• Kennan Area
  • Folk Customs
  • Foods

Ayu no Chongake (Sweetfish Angling)

Photography/TAKEUCHI Yasunori

a Product of Wisdom and Technique

 Banjou River is a river known for its clear stream that represents Oita, or more likely, the entirety of Kyushu. Many fish inhabit here. In particular, the abundance of Ayu (Japanese Sweetfish) from summer to autumn is well known, and the distinctive angling method called “Chongake Fishing” is passed down as one unique to the Banjou River area. This method of fishing is seen in the area called Honjou, where the main stream of Banjou River runs, and its tributary Isaki River and Kurusu River, which are in Yayoi and Naokawa districts.

 You tie the fishing line to the middle of a bamboo rod of about 1.5 meters, and attach a hook to the tip of the rod with a rubber band. Set up a fishing net to surround the Ayu fish in, then dive into the river with goggles or look into water to chase the fish, and hook it with a little twist on your wrist to catch. The needle will come off the tip so the fish can be caught without severe damage.

 This is definitely not as easy as it sounds, but more than 100 members of the Banjou River Fishery Co-op are capable of this method, and an experienced fisherman never misses his shot. Inside the fish cage, fresh Ayu fish are bouncing around with their silver scales shining.

 Although Ayu fish eat some insects during their juvenile fry stage, they will only eat some algae attached to the rocks on the bottom of the river once they go up the river and grow up as adults. Therefore, you cannot catch this fish with normal bait. Hence, various angling methods were devised since old times. The Tomozuri method utilizes the territorial behavior of Ayu where you use a decoy to enter the territory, the Korogashi or Gorohiki methods throw a rod with multiple fishing needles into the school of Ayu fish to hook them up, and other methods include use of cormorants or fishweir. Among these, Chongake is a product of the wisdom and technique of the fishermen of Banjou River. This method is only possible where the water in the river is very good in quality and highly transparent.

 The name Ayu is said to be derived from the fact that they go down the river in autumn, in other words they are the “Ayuru (falling)” fish. Others call it “Nengyo” from the fact they only live for a year, or “Kougyo” for its scent, or “Sairingyo” for its fine scale. The Japanese character for Ayu is said to be derived from “the fish who occupies its territory,” or because the fish was used for “fortune telling” in the legend of Empress Jingu, however the character originally referred to catfish in ancient Japan and China.

“Chongake Fishing,” a distinctive angling method passed down in the Banjou River area. Ayu fish are hooked on the fishing needle at the tip of the rod.