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Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004

JAPAN LITE

Gone fishin' and fishin' and fishin' . . .


I've never understood why people go fishing -- why would you go fishing if there is the possibility of not catching anything? Would you buy a ticket to the movies if they told you that you might not be able to watch the movie? Of course no one would buy a ticket, unless maybe it was to see a movie about fishing.

So when Rikimatsu-san, an old guy with a mop of white hair who docks his boat just outside my house, offered to take me fishing with a guarantee of catching hundreds of fish, I took him up on the offer. Rikimatsu-san is 75 years old and has been fishing for most of them. He has a special fishing spot place for fishing for sardines, "aji" (horse mackerel) and "mama kari," a Seto Inland Sea specialty. At 6 a.m., he called to my house from his boat in that loud voice fisherman have perfected for shouting to each other over distances of water, and told me he was ready to go.

When we arrived at the special fishing spot, the Seto Inland Sea was just coming to life. Boats appeared amongst the morning mist and the pink glow of dawn. At the fishing grounds were two other boats. Rikimatsu-san dropped a fishing line with 12 hooks spaced out along it, but within five seconds was reeling the line back in. He must have forgotten something, like to bait the hooks, I thought. But when the line came back in, it was full of fish, one attached to each of the hooks. These were the dumbest fish I'd ever seen.

We continued dropping lines with no bait and hauling in fish with no abate. The hardest work was taking the fish off the hooks, as I inadvertently mangled the fish, leaving an occasional eye behind on the hook, or more frequently the entire jaw. But honestly, the fish did not seem to mind at all. As soon as I put the line of hooks back into the water, a dozen more jumped on. I was a serial fish killer, killing in numbers, entire extended families on a single fishing line. And this was legal! Awesome.

Within an hour, the fishing grounds had grown from just three boats to 12, with some boats coming from over a half-hour away just to fish at this spot. And everyone was bringing in lines of fish, which by now were so numerous we could just leave them on the hooks, hang them out in the sun to dry and sell them as sardine party streamers.

A couple of hours later, I was feeling very much like I was in a Dr. Seuss boat, with the stacks of fish getting taller and taller on each side of me until they were like masts, causing the boat to teeter from side to side. But the next time I dropped the line in, and five seconds passed, Rikimatsu-san signaled to me to leave the line in the water. When 10 seconds had passed, he gently tugged on the line with two fingers and told me to wait again. When 30 seconds had passed, I brought the line in -- empty. The fish had stopped biting. Or perhaps we had caught all there were.

The other fishing boats started to disperse, and Rikimatsu-san put the gear away and we headed back into the port. He dropped me off in front of my house with a bucketful of flopping fish, which I then put into my freezer.

Just then, my neighbor Kazu-chan came over and while standing in my "genkan," asked what all the ruckus coming from the freezer was.

"Fish!" I said.

"Oh," she said, "would you like me to cook them for you?" Needless to say, we had fish for lunch and dinner, and now I understand why people go fishing. Even if there is no guarantee you'll catch any.

Get "Amy's Guidebook to Japan: What the Other Guidebooks Won't Tell You" at the One Dollar Bookstore at the Web site www.mooooshop.com/MooooBooks/order/index.htm


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