Thursday, October 18, 2018

#Tenkara: a representation of the West's contribution to Tenkara so far?

Its been a while since I've felt like writing... a lot of things that are annoying, boring and generally not worth discussing on a blog have been going on in life, and so I've been less inspired to write... instead spending all my spare time out fishing, hiking, riding a bike and generally trying to feel free again when possible. It was a productive summer for me in terms of Tenkara... but I've hit a wall. Maybe Tenkara has hit a wall. I don't know that I can progress further without more one on one instruction, was bummed about not being able to get to Oni School - and that got me thinking... some might say Tenkara is also kind of in a rut right now. Not for everyone, but for many.

The arguments, the noobs, the will to disagree before learning, the same old story of minimalism and always having a compact rod with you; marketed to the same old group of massdrop-loving, kickstarter-backing, enthusiastic outdoor-lovers, has created a predictable and totally boring stream of new anglers that will never even know what an advanced Tenkara angler looks like. 

Sadly, chances are most Tenkara anglers in the West don't yet understand the fundamentals of casting a rod that needs to be loaded with correct casting stroke rather than weight of fly line, and who will never reach their full potential as fishermen following #Tenkara. That is not their fault, though. And by no means is this article meant to attack them in any way. It is about the state of Tenkara in the west, the lack of good instruction and factually correct information disseminated, which voices get heard in "public" and the effect of all of that on the sport as a whole. Not all agree that the effect has been good.

This is not a popular opinion. Most of my opinions aren't. That makes me an unpopular guy in the Tenkara community in the West - and as you've likely seen or guessed by now, I really couldn't care less about that because I know that it is worth whatever complications come along with calling out those who co-opted the sport we love in order to attempt to preserve it from being altered completely.

Is this really a good way to get more eyes on your regurgitated products with new colors and brand names?

I also don't feel the need to "pad" the facts for people just so they won't get defensive in reacting to something that they were wrong about. Nobody has ever padded the rough realities of life for other people except maybe their families... and not every kid even had that luxury. Its not how people all think, especially not where I am from. Thankfully, not everyone takes offense to being corrected, or to people who don't pad their wording. A saying comes to mind: "Do not correct a fool for he will hate you, but correct a wise man and he will thank you." Best attitude towards learning is right there in that quote.

Wrong species... that plus Rapala really spells Tenkara, doesn't it? 

But who am I and what is my authority?

I am nobody. Just a guy who has been to Japan, been privileged enough to fish with and hang with some of the most legendary Tenkara anglers of this generation, and calculated enough to listen to them rather than argue. And I want them to be able to tell their story, rather than us telling it for them. It doesn't matter if I'm right or wrong... what matters is really who tells the story.

In my pursuit to help educate a small niche on what Tenkara actually is, (and what it is not,) and to attempt to spread a different message than the American "Tenkara rod" companies, I have, as a result of my consistent and unpopular opinions, isolated a lot of people I didn't know by mistake; ranted, shared important facts and knowledge, pushed certain techniques, been wrong, been right, made friends, lost friends, made enemies, and made friends again with countless people.

I am constantly being told to go away, be quiet, constantly being blocked from groups and always being told to change my message or the way I communicate it "for my own good." That won't happen, and this isn't about me. Tenkara rod companies here showed Tenkara to the west, made some fantastic content and good products, then soon after changed the message in order to have a broader audience to market to. "Growing Tenkara" is really about selling more Tenkara rods and helping more people catch fish without really knowing what Tenkara is. Am I the only one who weighs the benefits of the cozy image of those beginners smiling, catching fish and having a great day while helping companies stay alive and profit, against the risks of turning Tenkara into fishing for people who want to buy a compact or light-weight rod but don't know there's more to it than that? Does one become informed or an expert after a few hours of watching videos online and looking at hash-tagged photos? Or through seeking existing knowledge and thirsting for more? Does buying gear from one company or another mean you are fishing Tenkara? Or is it something else? Do people stop to ask themselves these questions? Some do, some don't. I did not, for a long time. I am glad I now do.

I can really see the tenkara community loving this one... 😂

For many adopters of Tenkara as currently defined, disappointment over feeling abandoned and shunned by the reps of the companies or the owners themselves turned into to shame, shame turned to resentment, resentment turned to anger and anger turned into arguments and childish behavior. The reaction from most Tenkara influencers was the same - shut out the dissent and quiet the voices that shared inconvenient facts from Japan because it created friction. Guess what? There is no life without friction, especially in a pre-Trump and Trump-ruled fact-less America. The grey area has gotten so big that there's pretty much no more black or white left... 

Most who cared about details and learning more than how to hook a fish with a Tenkara rig left the popular spots in the online community to create new groups... and those same issues just moved from group to group, so they left those groups too. There is no escaping the angry mob who wants nothing more than to remove all disagreement from the internet, or for it to "all just be fishing," which is impossible, and leads to stagnation... where we are right now. Many of the people who first discovered Tenkara or who embrace the current definition exist in dark corners of the internet, sharing memes, photos of fishing, cold beer, and fine cannabis. Those who want to learn seek us out and we teach them individually, in real life, passing on what we hope is the most "authentic" version of modern Tenkara, using the tools we have today.

Remind you of a certain character from a Hayao Miyazaki film?

