Another Aspect of Kyoto, as a Town of Tea: Ukai Cormorant Fishing on the Uji River
Ukai cormorant fishing on the Uji River is said to have started in the Heian period (the 8th – 12th centuries). However, during the later Heian period, this fishing method declined because of the influence of the Buddhist teaching that forbids the killing of animals. Current ukai fishing is a restored version for tourism since the Taisho period (1912-1926), which adopted the method from the Nagara River in Gifu Prefecture.
At night, people on boats enjoy watching the birds catching fish in water under the light of bonfires.
On the Uji River, various kinds of fish can be caught, including sweetfish and small carp, and up to about 20 fish can be caught in one session. There are currently 17 cormorants working on the Uji River. Nine of them were born through artificial incubation in Uji.
It had been said that artificial incubation of Japanese cormorants was impossible as they are very sensitive. However, four years ago, two Japanese cormorants naturally mated and one baby bird was successfully born via artificial incubation. Since then, new baby bird(s) is (are) born every year. Cormorants born in Uji are affectionately called “utthi.”
Since birds recognize anyone they first see in their life as their mother, utthi and usho (cormorant fishing master) have a relationship like a parent and a child, so even if the birds are known to be sensitive, they are very used to humans. The usho are currently working on “hanachi-ukai” (free-range cormorant fishing), in which they are hoping to achieve success by 2020.
Currently, there are three usho masters for the Uji River and two of them are women.
Where to take a boat (boarding site):
On the foot of the Kisen-bashi Bridge on the Tono-shima island located upstream of Uji-bashi Bridge, inside Kyoto Prefectural Uji Park
Uji Sta. (JR Nara Line or Keihan Uji Line)
Ticket purchase is required at the boarding site on the day of ukai: 2,000 yen (tax included) for adults, 1,000 yen (tax included) for elementary school students
Advance reservation is required for a reserved boarding. 27,500 yen (tax included) for a boat with a capacity of 10.
Due to the water level and weather, the event may be canceled. Please make sure to check the latest information with the tourist association or on the website in advance.
Uji City Tourist Association: 0774-23-3334 http://www.kyoto-uji-kankou.or.jp
Ujigawa Kanko Tsusen: 0774-21-232>
*The information herein is as of December 2018.