Moonlight Spearfishing in Japan

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.

Die Sonne geht gerade unter am Hamana See. Zeit, das Boot mit dem Fischerei-Werkzeug und der Kühlbox für den Fang von Fischen und Krebsen zu beladen / © Foto: Georg Berg
The sun is just setting on Lake Hamana. Time to load the boat with fishing tools and the cooler for catching fish and crabs / © Photo by Georg Berg.

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.

Lichtspiele am Himmel. In der Ferne zieht ein gewaltiges Gewitter auf und sorgt für ein Parallel-Spektakel. Eigentlich soll man sich beim Speerfischen auf den Gewässergrund konzentrieren, aber die Lichtblitze am Himmel ziehen den Blick immer wieder auf sich / © Foto: Georg Berg
Light shows in the sky. In the distance a huge thunderstorm is coming up and provides a parallel spectacle. Actually, you should concentrate on the bottom of the water when spearfishing, but the flashes of light in the sky keep attracting your attention / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Zwölf-Zacken, Balance und zwei scharfe Augen sind nötig, um beim Speerfischen auch Beute zu machen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Twelve-pointedness, balance and two sharp eyes are necessary to make prey while spearfishing / © Photo: Georg Berg
Ikuya Yamamoto erklärt, wie man den Speer zu halten hat und dass der Speer mit großer Entschlossenheit geführt werden sollte. Der Vollmond schaut ihm dabei über die Schulter / © Foto: Georg Berg
Ikuya Yamamoto explains how to hold the spear and that the spear should be wielded with great determination. The full moon looks over his shoulder / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Auf dem Weg zu den südlichen Fanggründen des Lake Hamana fährt man auch an dem im Wasser stehenden Tor Bentenjima vorbei / © Foto: Georg Berg
On the way to the southern fishing grounds of Lake Hamana, one also passes the Bentenjima Gate standing in the water / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Ikuya Yamamoto öffnet die Luke, in der die Beute gesammelt wird. Der Fang wird mit Hilfe von Aussparungen in den Holzbrettern vom Speer abgestreift und fällt in die Kammer im Bootsrumpf / © Foto: Georg Berg
Ikuya Yamamoto opens the hatch where the catch is collected. The catch is stripped from the spear with the help of recesses in the wooden boards and falls into the chamber in the boat’s hull / © Photo: Georg Berg
Speer und Stütze in einem. Der Mori hilft auch dem Jäger die Balance auf dem Boot zu halten. Hier Reporterin Angela Berg gemeinsam mit Momoko Takii von TSJ / © Foto: Georg Berg
Spear and prop in one. The mori also helps the hunter keep his balance on the boat. Here reporter Angela Berg together with Momoko Takii from TSJ / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

12 Zacken, zwei scharfe Augen und eine ruhige Hand. Das Boot ist in Bewegung, der Fisch oder Krebs ist es ebenfalls. Da heißt es antizipieren und sich mit Bedacht der Beute nähern / © Foto: Georg Berg
12 prongs, two sharp eyes and a steady hand. The boat is on the move, and so is the fish or crab. You have to anticipate and approach the prey with caution / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Fische können auch mit einem Kescher gefangen werden / © Foto: Georg Berg
Fish can also be caught with a landing net / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Schwimmende Kochstation: Hier wird von den Speerfischern der Catch of the Night fangfrisch zubereitet / © Foto: Georg Berg
Floating cooking station: Here the spearfishermen prepare the catch of the night freshly caught / © Photo: Georg Berg
Fischer, Koch und Entertainer. Mit simpelstem Equipment begibt sich Ikuya Yamamoto an die Zubereitung des Fangs. Geschickt werden die Fische geputzt und die Krebse kommen in den Kochtopf. Gäste stellen neugierig Fragen und werden mit einem kühlen Getränk versorgt / © Foto: Georg Berg
Fisherman, cook and entertainer. Ikuya Yamamoto uses the simplest of equipment to prepare the catch. The fish are skilfully cleaned and the crabs are put into the cooking pot. Guests curiously ask questions and are served a cool drink / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Gut gelaunte Gesellschaft auf dem Floß. Das Speerfischen bei Nacht wird gewöhnlich von Gruppen gebucht / © Foto: Georg Berg
Good-humored company on the raft. Spear fishing at night is usually booked by groups / © Photo: Georg Berg
Miso-Suppe mit frischer Einlage. Der selbst gefischte Krebs wird zu einem sehr nachhaltigen kulinarischen Erlebnis / © Foto: Georg Berg
Miso soup with fresh chowder. The self-fished crab becomes a very lasting culinary experience / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Zimmer mit Blick auf eine Wasserstraße am Lake Hamana. Für das kulinarische Erlebnis “Speerfischen bei Nacht” empfiehlt es sich, eine Übernachtung direkt am Hamana See zu buchen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Rooms overlooking a waterway at Lake Hamana. For the culinary experience of “spear fishing at night”, it is recommended to book an overnight stay directly at Lake Hamana / © Photo: Georg Berg

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.

Typisch japanisches Frühstück mit Fisch, Algen und Miso-Suppe / © Foto: Georg Berg
Typical Japanese breakfast with fish, seaweed and miso soup / © Photo: Georg Berg

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

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