Keiichi Okushi is a Genryu Fisher. He writes for Tenkara-Fisher and runs the Tenkara Rod Shop, Tenkaraya.com
#1 Stories of Genryu I have been doing fishing for more than 40 years since I was a kid, and for about last 20 years I mainly did “Keiryu fishing (mountain stream fishing)” using flies. I do both Tenkara fishing and Fly fishing. Anyway my most favorite fishing field is "Keiryu" and I especially love “Genryu fishing”
#2 Zenmai Paths To go to Genryu in the real deep mountains, we often take approaches by climbing over mountain ridges. Normally there are no climbing trails or trekking paths, but of course we can not climb anywhere blindly. There might be a risk of a distress in the mountains.
#3 Dinner at Tenba When we go Genryu camp fishing, another big fun other than fishing is dinner. We normally have simple breakfast like breads or rice gruel, and we have lunch in the valley while fishing with instant noodles with soup or breads. After a good long day, when we come back to tenba (Camp site), it is the time to enjoy dinner. Of course we enjoy cooking too.
#4 Sakanadome (Fish Stop Waterfall) “Sakanadome” (Some people call “Uodome”) normally means a waterfall which stops run up of fish. So there is no fish upstream of “Sakanadome”. In Japanese, “Sakana” or “Uo” mean fish, and “Dome” means stop. Genryu fishing is the fishing going upstream. If you fish and hike up a stream, you will finally reach a “Sakanadome waterfall” for the last time. So we often enjoy fishing aiming to go to “sakanadome”.
#5 Sakura Yamame 1st April is the opening day of the Keiryu (mountain stream) fishing season at the most of rivers in my area, but there are still lots of snows in the deep mountains, so I go a bit downstream today.
#6 Clothing and Footwear I often wonder what kind of clothing & footwear is the most popular for tenkara fishing in overseas countries. I often saw tenkara fishers in foreign countries wearing waders just like fly fishing style. I think it is nothing wrong, we too wear waders depending on condition of climate and situation of rivers.
#7 Sansai (mountain plants) I wrote about sansai little bit at my previous posting of cooking at genryu camping. Now in Japan, it is the best season to gather sansais, and I went sansei camping with friends at last weekend.
#8 Genryu, Keiryu, Honryu and Seiryu I sometimes received questions from my foreign friends “What is difference between Genryu and Keiryu? , “What is Seiryu?”, “which part of river is Honryu?”
#9 Genryu Fishing Trip Walking Through 1,300 Year Old Trail I wrote about approaches to Genryu before. We often take hidden small paths called “Zenmai-michi” or “matagi-michi” to go to Genryu. Of course we could sometimes take well- kept mountain trails. Anyway it is quite usual for us to climb over mountain ridges to go to Genryu taking those small paths.
#10 Iwana In my fishing field, Tohoku or Kanto district, when we go Genryu fishing, most of the time target fish would be iwana. Rarely we catch yamame in the river that runs through low elevation mountains or depending on the situation of the river, but when we say genryu fishing it means iwana fishing for us.
#11 Genryu Fishing Trip of September 05 - 07 I had been very busy on business for last 2 months, and also we had unusual bad weather in this summer, so I could not go on Genryu trips at all. Actually 3 trips were cancelled or postponed. In September, the weather seemed to be getting better, and we planned one Genryu trip to Iide mountains in Niigata from 5th to 7th.
#12 Last Genryu Fishing Trip of This Season September 19 - 22 I planned this Genryu trip with famous Genryu Tenakra fisher, Yuzo Sebata, but unfortunately he had to cancel the trip because of his backache. It was very disappointing but I think we can go with Sebata-san next year. Anyway we went on the trip without him.
#13 For Foods We Carry on Genryu Fishing Trip It has been ages since my last post. I wanted to post more stories but I was somehow very busy. Anyway our Keiryu fishing season is over and I am already looking forward to next spring and spending cold winter days. Today, I would like to write short posting about foods we carry on Genryu fishing trips. Last time I wrote about that we eat fish we caught, Sansai (mountain plants) and wild mushrooms when we camp in Genryu, but of course it is not always. We can not get sansai or mushrooms in every season.
#14 How to Cook Steamed Rice with Hango Please read this text watching at the following video. It will help you understanding how to cook steamed rice with hango. Please note there are some ways to cook steamed rice with hango and my explanation is slightly different from the video.
