The Film screening took place at Sophia University at 5pm, last Friday, July 10, 2015, followed by a panel discussion with the film producer, Ms. Fumiyo Kikuchi and University of Tokyo guest speaker Ms. Mayumi Fukunaga.
Kodo Ryō is the name of the traditional fishing method, practiced for more than 300 years at the Okawa River in Niigata’s Prefecture. It was rather a dialogue of the fisherman and their sentiments to express why they loved so much fishing and a sense of belonging with the river. The man, mostly mid-ages, learned on how to fish at small age and the members are scarce, less than ten people in the local Fisherman’s Association. The film depicted the moment the members drew the lucky paper lottery to define which place each member would be fishing that year!
How they do it: Clearly Defining the Boundaries
Once the areas are designated, each group will clean the area such as taking off the garbage or leaves and also accommodating the tree branches to build the demarcation and make the sort of the trap, to facilitate to capture the salmons, where it is prone to spawn.
The fishing equipment is a sort of a pole, with a movable but trapped hook on its edge. When one can catch their very fist salmon of the year, they will make a small ceremony and thank to their altar that each usually will have in their homes, placed in a high place of their house, such as above the refrigerator. One lady said that in the past, the salmon would be mostly preserved, but nowadays she would distribute amongst the neighborhood.
Rituals for good luck
The film portrayed the thanksgiving sort of ceremony, where a man was wearing the Ebisu mask – one of the seven Fortune Gods of the Chinese Mythology, and the Shinto God of the Fisherman. The person wearing the mask would rotate among the people asking their blessings to have a fruitful year.
A cultural surprise
Suddenly the movie reached its climax – the scene seemed a little violent for a complete novice of fishing as I am- it was almost so obvious that the fisherman who captures his bait, will perform a never-seem-before handling: quickly opening the salmon’s belly, taking all the vivid brilliantly orange colored eggs and expeditiously this time, opening the male belly and then what in nature would be an act of love, into a sort of colder way, which turned out to be the fertilized eggs.
The scene seemed emotionless for who was performing as if that was very normal of a routine like way, however the cold fish caught my eye and there was a mixed feelings – of sadness and wonder – that the act of making the efforts to return into nature, what you have taken, was the fisherman’s choice to sustain this tradition.
The work at the cultivation of salmon is not an easy task: their ‘scientists’ would keep a close eye on the eggs and monitor daily, separating the dead eggs from the living ones.
Who owns rivers? – Some said, it is the commons, the river is owned by everyone. That is why, each person has to have a strong responsibility to take good care of the river.
- Fumiyo Kikuchi (FK)- Film Producer
- Mayumi Fukunaga (MF)– University of Tokyo, Faculty Member
The Film Producer began her words, thanking the attendance to watch her film. She is 85 years old and she was 15 years old when the World War ended. Soon, her family moved to the country side, where she learned the tranquility so the big city is a place where she finds more difficult to familiarize with. For Ms. Kikuchi, it is important to think with the nature and understand our connection with the living beings. What made her produce this film, was her desire to be able to leave a message for the future generations
FK: “These three points were decisive for me to make this film:
- Our connections with nature and connections to live;
- Our relation with the Rivers and Oceans;
- The human involvement in their region.
Although I had to invest my money into it, I am very satisfied with the outcome.”
MF: I am very happy to see your movie. For the issue on ‘commons’ the people from the communities have protected the river. What stroked me was the scene of the fertilization moment where somewhat looked very rudimentary. I have seen a professional way of fertilizing the fish eggs, where there is a thumb role not to surpass 30 seconds. In this sense, the people of Okawa River seemed rather laid back. Another interesting aspect by watching the film was, that the community is kind to the women; usually fishing society are gender biased. The community must have the taste and love for this type of “Alaska Salmon” like, because they are different from the conventional salmon. I felt a strong people’s engagement with the river and a deep connection with it.
Question 1) What are the concerns for having a successor for this tradition?
Answer: FK- In order to nurture the techniques of their tradition, you could either have a partnership with the tourism bureau of Niigata Prefecture or move to live in Niigata. However this is difficult. Although it is not drastically, but Kodo fisherman’s are decreasing. This year, three of them died of old-age.
Question 2) Fisherman in Okawa valued salmon as a gift from God, and were keen on giving back what they earned to God [Yebisu-sama or Japanese God of fishermen and good luck] consistently through rituals such as Hatsunagiri [offering the first cut fish]. Why has this ideology persisted in this particular area, while other areas in Japan became victims of development?
Answer: MF: My impression of the film was that the physical relationship of the fishermen, the River, and the traditions was very strong. Therefore, this might have also enhanced the continuation of the ideology. In the film, you may have noticed one fisherman saying that no matter how well you will build your Kodo to get the fish, or if you have the best designated area to fish, one will get what he or she deserves… that is how I think, that is how I believe. It is a mystic relationship of man and the nature and their ideology are adequate because it is inherited from ages.
Question 3) What can each one of us do, to contribute for the nature?
Answer: FK- About 30 years ago, I have sort of protested to the prefecture, when there was a company who wanted to construct a golf course. Because of it, there was a time when I have suffered even would throw stones to me. However after the 3.11 (March 11th), I had some children victims of Fukushima coming to visit my house and then, the community also began participating in the volunteering with much willingness. And by so, what once looked to be difficult, through this opportunity, the people who had persecuted me, was helping me…Wherever you live, live strongly!
Question 4) What are your views on the concerns for preserving the river against pollution?
Answer: FK- I believe that the Okawa river community preserves well the nature and we will need to have more youth to take over the elderly knowledge and understand the importance of then river and inherit their legacy.