picture is what we ventured through yesterday
Jun Kumazaki, a local canyoneering guide contemplating the options for the first pool of the day. “Can’t go around it, can’t go over it, gotta go through the cold water” came to mind. Yes, the water was super cold.
Admiring the waterfall ahead, more tenkara above it
Tenkara: all you need is a rod, line, flies, carabiners, belay devices, ropes, ascenders, and an adventurous spirit.
This is a quick video of my time with Mr. Yuzo Sebata, a well-known tenkara anglers in Japan. I have a lot more footage that I captured in that trip, but figured I should share a quick video with you. More to come soon.
Mr. Sebata showed how he ties tenkara flies, a bit of tenkara casting and much more. Also, happy to report he really liked the Ito rod and asked for one to possibly replace his 20-year old tenkara rod, that was quite cool too.
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.
It is 2am here in Japan right now. Got back not long ago from 3 days of backpacking and tenkara fishing. Dead tired, leaving early tomorrow morning to meet Dr. Ishigaki in Nagoya and then heading to the mountains again. I should be sleeping but couldn’t wait to share a few photos that caught my eye when I was putting them on a hard drive. Tremendous time, some excellent video footage and more photography to come, including interviews with Mr. Sebata, video on tying the Sebata tenkara fly (really unique, you don’t want to miss this one when it comes out), interview with Mr. Yoshida and more.
I’m leaving to Japan tomorrow morning. And, you may rightfully ask, “who cares that you’re going to Japan, Daniel, yet again, to ‘learn tenkara’? Tenkara is just about fishing with a pole, line and whatever at the end.”
About 5 years ago I visited Japan for my first time and learned about tenkara. I bought a tenkara rod, brought it back and soon decided to share it with people outside of Japan. Thus I became the first person to introduce tenkara to the USA and beyond with the creation of Tenkara USA. But I quickly realized it is not just a rod that I brought back, but the entire tenkara story and philosophy and something that could actually add value to how people approach the water and how people connect with nature.
I believe it has been fundamental to maintain the connection of tenkara to Japan and share the tenkara story with anglers here. I feel that I didn’t create just another rod company; I wanted to introduce a simpler method of fly-fishing that inspired people to fly-fish, simply and naturally.
But, why go to Japan to learn about tenkara? Why should anyone care about how they practice tenkara in Japan? Why does it matter? Good questions.
Why spend all that money and tremendous amount of energy and time to go to Japan and spend time fishing? This is the best time of the year to sit back here and fish. I could spend the next few weeks with my wife and our dog, fishing my brains out at the perfectly good streams within 10 minutes from home. As new competitors come in selling or planning to sell their tenkara rods, with no understanding of the method and probably doing okay sales-wise, I could just stay back and work on other things…more marketing, more sales, more outings, shinier rods.
Of course, visiting Japan gives me a valuable opportunity to share the latest rod designs I’m working on with my teachers, and get their instant feedback on the rods. We have worked on numerous tweaks on each of our rods as a direct result from these trips together.
But, in addition, I believe there is something to tenkara that can’t be learned or shared otherwise. I believe the long-time practitioners of tenkara have a lot to teach us, especially on how to keep fly-fishing simple. And, I believe that connection to Japan, which allowed me to bring the method of fishing that you all enjoy to the US, is important. I believe tenkara, as it is practiced in Japan, can show us to keep fly-fishing simple and how to maintain its effectiveness without relying so much on equipment. While it is not necessary to go to Japan to go tenkara fishing or to learn how to cast a fly and catch a fish, there are some principles of tenkara that can be brought over to us and that can add value to how we approach the water and nature. That’s what I like sharing.
In the next few weeks, as I travel throughout Japan, I’ll be sharing with you the tenkara story. Why? Because the principles of tenkara can set the foundations to keeping fly-fishing simple yet effective; and because the way tenkara is practiced in its country of origin holds the key to a very liberating method of fly-fishing.
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.
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.