#15 Accommodation in Genryu Tent, Zelt or Tarp? When you plan to go to Genryu fishing camp with everything in your 60L back-pack, probably the first thing you wonder is accommodation equipment. I was so too when I just started Genryu camping, and I always wanted to take a tent. I felt tent was a complete shelter, and there was a guarded sense, but on the other hand a tent is quite heavy and bulky. In time I also tried a zelt and tarp later.
#16 Encounter With Wild Animals We go into the mountains deeper and deeper seeking for iwana, then we have unexpected meetings with wild animals, that we could not see in human dwelling areas. Sometimes it is an animal that we can hardly see in our ordinary life. Obviously it is an impressive moment, but on the other hand encounter with some animals is sometimes very dangerous. It is necessary to take prudent action, but as long as we keep a sufficiently safe distance, I think those encounters are very valuable and wonderful experiences.
#17 Yamame In March. We have opening days of Keiryu fishing in some rivers. In this season genryu streams in the high mountains are under the thick snow, but we start Yamame fishing in the streams running through montane regions near my hometown. We call this type of stream “Sato-gawa”. Sato means village and Gawa means river. “Sato-gawa” is the stream running through mountain villages.
#18 Equipment for Genryu Fishing Trip I have written some articles about clothing, meals and tents separately but never explained about the entire equipment for Genryu fishing trip(Backpacking) yet. Today, I would like to describe about the basic equipment for Genryu fishing trip briefly. I would like to leave the refuse one point. This equipment line-up is based on our standard and I think the contents of some equipment may vary from person to person. Please lead this as one of the reference.
#19 Forgotten places in the mountains When we go into the deep mountains in search of good streams and iwana, we rarely discover the ruins such as a trace of small village or a mine trace, neglected old tracks, waste roads. We get so surprised when we find such remains of human-beings in complete remote areas in the deep mountains, but we know that we used to have industries of mountains in Japan's industrial revolution era. We also find trace of mountain people’s villages such as woodworkers, matagi (Hunters), etc. When we look back our history, some of old Japanese people were surely living with mountains. I must say they could live their lives by the mountains.
#20 First Genryu fishing trip in 2015 In early June, we went on our first genryu fishing trip of this season to the stream in Iwate, north part of main-land. It is the harvest time of Nemagari-take bamboo shoots in Iwate. We were invited from a friend of mine, Mr. Okabe, a famous keiryu fisher living in Iwate. We were a group of 4 people.
#21 A Friend Comes From France This early July, Mr. Christophe Laurent, who is famous French Tenkara fisher in Tenkara Fisher, has visited Japan. It was also this site that I got to know him, and I have communicated with him by Facebook or e-mail for about 2 years. He runs a blog about Tenkara Fishing in French and owns a tenkara tackle web-shop for French and European anglers. I feel the extraordinary passion on him for Tenkara Fishing.
#22 Onigiri, Omusubi or Nigirimeshi (Rice Ball) As Japanese foods became World Cultural Heritage, so many types of Japanese cuisines are recognized world-widely now. When I was a student in England many years ago, I never imagined there would be such many Japanese restaurants in foreign countries. We now see Sushi restaurants, Ramen restaurants, other types of Japanese restaurants everywhere. By this trend, our most traditional picnic meal “Onigiri (Rice Ball)” is also getting popular in the world recently.
#23 Gangarashibana Hidden scenic spot “Gangarashibana”. A friend of mine said “When I first saw the Gangarashibana, I though whether there is such a magnificent place in Japan and my heart was trembling." In the eastern part of Niigata Prefecture, at the center of kawachi-Shimoda mountain massif, there is a river called Haide. if you go very end of the headwater of Haide River, there is a superb view of the valley Gangarashibana. It is the valley surrounded by rugged mountains of slab. They say if you stand on the bottom of the valley and look around, you must feel like a being in a giant mortar. There are 2 large waterfalls flowing down from the peak ridges of 350m high, and char is living up to just below those water falls. It is not the tourist site at all. There are no trails to Gangarashibana. You have to climb over the mountain ridge and walk through the stream. Old local people must have thought it was the field of God.
#24 Wazao Tenkara fishing with Sebata-san At the end of September, the last weekend of keiryu fishing season, I went to one arm of Tadami River, one of the biggest river in Tohoku area, with Sebata-san and 2 other friends. The plan was to fish iwana and yamame with wazao (Traditional bamboo rod). One of friends was Yamano-san who is the meister of wazao building, and another friend was Kozue-san who is the member of Tenkara lady group “Tenkara Joshi-kai”. We often see her on the headwater magazines.
