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Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Tenkara is a new type of fishing to the US, and information (particularly in English) is sparse. This is the place to build a knowledge base of Tenkara.

Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Postby jayfisher » Fri Jun 10, 2011 7:29 pm

Daniel,

I have several questions about tenkara culture, history, and regional differences that I’ve been wondering about. These questions meant to be food for thought that might help us more deeply understand the background from which tenkara developed.

So these questions are not meant to be answered right now. Perhaps it’s better to have questions percolate and maybe enrich a journey. Maybe some of your thoughts might emerge in your blog and other writings.

Anyway, here are five questions:

1. Are there regional differences in styles of tenkara?
Yoshikazu Fujioka’s site lists regional differences in flies. Japan seems to have regional differences and styles in just about everything, including regional dialects and food (like the hoba sushi you mentioned in your blog). So why not regional differences in tenkara styles?

2. Are there any informal or formal tenkara “lineages” or “schools” of tenkara, in other words, sort of different “tenkara ryu”?

3. Do most old timers “teach with an open hand” or are there still some secrets?
You said something about this question when you wrote about Katsutoshi Amano. In older times generally many techniques were kept secret – from martial arts methods, to Hawaiian slack key guitar techniques, to craft secrets passed down through lineages.

4. How do the tenkara masters feel about the transmission of tenkara to the West that’s taking place right now?

5. Are there any old tenkara stories or legends? You’re traveling through an ancient land where many stories abound.
(However, if the stories turn out to be scary, then never mind. :o )

I’m greatly enjoying following your blog. Thanks for doing it!

-Jack :)

Added question:
An old question. How did Sakakibara-san get the nickname tenkara no oni?
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Re: Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Postby Daniel @ Tenkara USA » Sat Jun 11, 2011 4:45 pm

Excellent questions Jay.
I'm leaving in a few minutes to visit another remote area for the next two days. I'll write when I return, but wanted to ask anyone withe more questions like this to post here. I'll answer what I can and will ask around what I do not know, this should provide an excellent way to have things written.
Thanks.

Daniel
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Re: Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Postby tnitz » Mon Jun 13, 2011 9:21 am

OK, then.

On Tamo...
1) Significance of that particular tree to angling.
2) Significance of red and/or black lacquer applied to frame. And are there specific areas customary for particular colors to be applied.

On fishing cooperatives...
1) How is stream management (restoration, cleaning) done, paid staff or volunteer get-togethers, what
2) How does stream access work, do the coops own the land in a corridor, are their stream access rights, or are they state owned?

On exploration...
Is anyone taking tenkara outside its traditional roots and applying it to other fish normally taken via other means?
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Re: Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Postby dwalker » Mon Jun 13, 2011 10:03 am

OK, I'll chime in with my 2 cent question. That is more a cultural question than a tenkara question.

Often when I watch tenkara fishing videos from Japan or maybe a video of folks hiking a trail on youtube - I hear the tinkle of a small bell as the people in the video walk or fish. I found a commercial site selling camping gear and fishing gear and it had listed a small bell that the advert said ' attaches with a small carabiner and makes a pleasing sound.'

Just as deer horn on the handle of a Tamo has a cultural meaning, good luck if I remember correctly. I've been wondering what the wearing of a small bell means in the culture. Just a Q of curiosity.
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Re: Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Postby jayfisher » Tue Jun 14, 2011 12:53 am

Daniel,

I'll add another question. I just enjoyed reading your beautiful blog description of "Today's view from my room." It looks like you're getting to know the people and culture, making relationships, and having experiences that most visitors to Japan never get. Most visitors go on business or on tours, but never have the experiences you're having. Do you have insights into why this is so in your case?

Natural friendliness, being outgoing, staying for two months, and an interest in local culture help a lot. But also because of your interest in tenkara, you've gone out into the villages and countryside, stood in rivers, hiked with locals, gotten wet and muddy and shared meals together. I suspect it's also because you're experiencing the "micro Japan" - having many unique individual exeperiences on a personal level rather than having the tour book generalization of a culture. Anyway, I'd be interested in your thoughts about why you're having so many unique experiences that the average visitor does not.

