Genryu Fishing of Japan #45

Takakuwa-san (Fishing trip with Mr. Shinichi Takakuwa)

The rain, that had begun to fall when we entered into the mountains, eased off. It was 6:30 in the morning, we lifted up our backpacks on our backs and started walking up through the small stream called “Aka-gawa (Red river). "Because I'm very old now, I can't walk so fast. Go ahead and wait in the right place." Takakuwa-san said to us and he went to the end of the group. We were on the route to Obuka-zawa climing over the mountain ridge of Hachimantai mountains spread over the north of Akita and Iwate prefecture.

Hachimantai is a national park with rolling mountains. There are variety shape of peaks of volcanic origin on a plateaus at an altitude of about 1500m, and there are countless swamps and wetlands between them. We went on a fishing trip to the headwaters of Onuka-sawa flowing westward on the Akita side of Hachimantai for 3 days. This trip was special because we had a special guest Takakuwa-san in the group. 

Takakuwa-san is a very famous genryu fisher and stream trekker. 

I first met Takakuwa-san about 5 years ago. When I went to Haide-gawa (Haide River) with my fishing friend Tsuru-chan, we happened to meet with Takakuwa-san's party at the tenba (camp site) by the stream on the first day. Haide-gawa, which has a huge slab cliffs called Gangarashibana at the most upstream, is a popular genryu not only for anglers but also for enthusiastic sawanobori (stream climbing) people. On the first day of entering the valley, I and Tsuru-chan enjoyed fishing a few miles upstream from Temba and returned to Temba in the evening, we saw unexpected bonfire smoke from the tributary stream by the tenba. As we climbed to the tenba, we found a party of 3 people on the other side of stream. When we went to say hello and talk about our schedule for the next, I got to know it was Takakuwa-san and two young women. We did simple self-introduction and told that we always enjoyed reading articles written by Takakuwa-san. Takakuwa-san and his colleagues were visiting Haide-gawa to write an article of Gangarashibana for a mountain climbing magazine. Then, for the next day, we decided to go to Gangarashibana together so as not to disturb Mr. Takakuwa's coverage. 

Since Takakuwa-san and I had common friends like Sebata-san and several other headwater fishing acquaintances, I sometimes met Takakuwa-san at a year-end party and other occasions. We promised to go on a genryu fishing trip together someday, but I was not given a chance. Five years later, this opportunity has finally come. When I talked to my genryu friends about this trip, 4 members gathered at once because we could go with that famous Takakuwa-san. It was Tsuru-chan, Hama-chan, Yagi-san and Ubi-chan who have just returned to Japan. Unfortunately, Tsuru-chan had to cancel the trip at work just before the trip, so it was a trip with a total of five members including Takakuwa-san.

Takakuwa-san is a celebrity in the headwater fishing world alongside with Sebata-san. In my favorite magazine, "Keiryu", there is an article by Takakuwa-san every issue. He also has authored more than 10 books and has appeared on television programs sometimes. However, Takakuwa-san’s style in the genryu world is a little different from Mr. Sebata or Dr. Ishigaki. Takakuwa-san's approach to the genryu world was not fishing, but mountain climbing. Takakuwa-san was one of the leading persons in establishing a unique Japanese sport called “Sawa-nobori(stream climbing)”.

Originally, Takakuwa-san was one of young mountaineers who aimed for the highest peaks in the world, like Everest. Takakuwa-san said that he gradually began to realize that the appeal of the mountains was not only to reach the summits, but also in the forests and valleys at the foot of the mountains and the history and culture of the people who live there. Needless to say, Takakuwa-san likes fishing. However, fishing itself was not always the primary purpose of Takakuwa-san's mountain trips. His trips were from adventures such as perfecting the many impregnable genryu trips and climbing the waterfall that was said to be impossible, to the trips walking through the fading mountain trails with more than 1000 years of history and recorded the history and the culture of mountain dwellers. Before long, Takakuwa-san became known as a mountaineer who did not aim for the summit.

I was particularly impressed by Takakuwa-san's travel writings and essays in the several books that documented the history and culture of those mountain dwellers and intended to preserve them for posterity. I think Takakuwa-san is an excellent folklore scholar as well as an angler and a mountaineer.