#25 Relaxing time at Onsen after fishing After keiryu fishing, we often drop into onsen (hot spring) on the way home. After day fishing or genryu fishing trip, It is very refreshing to wash our sweaty body in the onsen bath. It is also so nice to warm up our cold bodies from fishing, in onsen bathtub. We Japanese people say “It is like being in heaven”.
#26 Kakushi-zawa or Kakushi-dani If you do keiryu fishing or genryu fishing in Japan for a long time, you might hear the word of “Kakushi-zawa or Kakushi-dani”. Sometimes, you might find those words in the sentences of fishing literatures or fishing writings. The meanings of the words are Kakushi-zawa = Hidden stream and Kakushi-dani = Hidden valley. Both mean the hidden stream where full of iwana live and only one person or very few people know the existence of the stream. Yes, it is a secret stream of the paradise of iwana.
#27 My Genryu Fishing Friends While long years of my genryu fishing life, I always tried to go to genryu with some friends. (At least with one friend.) In the first place it was to prepare for the event of an accident, but on the other hand it was for sharing the bliss time such as the beautiful river walk, amazing fishing and joyful camping with congenial friends. Hardships such as tough climbing over mountains or long walks become a fun time if there are fellows. The schools of iwana in the beautiful emerald green pools or great rocky mountain ranges towering over the valley, impressions to see those incredible scenes become double if together with friends.
#28 Takibi (Bonfire) Bonfire, we say takibi, is the great fun when we camp in genryu. We always make a bonfire at camp-site in the evening unless it is hard rain. If possible, we build a fire at riverside, not in the camp-site where we set a tarp or tent. It is because not to make a mess of the camp-site first, and also to enjoy the tasty meals, good drink and fun conversation with friends sitting around the bonfire relaxing and listening to the sound of the river or watching the stars in the sky.
#29 Golden-week Fishing & Sansai Camp In Japan, there is a holiday week called “Golden Week” over the first week of May from the end of April. This holiday week has 4 national holidays in the week. It is the season when the spring ends and early summer comes. The weather of this time of the year is relatively stable and it is a very good time for sightseeing and outdoor leisure activities. It is very common for people in Japan to enjoy returning to see the family living in the countryside or go on a trip, but for us, keiryu fishers, this season may have another meaning. Mountain cherry blossoms scattered and wild wisteria start blooming lily flowers in the valley, we are in the mood of moving our fishing field to the headwaters from the mountain village streams. Mountain streams in the high mountains still refuse fishers with impact of run-off. However, we start to go into the headwaters of the low mountain range of less snow region.
#30 Iwana Day (Genryu of Naka-river) Naka-gawa (Naka-river) is a big river flowing through my home town Mito. The length of the river is about 150 km (It is a big river in Japan.) and the water origin of the river is in Mt. Nasu-dake (1,917m) in our neighbor prefecture Tochigi. Since Edo Period (17th century) Naka-gawa has been known as the southernmost river of Japan that wild salmon run-up. Also middle stretch is famous as the good Ayu fishing area, and there are many Ayu fishing anglers standing in Naka-gawa in the early summer. Views of the Ayu fishing is kind of summer feature for us.
#31 Kurobe Genryu There was a mountain stream that I had been longing to fish since I started mountain stream fishing. It was “Kurobe River”. Especially the genryu part of Kurobe River is known as the highest mountain stream in Japan where iwana live. Unfortunately the lower part of Kurobe River was divided by the huge dam called Kurobe Dam, which was constructed in 1950s to cover the chronic electric power shortages of Japan after the Second World War, but the most upper part of the stream and some famous tributaries like Kitamata-dan or Yanagimata-dan have kept the original landscapes from ancient times.
#32 Genryu camp fishing with 2 American friends In middle of last September, around the end of keiryu fishing season, we had 2 American guests visiting “Tani no Okina, Sebata-san” who was staying at the historic house “Kanouzu Bansho” in Tadami-town of Aizu. One was well-known administrator of this web-site “Tenkara Fisher” Mr. Adam Trahan, and other was very keen tenkara fisher Mr. Adam Klagsbrun. So some of my friends and I gathered at Tadami to welcome them and to guide them a few days of fishing. Those days Sebata-san had not been feeling well and could not go fishing with them unfortunately, so we had decided to guide them to genryu fishing as Sebata-san’s substitute. This event became our biggest fishing event of this year and I was very much looking forward to joining them.
