Tenkara and Foraging Skills in Japan

Sunday, 24 April 2016

All Photos By Kazumi Saigo ("Ajari-san" to his tenkara friends)


Kazumi Saigo landing a nice fish
Kazumi Saigo landing a nice fish for his magazine article


Our regular visits to Japan are filled with fascinating experiences. As well as the opportunities to see and learn the very best techniques - we get to "workshop" those techniques among the top tenkara anglers in the world.

What shines through is that technical fishing ability, knowledge and practice are all important factors - BUT they are still only a part of what it means to be "a tenkara angler" in Japan. There is much more to it than that...

Top of the list of other factors is a really strong sense of community. Groups of close friends will travel from many different areas of the country in order to meet up and fish regularly together. This is a strange mixture of close friendships with regular contact that are maintained even though these friends often live many hours drive away from each other when work intrudes on fishing time!

Another really noticeable thing (compared to angling clubs or groups of angling friends in the UK) is how common it is for tenkara anglers to have a deep knowledge of edible plants and fungi that live around the rivers and up on the mountain slopes. As in all social groups - modern and ancient - good food and drink make up a really important cement for relationships.


Saigo san showed me and John (pictured here) how to find "Zenmai" Ferns; which not only produce a fuzzy dubbing for tying flies - but the young fern-heads are also delicious when served in light tempura batter

In our group of friends, there is one angler who is renowned for his huge database of rivers, streams and fish captures all over Japan. His name is Kazumi Saigo and it is rumoured that he might be one of the very top fish-catchers in all of Japanese tenkara. He certainly catches huge numbers of trout and char each season - and is being featured more and more in the Japanese angling media as a result. When Dr. Ishigaki needs to do a photoshoot with certain fish, it is Saigo-san who he calls to find out the latest data on conditions and where the fish will be active! 

Like many Japanese tenkara anglers, Saigo-san has a fishing nickname. His tenkara frends call him "Ajari" (or the honorific "Ajari-san" as a small joke). He is extremely adventurous and loves hiking into remote river systems to find unfished waters. Ajari also has a great knowledge of edible plants and fungi. He loves to collect these mountain delicacies and share them with the tenkara group during the regular evening BBQ and beer sessions.


Sansai Tempura being fried to light, crispy perfection

In Japan - these delicacies that are foraged from the streamsides and mountain-slopes are known as "sansai". If you ever get the chance to sample some - grab that opportunity with both hands. This isn't some kind of "you can live on it, but it tastes like...." well, we all know how that quote finishes. Instead, think more along the lines of how prized wild mushrooms are compared to their cultivated relatives. But it is not only for his remarkable fishing and foraging that we owe a debt to Ajari...


A good haul of "sansai" collected by Saigo-san while we fished part of the Itoshiro River system

...Along with many of our Japanese angling friends and advisors, Saigo-san has been kind enough to offer reviews, comments, testing and advice during our rod design work. It is through this network of advisors and our ever-growing experience of fishing in Japan that we have received such a boost in our understanding of what makes a tenkara rod. It is this insight that we are working to continually bring into all of the rods that we become involved with on behalf of Tenkara Centre. We are excited to bring the best of Japanese tenkara in terms of techniques and equipment and make them available to everyone.


A stunning and large yamame caught by Ajari when he borrowed a Tenkara Centre Hayase for an adventurous back-country expedition