Friday, April 3, 2015

Back from Japan, Part 2

Where were we again? Oh yeah, lunch time! It was raining pretty hard, so we headed back to the campsite/cabin for lunch. On the way back, we had to go around some rocks that fell into the road...

Mini landslide. The guys were clearly more worried about this than I was, but its no joke - there's a lot of extremely steep ground that can easily create landslides when it rains - but I knew I was in good hands with Go Ishii behind the wheel!

Soon we were back at the campsite, enjoying the leftovers of this stew from the night before, with soba noodles added. Thanks to Kura-san for this delicious vegetable and pork red-miso stew that kept me in good spirits, even with all the rain.

At lunch we talked about the state of Tenkara in Japan and the US, and some of the different players. Go told me about many of the anglers who had come to visit Japan so far, and it was great to hear this all from the Japanese perspective. Summary: go fishing in Japan.

I decided that it would be a good idea to use this post-lunch rest time while the rain slowed, to discuss flies.  Above is a nymph that imitates a local butterfly grub. It caught plenty of fish in the AM.

The flies above were tied by Kura-San in the kebari style. He used the dark-bodies for summer fishing, and was adamant about using the lighter bodied-flies in the early season/spring. I didn't have many with me, but luckily the ones I did bring were working fine, and I had not lost any yet!

The flies in the boxes above were tied by Otani-San, or mostly tied by him. He had an affinity for larger kebari, so he had a section of his box devoted to them in different colors. I noted that there were plenty with multi-colored bodies, but didn't really ask about that.

Above, flies tied by Kiwi (of the North River Blog and of "American Sakasa Kebari" blog-fame, which he was generous to tie for me to bring for the Japanese anglers.)

Soon the rain had slowed and pretty much stopped, so we geared up to head out for the afternoon. The plan was to fish "Tani" or tributary waters... similar to "Genryu" which, I learned, only applies to the true headwaters of a river, and not technically any-old tributary... good to learn this difference!
The skies were still cloudy and a Hawk flew overhead as we neared our tributary, recommended by Ajari-San the night before. Kura-San and Otani-San seemed to use the same (Oni?) rods they had used in the AM. However, being that I was finally fishing the small stream waters I was more used to at home, I wanted to switch to a smaller, more sensitive rod, because that's how I roll over here. Go Ishii generously offered me his Nissin Pro-Square, and again, I can't thank him enough! 

I had a nice chase to my fly above this pool - I had switched to a size 16 " the usual" just for fun, its a really productive trout fly for me in the Northeast US. No surprise that as soon as I had a nice run to fish, I had a couple of follows. Again showing me that light colors worked great here in the spring. Unfortunately no takes...  I watched a beautiful Amago follow the fly through the run I fished twice, but on the second follow, it saw me, and darted across and back to its hiding spot.

As I headed downstream to find the others, Otani-San was walking up with an Amago in his display tank. He wanted to show me the fish he caught with Kiwi's fly, above! Great moment. Skilled Japanese tenkara anglers using traditional kebari tied by an American... and catching fish. I felt like this was a great "full circle" moment for me and it brought a huge smile to my face. Thanks again, Kiwi, for the flies. They worked great!

Soon the rain was picking up and the alarm at the dam went off, telling anglers to clear the river for an upcoming water release. We weren't in any danger on the tributary, but figured it was a good time to call it a day. Everyone had hooked or landed fish and I sensed that it was, once again, time to start drinking and laughing and getting warm.

Soon we were joined by a few locals, who (if I heard correctly) were members of the local fishing collective, the group that controls the Tenkawa river and issues fishing tickets. We had a second Otani-San now (sitting where the first Otani-San was sitting the night before, on the left, in this photo.) Slightly confusing? It mattered not, everyone was in good spirits and happy to be in good company.

And I certainly cannot forget Minami-San, one of the locals who, upon seeing all the Daiginjo Sake I brought, got right back in his car and drove home and back to bring me a bottle of his local Daiginjo sake. What a treat! It was some kind of "local rice growers reserve" that was made by and for those who grow the rice, and, unlike the rest of this breweries' sakes, was not exported or widely available in Japan either. Thank you, Minami-San!

