Cormorant Fishing in Arashiyama – The Night I Walked into a Fairytale

             

 

He led me to a bridge, carrying in his arms with him certain dive-droppers or water-fowls, bound to perches and about every one of their necks he tied a thread, lest they should eat the fish as fast as they took them. He loosened the dive-droppers from the pole, and within less than the space of one hour, caught as many fish as filled three baskets; which being full, my host untied the threads from about their necks, and entering the second time into the river they fed themselves with fish, and being satisfied, they returned and allowed themselves to be bound to their perches, as they were before.

 

So wrote the Franciscan monk Friar Oderic, as he wandered barefoot across Asia in 1321. Little, it seems, has changed. Arashiyama may be but twenty minutes from Kyoto, yet I felt I’d strayed into an enchanted world long gone. The night was warm, filled with the chirping of crickets and frogs. Against the darkness of the surrounding hills, lights twinkled from restaurants hiding on the other side of the bay. Coloured lights lit the narrow streets, and lanterns hung amongst the trees leading down to the water.

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A Train Station In Japan

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The Zen of Japanese Trains

 

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Waiting on an empty station

Without warning, the train pulled to a stop and refused to move. I had no idea where I was. I hoped I was still en route to Koya-san, Japan’s holy mountain. Here sleeps the Kobo Dashi, revered for bringing Shingon Buddhism to Japan, and who has spent the last one thousand years waiting for the Buddha of the Future. Monks still bring food twice a day to his mausoleum, the Oko-In.

Catching a train in Japan boarders on a leap of faith. At every station the signs are a complex system of interlocking lines in a rainbow colours, and what little I could read proved no help. I was never entirely convinced that either the train or myself knew where we were headed.

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Rediscovering the Elegance of Travel

A Traveller Not A Tourist

Lugging my bags over the cobbles of Venice I vowed never to travel again with an ocean

The perils of heavy bags in Venice
The perils of heavy bags in Venice

of luggage in tow. The essence of elegance is, after all, simplicity. To travel lightly and so leave a small footprint benefits not only the environment but also the soul.

The problem was amplified by the fact I was in charge of my mother’s bags as well as my own. And it was raining – the only rainy day of the whole trip. There is always a time when travelling when you have to manage your bags yourself – not just over cobblestones, but lifting onto trains or buses, boats, or struggling to the second floor of a hotel with no elevator. The boot of a hired car is rarely spacious, and I don’t like tripping over bags in a hotel room.

So now I have some basic rules:

i) if I can’t lift my bags myself, I’m taking too much.

ii) if I can’t lift my bag over my head (to put on a rack in a train, for example) I am taking too much. Taking a bag down from a height can be just as difficult as lifting one.

iii) if I have to put down my carry bag and rest after 10 minutes of walking, I am carrying too much. Airports and railways involve a lot of walking.

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10 Non-touristy Things To Try In Japan

i) Watch Cormorant Fishing

 

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A cormorant boat, Arashiyama

He led me to a bridge, carrying in his arms with him certain dive-droppers or water-fowls, bound to perches and about every one of their necks he tied a thread, lest they should eat the fish as fast as they took them. He loosened the dive-droppers from the pole, and within less than the space of one hour, caught as many fish as filled three baskets; which being full, my host untied the threads from about their necks, and entering the second time into the river they fed themselves with fish, and being satisfied, they returned and allowed themselves to be bound to their perches, as they were before.

                        So wrote the Franciscan monk Friar Oderic as he wandered barefoot across Asia in 1321. Little, it seems, has changed. A fat orange moon climbed into view as I crossed the Togersu-kyo, or Moon Bridge. Small balls of fire floated across the bay: the fishing had begun. Continue Reading →

A Taste Of Japan – Unusual Ways Not To Break The Budget

Osaka, Japan
Osaka, Japan

A shout stopped me halfway along the street. Behind me, on his bike, was the concierge from the ryokan; he had pedalled after me, worried I would get lost.

With family in tow, I was following his suggestions for breakfast. Considering the language barrier, he’d given remarkably precise directions, complete with a hand-drawn map ­– yet still he worried we might lose our way, and kept weaving his way behind us until we reached the restaurant safely. Then, with a smile and wave, he rode away, if not quite into the sunset, at least to be swallowed by the crowds.

Along with the map, the concierge had also written some suggestions ­– in Japanese – which I handed to the waitress. With a bow she led the four of us over to the ubiquitous vending machine and pressed a selection of buttons. Out came not a meal, but brass-coloured tokens. The waitress ushered us to our chairs with another bow, then disappeared into the kitchen with the tokens. Soon the meals appeared, steaming bowls with variations of noodles and vegetables – and mine with a raw egg cracked on top. I always seemed to get the meal with the raw egg – but then, there is little I won’t eat, at least once.

A restaurant in Koyasan, Japan
A restaurant in Koyasan, Japan

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The Cormorants of Arashiyama

 

St Francis, an inspiration to so many
St Francis, an inspiration to so many

               He led me to a bridge, carrying in his arms with him certain dive-droppers or water-fowls, bound to perches and about every one of their necks he tied a thread, lest they should eat the fish as fast as they took them. He loosened the dive-droppers from the pole, and within less than the space of one hour, caught as many fish as filled three baskets; which being full, my host untied the threads from about their necks, and entering the second time into the river they fed themselves with fish, and being satisfied, they returned and allowed themselves to be bound to their perches, as they were before.

So wrote the Franciscan monk Friar Odoric as he wandered barefoot across Asia in 1321. (Having already been to the Balkans in 1296, and preached to the Mongols in southern Russia, Friar Odoric left Padua in 1318 on a journey which leaves modern travellers breathless with envy. Amongst the many places he visited, he sailed from Venice to Constantinople, across the Black Sea to preach in Armenia and Persia, through Persepolis and down to the Persian Gulf, where he sailed to India. From there he passed through Sumatra, Java, and onto Canton before passing into Greater China. He finally returned to his native Italy around 1329, dying a few years later. He was beatified in 1755 by Benedict XIV.)

Little, it seems, has changed. A fat orange moon climbed into view as we crossed the Togersu-kyo, or Moon Bridge. Against the darkness of the surrounding hills, coloured lights lit the narrow streets lights, and lanterns hung amongst the trees down by the water. Small balls of fire floated across the bay: the fishing had begun.

Ukai fishing, Japan
Ukai fishing, Japan

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