Throughout all of it, the goal has remained the same - help prevent falsehoods and assumptions from being spread about Tenkara, and try to shift the focus away from beginners and to more intermediate and advanced anglers who can embrace the complicated nuances and specific sets of techniques that make Tenkara special. I have not realized until recently how to do that - or why it hasn't happened naturally yet... but it is so clear now I don't know why it didn't occur to me...

The fact is that the "story of Tenkara" has been told or co-opted by white or Western and non-Asian business owners, globally. The story of Tenkara has never been told by the Japanese. The language barrier is real and English spread wider and faster... but now that I have this in mind I know what I think we need to do next.... help give the Japanese more of a direct voice here.

Oh yeah...this one is DEFINITELY Tenkara, right?

Most of the rod companies would love it if people who think and talk like me would shut up. It would be more convenient. Less "controversy." As I write this I am sure I am being blocked by another group who is offended by this very message. The fact that they choose to approach it this way and try to block it out speaks volumes to the truth and the realities of what is going on... self serving interests or simple human emotions, possibly also reacting in fear to inconvenient truths. It is hard for any of us to recognize when we have lost our way or to accept we are wrong, and it is easy to place blame but reality always brings things full circle eventually...

Fact is, if we as a western Tenkara community or industry can give a voice to the Japanese and not for profit or marketing visibility of our Western companies, we'd be doing the world a favor... at least the world of Tenkara.

Nothing says Tenkara like a pile of dead fish in the mud and some slow/warm water...

Going so far as to ban or block certain perspectives to protect selfish interests, business interests, egos, or the old boys clubs that formed early on just isn't going to help, even though it might feel like it will. One cannot remove dissent or disagreement from the internet. Nor can one expect never to see a rant. But westerners will continue to argue without the facts - psychology dictates so -  unless we help shift more of the story back to being told by the Japanese, the original source of Tenkara-related facts.

Hell, who knows, maybe in the end I'll be wrong and the Japanese will reveal through their stories and facts that Tenkara has a new definition. But I want that to come from them, not our businesses, start-ups and selective story-tellers with money to make or lose.

Epically representative of Tenkara, right?

But for now we should be asking... where is the content from Japan? Where is the Japanese voice? Who is funding or giving a platform to Japanese anglers that doesn't involve making a profit? Who is willing to put money up without their logo being prominently displayed? Who is willing to pay to translate a slew or books and DVD's without having to sell it as theirs? I see pretty much none of that... I can only hope at least some of it happens behind the scenes. I am sure it does. But we need more.

Is it so wrong to ask why the story of Tenkara, a Japanese sport, is always told by us "Western" or white people? Instead of writing magazines full of "fair weather tenakra anglers" why not fund 100% Japanese content and keep our western logos small - offering help and money rather than trying to gain it "ourselves?"

Man I wonder why this one isn't on Fujioka-San's website yet!? 

#Tenkara now reflects the choices we in the west have made. #Tenkara is a mirror image of what we have done to confuse the public, the industry, and beyond... and I think it makes sense for that to stop, don't you?

Just go online and pull up #Tenkara and see what comes up. As you've likely figured out by now, all the photos in this post were pulled from that very search. Bluegill. Ocean fishing. Spinning rods. Fly reels... the list goes on. It isn't the entire picture... but it shouldn't be ANY of the picture really either.

Because Tenkara means spin fishing too, right?

Are the Japanese Tenkara anglers happy with where we have taken Tenkara? Do we even care? Hard to say, for so many reasons. But we should care, shouldn't we? Tenkara is, after all, Japanese.

My favorite Tenkara meme of recent...

Is #Tenkara - as it is right now - what we want the legacy of Tenkara in the west to be?

Did we really want to create #Tenkara so that every start up who wants to sell a product to hipsters or any angler and have the next viral kickstarter project use it to get "more attention?" Is it not hilarious we have reached this point?

Warm water fixed line angling for bass is still not Tenkara... yet.

Do we want Tenkara to be the thing everyone has to tag their fishing photos of so that people will think they are cool? Do we want the next generation of Japanese anglers to learn about Tenkara from the west, and learn it wrong? Or did we want to put all the effort we can into getting this right and supporting those who created success for the western companies?

Martin Luther

Am I the only one in the world that finds the current state of Tenkara in the west somewhat depressing and kind of a mess? Maybe. But I know if many of the influential people in the sport thought hard about this, they could not entirely disagree. After all, we are talking about money and business. But one can always dream...

Would you consider this to be a hamburger if that's what half of the hot dog stands had called it when you were a kid because they didn't know any better? 

So in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, I created a fund and have been adding to it as I can. Its called the "Tenkara Education Fund" and I plan to use it to fund the idea of translating and giving a voice to more Japanese anglers in the West. If you want to know more get in touch. The aim will be to crowdfund our own content to some extent, and to try to provide some funds to support people in Japan who want to make said content and share it or sell it to the rest of the world, without an American or "Western" voice in between them and us. 

Now that is #Tenkara...

And in the meanwhile, stay tuned... I have tons of content from the last year or two that so badly needs to be shared, and I am gearing up to do that... embracing the season of writing, tying and waiting for that first headwaters trout from 2019! If I haven't pissed you off yet then thanks for sticking with the ideals I've tried to support... Happy early winter fishing to all.