When we were planning this mountain trip, I told Takakuwa-san that we planned to go over the shortest route to the headwaters of Ofuka-sawa and fish only the core part of the stream. However, Mr. Takakuwa said, "No, it is not beautiful by simple round trip, we should make a kind of circle trip in Hachimantai. On the first day we will walk through the ridgeline to the downstream part of Oukasawa and descend down Kantozawa and go to Ofuka-sawa. On the 2nd day, slowly fish the best area of the mainstream and go to Tenba at Mitsumata(confluence of three streams) upstream, put the load from Tenba and fish the headwater part. Last day, we will climb through the Kedo-sawa from Mitsumata to the ridgeline.” So Takakuwa-san suggested a circle trip route which we can enjoy both Hachimantai's ridgeline walk and fishing in Onukasawa.

Akaka-gawa was a stream where acidic water was flowing and the riverbed was dyed in red. After a couple of tributaries, the water quickly diminished, it became a very walkable stepped stream. We arrived on the ridgeline trail for about an hour. The rain had stopped completely. After walking for 1 minute on the mountain trail, there was an evacuation hut of Ofuka Sanso. It was a well-maintained evacuation hut, and the inside looked it was just renovated. Ubi, an Italian, was constantly impressed with its cleanliness.

Takakuwa-san told us that after this fishing trip he would work in a mountain hut for two weeks as a hut guard in the Iide Mountains. Mt. Iide, located on the border between Fukushima and Yamagata prefectures, is a mountain of religion for a long time and is still very popular with mountaineers. Everyone thought that if Takakuwa-san is doing a hut guard, we definitely visit him to the hut next year. There seems to be a stream where you can fish iwana if you go down the northern slope from the hut. I also thought it would be a luxurious mountain trip to fish char at the headwaters of Iide during the day and listen to Takakuwa-san at the mountain hut at night. 

We ate light breakfast in front of the evacuation hut and when we started walking through the ridgeline, the clouds started to cut from the south, and the sun appeared from behind the clouds. Before long, the blue sky began to spread, and by the time we arrived at the top of Mt. Ofuka, the scenery of the Hachimantai mountains gently spread under the wonderful blue sky. In the southeast direction, we could see Mt. Iwate, which was particularly high. It was so beautiful exposed in the morning sun.

We enjoyed a three-hour walk along the ridgeline while enjoying the nature of Hachimantai, with mountain scenery, abundant forests, flower fields along mountain trails and dotted ponds. Around noon, we arrived at the swamp area near the source of Kanto-zawa(Kanto stream). "That side." Takkakuwa-san said. As soon as we descended from the point where he pointed, we immediately came out to the source stream. After walking about 10 minutes, the amount of water increased steadily and it became a fine stream. We went down the stream for about 30 minutes and had lunch on a large monolith by the stream. After lunch, at a confluence with a large tributary, Takakuwa-san told Ubi-chan to try fishing. Immediately, Ubi-chan fished a few iwana, but the size was still small. We kept on walking down Kanto-zawa. It took an hour to reach the confluence with mainstream Obuka-sawa from there. I was lack of sleep and exhausted, but it was a great walk. 

The riverside at the confluence was very wide on the mainstream side, and we soon set a tarp at the safest place by mountain side. Hama-chan and Ubi-chan started fishing, but the iwana seemed to be small again. We bathed in the pool in front of Tenba and started preparing for dinner. We made a bonfire, and the dinner was started with toasting with beer. Beer was so good because it was a hot day. We cooked some appetizers and grilled meats, and the main was Ubi-chan's risotto. Since it is the first night, everyone started with a brief introduction of ourselves first and heard Takakuwa-san’s mountain stories. However, we all lay down early under the tarp due to extreme lack of sleep and tired walking on the first day. 

The next day was blessed with good weather from morning. "Let me take a picture of a good fishing today." Takakuwa-san pushed our back, and we left Tenba. We were told that we would arrive at Tenba at Mitsumata before noon. Mitsumata is the core of Obuka-sawa genryu area, and just downstream of Mitsumata there is a big waterfall, a landmark of Obuka-sawa, known as the Niagara Falls.

I did not fish at all the previous day, so I fished first this day. I could catch iwana of about 25cm in a riffle above Tenba immediately. Then the iwana had great reactions and chased the kebari and bent our fishing rods. The average size was about 28cm, but in about two hours to Niagara Falls, we enjoyed fishing in Obuka-sawa enough. 