#33 Zenmai-michi, Fading zenmai-paths In the beginning of last August, I accompanied my friends who were members of the famous genryu fishing club “Tanidoraku” and went Koraide-river in Shimoda-Kawachi mountains in Niigata prefecture for 2 days fishing camp. To approach Koraide-river, we took a zenmai-michi (zenmai-path) made on the cliff along the Kasabori Dam and the path went through a huge slab rock wall called “Urui-Sadori”. A friend of mine said it took about 2 and half hours to get to Urui-Sadori taking that zenmai-michi, but the zenmai-michi was in very bad condition when we went there in August. The path was crumbled in many places by the landslides, and many parts of the path were bushed very badly. Clumbling was because of heavy rain or earthquakes but bushing because people do not use that road these days.
#34 Memory of Yamabe (Hae) fishing Naka-gawa (Naka river) is a big river flowing north of Mito city where I live. The river is famous as Japan's southernmost river where natural salmon runs up. I said “big river”, but driving 20 or 30 minutes up-stream from Mito by car, the river appears like seiryu(clear stream) and it would be a good area for Ayu fishing or small fish fishing such as Yamabe(Hae) or Haya(Ugui). Ymamabe(Hae) is Pale Cub and Haya is Japanese Dace in English.
#35 Shoku-ryoshi (Professional Keiryu Fisher) There used to be professional fishermen called “Shoku-ryoshi” in the mountain villages of Japan. They were the fishermen who caught Iwana or Yamame(Mostly Iwana in our region) by only fishing in mountain streams. We Japanese people normally call professhional fishermen “Ryoshi”. They are the fishermen in the ocean, lakes or lower part of river, but only those who did catch Iwana or Yamame by fishing with a fishing rod in mountain streams were distinguished by being called “Shoku-ryoshi”. They lived in mountain villages and went into deep mountains to fish Iwana or Yamame. Some Shuku-ryoshi were staying in the mountains for a week or more sleeping in a coarse hut made by themselves or a rock cave. It is not certain when this work from was established, but probably hundreds of years ago, I guess from around the Edo period. And it is said that they were probably the fishermen who first invented fly fishing in the mountain streams in Japan.
#36 Iwaimata-zawa fishing, which is flowing through the Asahi mountains, is a major tributary of the Miomote river. Its middle area is one of the most famous and the hardest genryu in Japan with gorge bands as if it continues indefinitely. This summer, I and my friends went on a genryu trip aiming for the most upper section of the stream, which can also be said to be the heaven of Tenkara fishing, by breaking through the core gorge part of this Iwaimata-zawa.
#37 Far and away Miomote River Our last genryu fishing trip this year was planned to Main stream of Miomote River. Miomote River is a river that I planned an expedition together with Sebata-san in the same period three years ago. Unfortunately, the expedition was canceled at that time due to various circumstances, so the trip that was canceled had been caught somewhere in my heart.
#38 My first memory of Keiryu Fishing I started fished when I was in the first grade of elementary school. I learned crucian carp fishing from my father at our neighborhood pond. Afterwards, I often went fishing with my father, but when I was 8 years old, I got allowed to go fishing alone to that pond only because I was able to swim then. At that time, I had got my own fishing rod and fishing gear and felt myself as a full‐fledged angler.
#39 Seasons of Keiryu Fishing Now it is end of March. Opening day of the keiryu fishing season of our areas is around the corner. It depends on the area, keiryu fishing season opens at middle of Feburary or beginning of March in some prefectures, but for us living in eastern Japan, opening day of keiryu fishing is mostly 1st April. We had very cold winter in 2018 and had lots of snow falls in the north and north west coast part of Japan. I just pray for not having snow anymore and warm spring because the overflowing snow slows down the fishing season.
#40 Ezoharu Zemi Ezoharu Zemi is a small cicada with a male body length of about 3 cm. In our main genryu fishing field Tohoku region, they occur in the broadleaf forest such as beech from late May to July. In Japanese, Ezo means Hokkaido and Haru means spring, so the meaning of the name of Ezoharu-zemi is “a cicada telling the spring to the north country”. What a fascinating name it is. The Ezoharu-zemi’s echoing in the forest tells us the arrival of a full-fledged genryu fishing season. In such a season early June we go on the first genryu fishing trip of the year.
#41 Snow Bridge in Mid July This year, rainy season ended much earlier than usual year. In our main genryu fishing field Tohoku, generally the rainy season ends around middle to end of July, but it ended by the end of June this year. As soon as July came, the summer had come. The sun was shining and glittering strongly every day. I do not like the rainy and humid climate of the rainy season, but when the rainy season had ended so soon, I was concerned about the shortage of water. Not to mention growth of agricultural crops, I was also worried that the genryu in the summer would not be drought.