-Jack
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Re: Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Postby Wupperfischer » Tue Jun 14, 2011 1:10 am

One short question from me. Is anybody in Japan still fishing with horsehairlines? If yes, in which way they furl the line and what type of taper they use.
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Re: Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Postby Daniel @ Tenkara USA » Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:12 am

Hey everyone,
Thank you so much for posting the questions, and keep them coming if you think of anything. I really enjoy questions as it makes me think about things and research them if needed. I'll try tackling the questions so far in order:

1. Are there regional differences in styles of tenkara?
Yoshikazu Fujioka’s site lists regional differences in flies. Japan seems to have regional differences and styles in just about everything, including regional dialects and food (like the hoba sushi you mentioned in your blog). So why not regional differences in tenkara styles?
- YES. There are many differences in styles, flies and even rigging - these vary from person to person and river to river. It has been said that "tenkara" is "ten colors" because eventually everyone develops their own personal preferences.
Similarly to how western patterns came about, mostly based on personal preferences or on the belief that one fly worked better than another. There is a person in the area who's putting together a sort of fishing museum, Nagao-san is his name, and I'm helping him. He talked about how not only there are differences in flies but also in styles from one river to another. Sometimes even rivers near each other. I confirmed this with Fujioka-san, who had a few sketches in his notebook about rigging differences. Generally, the river one fishes greatly influences style, rigging and patterns. In some areas with slower flowing rivers or lots of large/deeper pools, some tenkara anglers used muti-fly rigs. This was not common, apparently, but existed. Also, the sakasa style flies tend to predominate in areas with faster flowing streams. Also, different anglers come up with preferences regarding all options available to them. So, for example, Amano-sensei tends to always fish his sakasa flies with motion (normally a 4-count up and down action). I fished with Eiji Yamakawa, and he doesn't believe much in giving his fly action. Dr. Ishigaki learned tenkara from a lot of the masters of the day about 30 years ago, his style was influenced by all, thus he will use many different techniques (no action, up and down, stop/drift, stop/pickup); he believes in changing techniques depending on occasion, but because he fished with so many people that stuck with one fly pattern, he settled on using the simplest fly he could and also only one fly. It's very interesting and this will form a big part of future content. It's also happening in the US.

2. Are there any informal or formal tenkara “lineages” or “schools” of tenkara, in other words, sort of different “tenkara ryu”?
- YES, informal I'd say. It's very interesting to notice how people really follow a teacher. I think that's a cultural thing. I have met many people that have learned with Dr. Ishigaki, and they stick with similar techniques/flies/etc, and proudly say that Dr. Ishigaki is their teacher (some may have not ever met him, but they learned from his books). Eiji Yamakawa learned mostly from Fuji-san and shares the style with his friends who also learned from him. Many people in the area I'm staying learned from Amano-san, and they will quickly point out who they learned tenkara from as a way to say what their style is. The conversation is quickly turns to about what type of line one uses, and then what type of fly (though most people I have spoken to agree the fly does not matter that much) and what if action/no action is typically used.

3. Do most old timers “teach with an open hand” or are there still some secrets?
You said something about this question when you wrote about Katsutoshi Amano. In older times generally many techniques were kept secret – from martial arts methods, to Hawaiian slack key guitar techniques, to craft secrets passed down through lineages.
- It seems like today most people are more open to teaching others. Everyone I have met has been very open and more than willing to share what they have learned. I think it's possible things have changed based on the needs/beliefs. In early days another person with good technique may have been a threat to your livelihood. Today it's more about sport and passion than livelihood. I have asked around for true old timers, those people who we may never hear about. I have met a couple who no longer fish, but they are very happy to talk about fishing. Next week I should meet a person who is about 90 years old and was doing tenkara for about 65 years until 3 years ago when he had to stop. He's the oldest-timer I have heard of, but he shared much with others too.

4. How do the tenkara masters feel about the transmission of tenkara to the West that’s taking place right now?
- I think they are very happy and very proud. Tenkara is a very small sport here. I think part of the reason I have met and developed very good relationships with many of them is because of what I am doing. They are happy that the sport they have practiced for so long is getting some notoriety. They are proud of it and proud to share what they know.

5. Are there any old tenkara stories or legends? You’re traveling through an ancient land where many stories abound.
(However, if the stories turn out to be scary, then never mind. )
- These are a bit harder to come by. I have heard stories, but nothing of notoriety. Usually people share what they know. I have a full schedule fishing with many old timers in the next 2 weeks, so I'll try to get some leads or stories from them. I'd suppose there should be some, given that tales seem to be a part of Japanese culture.

6- How did Sakakibara-san get the nickname tenkara no oni?
I'll have to ask him.

