The sun is just setting. Ikuya Yamamoto loads his flatboat with mori, the traditional twelve-pronged spears, and kabuse ami, small fishing nets. A cooler for the catch of the night is also taken on board. That’s all it takes before we board the boat for a night tour of a special kind across Lake Hamana in Shizuoka Prefecture.
The day was again very hot and the driving wind is a welcome refreshment. We drive out of the waterway, which is built up with many two-story apartment buildings, onto the open lake. Lake Hamana has been connected to the Pacific Ocean since an earthquake. The shallow southern part of the water is particularly suitable for spearfishing. In the distance, a huge thunderstorm is approaching, creating a parallel spectacle.
Spearfishing – an intense experience
Spearfishing is one of the oldest techniques of hunting fish and crayfish. It is practiced in many countries around the world. Spearfishing is considered to be a very resource-friendly way of fishing. There is no unwanted by-catch and no damage from nets or lines, because the fish and crabs are targeted individually by the fisherman. At Lake Hamana in Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan, the Hamamatsu Takiya-Ryo community offers spearfishing at night. It’s an intense experience because the onset of darkness makes fishing very focused.
There are about 800 different species of fish in Lake Hamana, Ikuya Yamamoto tells us. He recently started his own business and offers night trips on the lake for tourists from mid-May to mid-September. Spear fishing has also been practiced on Lake Hamana for more than 100 years. “Takiya-ryo” is what the Japanese call this type of fishing. It is derived from the word “Taku” which means burning. In the past, fishermen use burning torches to see the fish at the edge of the shore. Today, this type of fishing is still done in the shallow area of the southern part of the lake.
The boats leave at sunset and use small spotlights installed under the bow to catch sleeping fish and crabs with spears (Mori) and small cachers (Cabuse Ami). Since an earthquake, Lake Hamana is connected to the Pacific Ocean, making it a saltwater lake with calm waves and shallow depth. The lake is also known for eel and shrimp. Near the shore, it is easy to see the bottom of the lake and the crabs running in the light sand and fish swimming thoughtfully. As a participant of this night fishing, you can choose to take home your own catch or still combine the active part of fishing with a meal on one of the floating rafts.
No easy prey – spearfishing as a transformative travel experience
Knowing full well that every piece of fish or meat prepared on one’s own stove has also been killed at some point, reaching for the long twelve-pronged spear also awakens queasy feelings in me. Suddenly I am standing in the middle of the wobbly flatboat and fortunately still at the end of the food chain, but now with the active role of a huntress. That costs overcoming.
How much easier it is to put a pack of frozen shrimp in the shopping basket or point to a trout or redfish fillet at the fishmonger. But what I kill now, we eat right away. No transportation, no packaging, no overproduction in terms of unwanted bycatch. A truly transformative experience, guaranteed to resonate with future purchases from my fishmonger.
Moonlight dinner on a raft
They are entertainers, hunters and cook at the same time. The fishermen of Takiya-Ryo must not only be adept at using a spear and finding suitable fishing grounds. They are also skilled and quick at cleaning and preparing the animals. Almost two hours of spear fishing have flown by. We set course for a floating fish snack.
On the neighboring raft, the fish dinner is already in full swing. The boatman on each “Takiya-tei” raft prepares the seafood as tempura, miso soup or on the grill. There is no fresher and more direct way to experience this old traditional way of fishing and preparation.
Tradition collides with modernity: Shinkansen speed across the lake
When spearfishing on Lake Hamana, darkness is the best ally of this ancient fishing tradition. It lays graciously over the landscape and makes us almost forget the houses and traffic roads. After a successful hunt, as we speed across the water again, it seems as if we are traveling at least as fast as a Shinkansen, Japan’s mobility guarantor admired all over the world. While Ikuya Yamamoto’s boat sails under the drawbridge, one of these high-speed trains rushes overhead. A track for the Schinkansen and also the National Road 1 cut through the beautiful landscape unaffectedly. Tradition and modernity meet here, as in many areas in Japan, directly.
House by the lake – overnight stay in a ryokan
We spend the night in a traditional ryokan directly at the lake and with its own dock. The sleeping room is lined with tatami mats. The windows face the jetty. Gentle waves beat against the boats. After several hours on the water, you still have the feeling of water and waves even on the futon. And how could it be otherwise? After an evening on the lake with a very special food adventure, the next morning we have a traditional Japanese breakfast with miso soup and lots of fish.
How to book spearfishing?
A trip on one of the boats on Lake Hamana takes about two hours for spearfishing only(Takiya-ryo) and a good three hours if you book it including dinner on the raft(Takiya-tei). Takiya-tei means a program with the subsequent preparation on one of the rafts. Eating is done at a flat table with seats on the floor. If the program refers to Takiya-Base, the raft is equipped with western style tables and chairs.
More information and booking options:
Spearfishing on Lake Hamana
An overnight stay right on Lake Hamana makes the Takiya-Ryo experience a well-rounded one.
Overnight stay at the waterfront, at the Inn Oyado “Inoue”.
The research trip in the prefecture was supported in part by Shizuoka Tourism