There was squid on the grill, and then Go Ishii busted out some prime sukiyaki-style beef (I think that's the name for this...) and had brought 3 different cuts/quality-levels. I exploded with Joy... let's be honest, after a week of seafood-heavy cuisine, the thought of pure beef on the tongue was as good as anything I could think of at the moment. And what a treat it was!

A splash of sake and soy, or not... both ways worked just fine, and the beef tasted amazing. More drinking and fun ensued.

As the level of intoxication increased to a level that was perfect for what was going on around me, Kura-san started having fun with the stew pot. We were out of stew, but he had lots of seaweed left. Hmm... Is this drunk food in Japan? Go suggested it would be too much seaweed and he was right. We didn't eat it, letting Kura-San and Otani-San finish it off. I resorted to snacking on cookies, which was another amazing treat.

At some point it got really late and the group dispersed. I stumbled into the cabin, finding that kura-san had turned in already. I turned the in-cabin propane heater to "blast" and got inside my sleeping bag. It would be close to freezing this night, and I was ready to catch up on all the lost sleep. I was out like a log, and awoke the next morning to snowflakes. Uh-oh.

In the AM it was clear that conditions were not ideal for fishing... the dam had released a lot of water, and the river was flowing much higher both below and above the dam. That, coupled with the threat of snow had us packing up early to escape the mountains. I had a plane to catch the next day and couldn't let the weather get the better of me.

Reluctantly, I said goodbye to the others and loaded my stuff into Go's van. We headed back towards Kyoto to find a hotel and some food. It was really hard to say goodbye to my new friends, and I'm REALLY looking forward to the next time I can visit in Japan. Hopefully they can come to the US and I can show them the same hospitality they showed me!

On the way back, I spotted a tank of trout in front of a store in the town of Tenkawa. I don't know if they were for purchase as food, for bait, or to be used as some kind of marketing for the store, which was closed at the time. As I approached the tank, the fish went nuts. I didn't want to stress them too much so I left quickly. 

After driving through a bit of a snow storm, we were back in Kyoto for a cold, windy, but absolutely beautiful afternoon. We started with some epic traditional style Ramen - simple and nothing like the heavy pork-fat-laden broth of the Tonkatsu ramen I eat so readily at home. 

Before heading home, Go was nice enough to take me to a few amazing tourism-worthy sites in Kyoto. 

Nijo castle, the Tokugawa Shogunate home in Kyoto was epic. It included multiple levels of walls, moats, and a castle within a castle. Bonus - Dr Seuss trees, above.

Gardens, doors, architecture, sun, evergreen trees, moss and a sense of deep history... what a treat.

The view from the tower ruins over the inner moat.

Finally, it was time to say our goodbyes. I knew I had made an important friendship (or friendships) in Japan, and it meant a lot to me. I felt really lucky to have had such a great opportunity to learn from another culture on multiple levels. I'm looking forward to the next time I can see my new friends!

I spent the evening exploring Kyoto alone, a very new and exciting experience for me. I had been with various groups for 12 days and was enjoying time to just wander and do my own thing. I finished at Jam Hostel & Sake Bar... the best sake list I found in Kyoto by far. Prices were more than reasonable.

The flight home was way faster than on the way to Japan. I took some time to look out the window in the back of the plane while we flew over Alaska. It was just indescribable and a real treat to see what it looked like from the air. I'm not sure if this is part of the Brooks range, as my GPS was off while in airplane mode... but what an adventure it must be to traverse these mountains. I was feeling a little emotional and somewhat overwhelmed by all the amazing things I had seen and experienced over the last 12 days. This was an adventure to remember... but hopefully not just once in a lifetime. I plan to return to Japan, and so should you!


  1. Looks like one hell of a trip! I'm definitely jealous. It's very cool to see ones flies in the hands of a master......and catching fish! Thanks for the post.

  2. Japan was a life-changing place in ways that I can barely begin to delve into via a fishing blog... Thanks again, wish you and tenkarabum could have been there to fish too!