7- On Tamo...
A) Significance of that particular tree to angling.
- The kaya tree is a favorite among craftsman. It's a rare tree, but with excellent durability. I met with a craftsman (not a tamo maker, but a well-known craftsman in the ara), and he says the kaya is one of the best woods for almost any project, and that tamos made with other woods don't last as long. It think that's partly because it's a VERY slow-growing tree (I found one branch a less than 1" in diameter, but counted about 45 rings on it. I think the use of the kaya is very interesting because they don't present as many of the proper branches as other woods in the area, like the momi. Currently many nets sold in Japan are made of momi (referred to as the christmas tree). I found several branches of momi so far that are very adequate for making a tamo. But, on the kaya forest I recently visited I had a hard time spotting branches. (by the way, on this post I said I had found the kaya trees, but I had not. They were momi trees. I was finally taken to an area with kaya trees, and they are much more different than I had expected from reading books, will write more on that later).
B) Significance of red and/or black lacquer applied to frame. And are there specific areas customary for particular colors to be applied.
- As far as I know that's purely aesthetics, though red and black are not so commonly used on tamos. There are nets of many different colors, most that I have seen tend to be more towards earth/wood colors with possible details in black, occasionally red. Red and black lacquer have been used on many wood works in Asia. I don't know exactly why, but most of the "urushi" (lacquer) has always been black or red, such as those used on wood soup bowls. Maybe it's easier to make those colors with the old techniques?

8- On fishing cooperatives...
A) How is stream management (restoration, cleaning) done, paid staff or volunteer get-togethers, what
- Oh, what an interesting topic that is! I have been in the midst of it here. The person I am staying with works very closely with the coops. The fishing on every stream in Japan is managed by a co-op. The fishing co-op only manages the fishing rights on the stream. I suspect different coops work differently, but the river here (and for what I have been told, most others) has a board of directors that gets paid a nominal rate, and a couple of salaried "controllers" who are staff members responsible for checking for licenses and monitoring the river. Licenses are sold at different points along river areas, sometimes out of someone's home. Those places get a commission from the license sales. In a way, most people have an incentive to bring people to the area as that increased the revenues from fishing licenses and gets more people involved (or more money to those involved).
B) How does stream access work, do the coops own the land in a corridor, are their stream access rights, or are they state owned?
- River access in Japan is something they got right here! The stream and access to the streams is a public right throughout Japan. You can park anywhere, and walk just about through anywhere to get to a stream. Many times I have crossed rice farms to get to the water. Everyone nods politely. It's truly awesome here in that regard. There may be areas that are fenced off for whatever reason (VERY RARE, mostly if dangerous), but the streams are open for the public.

9- Is anyone taking tenkara outside its traditional roots and applying it to other fish normally taken via other means?
- The only person I have heard of that is doing this is Takashi Yoshida, (blog) He's been featured on the magazine Tsuribito because he's catching different fish, using different flies, etc. He says he also fished very heavily pressured waters, which is why he tries different flies (with weight, etc. ) Yoshida-san comes from a Western fly-fishing background. He also speaks very good English and works with Americans pretty often, which is probably why he's doing something that is not quite "tenkara"

10- Often when I watch tenkara fishing videos from Japan or maybe a video of folks hiking a trail on youtube - I hear the tinkle of a small bell as the people in the video walk or fish...I've been wondering what the wearing of a small bell means in the culture.
- I still haven't seen or noticed that. The person that I'm here with says they are bear bells. There are a lot of bears in Japan. These are relatively aggressive bears, and present in many different areas.

11- It looks like you're getting to know the people and culture, making relationships, and having experiences that most visitors to Japan never get. Most visitors go on business or on tours, but never have the experiences you're having. Do you have insights into why this is so in your case? ...Anyway, I'd be interested in your thoughts about why you're having so many unique experiences that the average visitor does not.
- Thanks for that question. Very interesting to think about it, not sure I can answer it thoroughly, but... It definitely helps that I am very much off the beaten path and in "micro Japan". It definitely has been extremely helpful to be staying at the home of two locals with a very extensive and tight regional network, and with access to a lot of people. It is helpful that I am introducing a component of Japanese culture, an "obscure" one, to other people, people have been very surprised and happy to learn about what I am doing. I'm also staying here for an extended visit, and things have been clicking on their due time. A 2-week visit wouldn't allow some of the opportunities I'm having to develop.
From a personal perspective, I have learned quite a bit about how to behave in Japan because of my wife and her family and previous visits to Japan. Knowledge, and USAGE of Japanese customs is, in my opinion, the most important aspect - for example, little things like saying "itadakimasu" before a meal, or "gochisosama deshita" after a meal go a long way. Sometimes people are aware of some customs, but afraid to use them. Most people say I'm Japanese, partly because I'm soft-spoken, partly because I'm pretty aware of their customs and I adopt them as my own. I'm also trying very hard to speak Japanese as much as possible, and they definitely appreciate that.