Climbing over the Niagara Falls, a long slippery riverbed continued for about 300m, but we quickly arrived at Mitsumata. I heard that Tenba was on the left bank in Kedo-sawa, so when I went to reconnaissance, there was a large enough Tenba on the bank just upstream of the confluence on the left bank that looked comfortable. We immediately set up a tarp and made up Tenba. "We slept enough last night and we have physical strength today, so whatever we do, the work is quick." Yagi-san said and laughed. After Tenba was made, Yagi-san boiled soba for everybody. We spread large leaves on the rocks beside the stream, served soba on it and ate all at once. It was delicious. 

We split into two groups from noon and fished upstream from Mitsumata. Hama-chan and Ubi-chan entered Kita-zawa(North stream), and Takakuwa-san, Yagi-san and I entered Higashi-zawa(East stream). Iwana's response was excellent in the afternoon too. As Takakuwa-san had taken enough pictures in the morning, he finally started fishing in the afternoon. Takakuwa-san told us that he was doing bait fishing in the past, but he has been focusing on Tenkara fishing since 10 years ago. Yagi-san and Takakuwa-san caught good size Iwana one after another. 

We climbed over a few waterfalls, and we were happy to have fished well enough. So we returned to Temba. We had enough time even after arriving at tenba on this day. We lit a bonfire on the riverside of Kedo-sawa and toasted with beer early on. Hama-chan made iwana sashimi and kobujime(kelp rolled sashimi). After that, we all made Yagi-san's specialty iwana gyoza(Fried iwana dumpling). Cooking was good fun. Takakuwa-san seemed to have iwana gyoza first time and seemed enjoying them. This evening, Takakuwa-san told us many stories about the mountains and the books.

I told Takakuwa-san that two of Takakuwa-san's books were very impressive. The first book is "Mountain Work, Mountain Life", which I described a little earlier, but it is the book carefully describes the history and culture of the mountain people. It is the record of life that has been supporting and inheriting the lives of mountain villagers for hundreds of years. The stories about fisherman, wild vegetable picker, Kiji-shi(Wooden craftsmen) etc. The stories about the culture of the ancient mountain people of Japan that is almost disappearing in this modern age. Takakuwa-san said, "Because if someone does not write it, those things will be forgotten."

Another favorite book is "Kodo Junrei (Pilgrimage of ancient road)". This book is very familiar to genryu fishermen like us. The book is about the roads or foot paths in the mountains. For example, the ancient roads that have been used for more than a thousand years in eastern Japan and all over the Tohoku region, and old trails that mountain people made, or fishermen’s and mountain plants pickers hidden foot paths, some of work roads that has been cut open in the mountains. Takakuwa-san travelled those rods and trails on foot for this book. It is a book that records such a mountain trip. I occasionally wrote about such old mountain trails and zenmai paths in this blog, and the book includes detailed records of those fading mountain roads. Even if it is called a road, it is not a main road that has been promoted to a road where cars run, such as a national road or a prefectural road, but a so-called back road. Sometimes those roads have been made on the steep mountains or cliffs. Those were the places like the natural fortress that seemed impossible to go through. I really think some roads that Takakuwa-san describes in this book are truly miracle. 

Takakuwa-san has turned 70 this year. "I'm old now," Takakuwa-san said, laughing. I sincerely wonder if somebody who is younger than us inherits the rest of these Takakuwa-san’s records. As the night went on, we slipped into the sleeping bags one after another. It was a calm summer night, with no wind, the moon light spilling out of the gaps between the trees.

On the last day, we chose the most straightforward route through Kedo-sawa to the mountain trail on the ridge. It was a relatively easy route until the end of the stream, but we made a mistake in choosing walking direction in the last bush and struggled, but finally we managed to go on the mountain trail. The superb views of Hachimantai had been spreaded like 360 degrees. It was the splended landscapes, and we could forget all difficulties we had. The cool breeze was pleasant. We went around the Hachimantai ridgeline and the genryu of Obuka-sawa and reached back the head of Aka-gawa again.

I really wanted to come back to fishing with Takakuwa-san and the friends. I asked to Takakuwa-san, "Where shall we go next year?"

"Yeah, let's go somewhere again," Takakuwa-san laughed.

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