#42 Rainbow trout in Cobalt Blue stream Driving a car from the town where I live to the west for about two hours, there is a river named Ohsabi-gawa (Ohsabi-river) that flows from the mountains that continue to the south from Nasu mountain ranges. Its genryu area is still close to towns and villages where people live relatively. It is a genryu that can be easily approached, but the beauty of that genryu area is said to be the best in Kanto region. From the nearest village it only takes about 10 minutes to enter the dirt forest way entrance, and if we drive a car around a mountain for about 15 minutes, the scenery around there shows the aspect of deep mountain valley at once. The river is flowing far far below the steep cliffs in deep rich forests. So, we can only hear the sound of the river faintly on the forest road.
#43 Mountain Streams Disappearing Into a Dam In the beginning of June, we went on our first genryu fishing trip to Kitanomata-zawa (Kitanomata Stream), a tributary of famous fishing river Naruse-gawa (Naruse River) located in south east of Akita prefecture. Naruse-gawa has many tributaries in its genryu part surrounded by beautiful 1200m class mountains and rich forests of beeches and Japanese oaks. Its mainstream begins from the shoulder of 1627m Mt. Kurikoma and flows north west to Sea of Japan. Upper part of Naruse-gawa has several good mountain streams for fishing spread in a fan shape. The area looks typical mountain nature of Tohoku region.
#44 One Miracle Day in the Valley of Yakuwa The Asahi Mountains are a mountain district of 60km from north to south and 30km from east to west across the prefectural border between Niigata and Yamagata prefectures. Ohasahidake (1870m) as highest peak, there are ridge line of Shoujigatake (1482m), Itodake (1771m), Kankozan (169m) etc. are called “Asahi Renpo (mountain range)”. This mountain district is one of the heaviest snowfall areas in Japan, and many snow gorges remain even in the summer. In the area up to 1200m above sea level, a vast primeval beech forests spread, and there are many mammals such as Asiatic black bears and Japanese serows, and birds of prey such as golden eagles and goshawks. In addition, there are big mountain streams such as the Sagae River on the Yamagata Prefecture side and the Miomote River on the Niigata Prefecture side form deep valleys. This vast and untouched virgin forests and deep valleys do not let people go in easily. Yes, Asahi Mountains has one of the deepest forests in Japan. In other words, it is a symbol of nature in the Tohoku region.
#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.
#46 Wazao (Traditional Bamboo rod) I sometimes do Tenkara fishing with a traditional bamboo rod in keiryu(mountain stream). We call a traditional bamboo rod “wazao” in Japan. I like the atmosphere of wazao, and I have been using one wazao made by my friend, who is a wazaocraftsman, for a long time. I go keiryu fishing with my wazao 2 or 3 times during the keiryu fishing season. I once went to the genryu with Sebata-san for an article about wazao tenkara fishing for “Keiryu Magazine”.
#47 A Bear Family In January 2020, the first person infected with covid19 in Tokyo came out. The number of infected people increased to about 30 in a month, and although the number of covid19 was more increasing in China and Southeast Asia at that time, I thought that it would be settled by the time the climate became hot, like someone else’s problem. However, the number of infected people did not subside even after spring and gradually spread throughout the country. In April, we were requested to refrain from going out without important purposes and to refrain from traveling across prefectures. Usually, in April and May, I often go fishing in the mountain streams in the neighboring prefectures, but that year I could only go fishing in the small mountain streams in the north of our prefecture or get out to the low mountain hike in our prefecture. I then thought it was a big deal.
#48 The River of Sebata-san's One day in March, I received a FB message from Sebata-san. There was a link, so when I clicked on it, it seemed that a dedicated section for tenkara fishing was opened in Kuro-kawa, which flows through the village of Okorogawa in Mae-Nikko. Kuro-kawa is the mountain stream where young Sebata-san first met tenkara fishing many years ago.
#49 Genryu Fishing from the Mountain Lodge Takakuwa-san said that he would be working as a Koyaban (manager of the mountain hut) of a mountain hut in Iide mountains for two weeks in mid-August, so I decided to go see him.
Mt. Iide is the main mountain of the Iide mountain range located on the border of the three prefectures of Fukushima, Yamagata, and Niigata in the Tohoku region at an altitude of 2105m. In the olden days, Mt. Iide was a mountain of Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts), and once it was a mountain of worship that only the shugenja (mountaineering ascetics) were allowed to climb. Today, it is a popular mountain for general mountaineering, but it takes about 10 hours from any of the trailhead at north, south, east, and west to the summit, and mountain huts are built on each mountaineering route.