12 - One short question from me. Is anybody in Japan still fishing with horsehairlines? If yes, in which way they furl the line and what type of taper they use.
- Uh, not sure I can answer this as thoroughly as I'd like, partly because this has not been an area of particular interest to mine, and partly because I still haven't seen anyone using horsehair. I do know of a couple of people who use horsehair lines here, I was gifted one last year. I think Chris Stewart may know more about that line than I since he's seen it (I can probably tell you more details after I get back home and am able to look at it. It's very rare for someone to use horsehair lines here. One reason, I suspect, being that there are just not as many horse in Japan as the US or Europe.
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Re: Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Postby jayfisher » Wed Jun 15, 2011 12:22 am

Daniel,

Wow .. thank you for taking your valuable travel time to give such interesting answers. I hope your answering questions doesn't become a burden, so I hope you might find your answers useful later as a journal of your travels. What you said deepens and enriches our understanding. I hope you write a book someday - you already have so much to write.

As long as I'm posting, let me add a couple questions (which need not be answered immediately :) :

A. You're traveling through the Japan that's not frequently traveled by tourist-types. As you've traveled the out-of-the-way trails and rivers, have you come across anyone doing something "different" that you consider interesting? I mean like gathering wild plants or hunting for special mushroom?

B. Have you managed to meet any tamo masters? Are traditional tamo masters more rare than tenkara masters?

C. There's a Japanese activity where people hike up streams seeking the original source of the stream. I don't remember what this activity is called in Japanese, but seeking the source is a deep almost spiritual activity. Have you met anyone who does this?

Your trip is an enriching experience. Thank you.

-Jack
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Re: Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Postby jayfisher » Wed Jun 15, 2011 1:10 am

Daniel,

Sorry for so many questions.

I keep returning to look at your photo in your blog of ten thousand candles lining the stream at night in remembrance. I'm really stuck that maybe outside of people's "modern" clothing and equipment (like your camera), this ritual could have taken place in Japan hundreds or a thousand years ago in remembrance of a disaster or of those who died in battle. Did you have a sense of this deep connection?

This is a kind of universal event that memorializes something deeply of essence. And you experienced it. I can't quite put it in words except to express my appreciation.

-Jack
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Re: Daniel: Questions while in Japan about tenkara culture?

Postby Daniel @ Tenkara USA » Wed Jun 15, 2011 5:39 am

It's not a problem at all. As long as I have time I enjoy doing this. And, yes, it does serve me a great purpose of documenting things I normally wouldn't.

A. You're traveling through the Japan that's not frequently traveled by tourist-types. As you've traveled the out-of-the-way trails and rivers, have you come across anyone doing something "different" that you consider interesting? I mean like gathering wild plants or hunting for special mushroom?
- Wild plant gathering is a huge part of the culture here, at least among older folks. Especially when I first arrived I'd see a lot of cars parked on the side of the road and people picking mountain vegetables. This is one of the things I really enjoy doing in Japan, and that I wish I could do more in California (maybe I can?). Mountain vegetables are very popular here. Mushrooms are also popular, but that's typically in the fall. As for "different", one thing that Chris and I were talking about when he was here was the number of tiny rice farms throughout Japan. There are many farms that are pretty small (e.g. size of a small home), and there are also many "weekend farmers" who like to grow their rice with an aim to get the best possible flavor. I find that very interesting. But, mountain vegetable picking is by far my favorite (Here's a post I did for the local blog: http://www.mazegawa.com/intl/?p=313)

B. Have you managed to meet any tamo masters? Are traditional tamo masters more rare than tenkara masters?
-I visited a few stores, and met one person who's been making tamos for some 20 years I believe. It's very interesting though, his nets are some of the worst I have seen :) . I couldn't call him a master, though I'm sure he's learned a lot through the years. It seems like his nets are those "to be used without a second thought", however, they really lacked any type of care in their making and it was sloppy work with many flaws. In fact, I just came back from the town of Gujo where there are some stores that specialize in tamos and acquired a few more today. Next week I have a pending meeting with one of the renowned net makers, Mankui (sp?) in Gifu. I hope the meeting will come through as I had to cancel on him this week and postpone to next. I don't know if they are more rare or not, but they definitely seem to be a bit more secretive..., or harder to find.

C. There's a Japanese activity where people hike up streams seeking the original source of the stream. I don't remember what this activity is called in Japanese, but seeking the source is a deep almost spiritual activity. Have you met anyone who does this?
-I haven't met anyone who seeks water sources specifically for a spiritual reason. There are many people in this area that I have met that do "sawanobori" or "shower climbing" and like to go far and find things like water sources/springs/etc.

--- About the candle night: Did you have a sense of this deep connection? This is a kind of universal event that memorializes something deeply of essence. And you experienced it. I can't quite put it in words except to express my appreciation.
- YES! It's very hard for me to put into words the feeling I got from that evening. Everything was just beautiful and indeed spiritual. It was magical, for lack of a better word. I believe this type of event happens in many places throughout the word, but it's the first time I participated in something like it and it was very well organized. Here are a few of the images:
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
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