fishing for kurodai

01Aug05
On July 14th, I went fishing for kurodai with Tabata-sensei. The kurodai is related to red snapper, which is called ‘tai’ in Japanese — essentially the kurodai (kuro = ‘black’) is a black red snapper. After we drove to the dock area where we would catch the ferry to the island that we would be fishing from, Tabata-sensei filled me in on the finer points of kurodai fishing. In fact, Tabata-sensei is somewhat of a fishing expert. In addition to his work on adverbials in Dickens and Smollet, he writes articles for fishing magazines and does some freelance work for a small manufacturer of fishing equipment called, coincidentally enough, Kurodai. For bait we would be using small mussels attached to hooks. These we would drop into the water from the concrete docks where we would be fishing. Apparently kurodai instinctively respond to the visuality of falling and will tend to try to bite whatever is dropping through the water.

While we waited to board the ferry, a cheerful blue-hued boat, Tabata-san outfitted me with a floatation vest, a red Kurodai hat, and of course a rod and reel. The rod and reel were both manufactured by Kurodai, and the reel especially was a beautiful piece of craft machine work, milled from some kind of alloy, and swiss-cheesed for lightness. The poles too were incredible — I haven’t been fishing for years and it’s remarkable to me the way fishing poles have changed. These ones, especially designed for kurodai fishing, were surprisingly light and they telescoped out to the thinness of insects’ antennae, which makes a kind of sense when you consider that insects often use their antennae to sense exactly the kinds of motions that we were trying to sense.

We rode the ferry from a canal that was well within the confines of urban space and then out past factories and the coastal industrial zone, which is incredibly extended in Osaka. There’s almost nothing I enjoy more than those behind-the-scenes views of the workings of urban spaces, the almost inside-out glimpses of the processes that actually result in the storefront faces that we are intended to encounter as consumers. The view from the water in Osaka Bay is a view of pure production, a kind of lesson book in what’s going on behind the scenes. The ferry passed several banks of massive storage tanks, a few enormous piles of debris, and several cranes loading container ships. Eventually we passed beneath the enormous red presence of Minato Ohashi Bridge, which was kind of like passing under a giant red dachsund, built from an Erector Set. We also passed the Maishima incineration plant (80% of Japanese garbage is incinerated), the Cosmo Square area (which boasts the World Trade Center Cosmo Tower), and the Kaiyukan, a world-renowned aquarium with a whale shark, Yu-chan, as its primary draw.

The 30-minute ferry ride brought us to an artificial island that was far into the middle of Osaka Bay. From our landing place on the concrete pilings we could look across to see Kobe. The island itself, surrounded on all four sides by concrete piers, is essentially a storage space for waste that is to be sorted before incineration, but it is also prime habitat for kurodai. There were several other fishers on the island with us that day, but before Tabata-sensei and I could begin fishing he had to give me a lesson in proper bait-preparation. We were using non-barbed hooks, since this was a catch-and-release mission (I don’t think I’d want to eat the fish from Osaka Bay), and the first thing Tabata-sensei needed to teach me was how to tie the line around the hook since these hooks had no eye-holes. The line-tying technique he showed me is incredibly eloquent and made me immediately appreciate the aesthetic simplicity and strength of a seven-turn fisherman’s knot. After tying the hooks to the lines we each placed a single mussel on the end of the hook and proceeded to circle back and forth around one corner of the island, trying to catch kurodai. Tabata-sensei immediately caught two, though there were no bites for some time after that, so we broke for lunch.

After lunch, we began to walk to another corner of the island and I got my first bite. I could see the kurodai in the water below me, moving back and forth as it tried to escape the hook, but just as Tabata-san arrived with the net the kurodai escaped. That was my only catch for the day, but Tabata-san told me that it was a very encouraging sign: “Kurodai are very cautious, and very hard to catch. I think the fact that you caught one on your first day means that you will probably catch more later.” Tabata-san, however, is obviously the master of kurodai technique — something about the pace at which he lowers the line into the water, or the tension he keeps in the line perhaps — because he landed eight or nine kurodai while we were there. More than double that of any of the other fishers who came out to the island that day.

In the middle of the day, after noticing my bright-red legs, which were beginning to resemble lobster claws, I decided that I needed to take a nap. I curled up against a concrete wall and fell asleep to the sound of waves lapping against the island, and the occasional splashes of perch as they leapt from the water. Even though they were far in the distance, the thrum of monolithic diesel motors powering container ships could be felt everywhere, like a field of sound hovering over the surface of the sea. You would think the middle of the ocean would be quiet, but it’s not — in Osaka the middle of the ocean is also the end range of the factory production of an entire city, and the container ships that are constantly filtering out into the ocean are just the waterborne extension of this factory. All day long, fishing in the bellybutton of Osaka’s industrial reach.

Here’s the ferry we took out to the island where we went fishing. To see more great pictures of boats, check out Scotty J.’s blog entries about boats.
Here’s a description of this bridge taken from Osaka — Millennium City, a book about the history of Osaka’s urban planning: “Minato Ohashi Bridge. Continuous Gerber truss bridge with three spans. Total length is 980m, central span 510m. The third largest of its kind in the world. Four-lane, two-story construction. A clearance of more than 50m above the water is provided as the bridge is built across the main sailing route in Osaka Port.” Yes. It’s big.
Tabata-sensei all decked out in his Kurodai gear. You can’t see me in this shot, but I’m wearing pretty much the same thing.
Kurodai in the net.
A fine view of Cosmo Square as we take the boat back into Osaka. The tall building in the photo is the World Trade Center Osaka, apparently one of the biggest wastes of tax dollars in Osaka history. That shiny round dome on the right is, I’m pretty sure, the maritime museum.
Three orange shipping cranes. They remind me of those perpetually rocking bird toys.
As we came home, with evening falling, we passed this container crane, which reminded me of a giant walking-stick insect.
This is a small light house (I think) on the corner of the artificial island where Tabata-sensei and I were fishing for kurodai.
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