Article by Isaac Tait
It was a dreary and rainy day in the Kita Ward of Tokyo. I was standing outside of a pink community center watching the buses drive by and a ramen shop across the street receive a shady delivery from the back of a sedan… I was shivering (partially from the cold but mostly in excitement and anticipation for what lay ahead) lost in thought wondering what was in that rolled up carpet, when I heard a friendly hello from Go Ishii and Akira Matsumoto. It had been awhile since Go and I had seen each other, and it was good to catch up as well as to make a new friend, Akira. We were early so we helped set up the room in preparation for a kebari tying event that was being taught by none other than the tenkara legend himself – Mr. Yuzo Sebata-san.
There were about 16 people taking the class and we all made sure to give Sebata-san a warm welcome when he walked through the door.
Sebata-san gave a nice introduction, that Go Ishii was kind enough to translate for me. He talked about how when he discovered tenkara it was not called tenkara it was called kebari tsuri (feathered needle fishing) and it was the people of Nikko and further north who began spreading the term tenkara to replace kebari tsuri. I had never heard this before and found it quite interesting.
I love how the story of tenkara in Japan comes together in bits and pieces. A bit of information from one person, another person, this region, and that; all of it melds together into story that leaves plenty of room for imagination, and maybe even a little bit of fairy tale.
After the introduction Sebata-san started with his period of instruction. After the class, we were going to go off on our own and try to tie our Sebata-san styled kebari so everyone made sure to ask plenty of questions.
His style is similar to the Sakasa Kebari but with a few unique twists. First off, he uses a special double sided sticky electrical tape (Scotch 3M 23 スコッチ – 電気絶縁用 – 自己融着テープ) to make the body of the fly, then he uses thread from a pair of woman’s pantyhose to make the kebari!
He claimed you can get the pantyhose from the ¥100 shop and one pair is enough to make tens of thousands of kebari. The pantyhose comes in a rainbow of colors too so you can make some cool looking kebari. If you are going to tie a zenmai kebari he recommended that you use brown pantyhose.
Also, I noticed that his hackle was remarkably close to the eye of the hook as opposed to 1/3 of the way down the body which has become a bit of the norm for Japanese style kebari. Regarding the hackle he recommends only five wraps if there are more wraps the hook will have a difficult time submerging.
Sebata-san also keeps all his old tissue boxes as they make perfect containers to hold scraps of thread, feathers, and zenmai. He never throws any piece away; even the scraps we would toss without a second’s hesitation he can turn into a beautiful kebari.
After the period of instruction, we headed off to our seats and began tying. It was only my second time tying without a vise, but I was surprised at how much easier it was with the double-sided sticky tape holding the thread. You could get a nice wrap with the pantyhose thread too. It never looked lumpy or awkward. Still I cheated a little at the end and dabbed on a bit of cement.
I had enough time to tie up three kebari; a zenmai, one with a peacock herl, and a real janky one that will still catch fish… before we had to pack up the room and head on over to an “all you can eat and drink for two hours” izakaya just down the street from the community center.
As usual we feasted on a plethora of delicious izakaya fare including a first for me – raw chicken! Surprisingly, it was delicious, and they assured me it was very fresh (as in, it had been alive that morning) so it should not make me too sick. As the night progressed I had a beer, a highball, and a carafe of shōchū and hot water in front of me; I did my best to polish everything off but thankfully my friends stepped in when they saw how much I had left and the time had run out at the izakaya. Sebata-san bowed out and we all said our goodbyes and posed for some parting photos.
We watched him walk off into the night while the rain pelted against our cheeks. When he went around the corner the conversation started again and someone suggested we head to another izakaya. I followed the crowd and soon enough I found myself surrounded by good friends, some old and some new, sharing good food and drink, while fellowshipping over our mutual love of those magical creatures who live in cold mountain streams.
Isaac Tait is an angling and outdoors enthusiast who has spent time fishing across the world. He was fortunate to have spent an extensive residency in Japan, where he chased amago, iwana, and yamame in the magnificent backcountry keiryu. He recorded many of those experiences on this website Fallfish Tenkara.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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