Article by Daniel Galhardo
Every image has a story behind it. As I sat down to work on this piece, with the idea being to create a photo essay with images from my travels to Japan, I realized my hard-drives contain several thousand images from these travels. Thousands of stories; some as short as a rock hop, others with so much detail that I could fill a book just about the evening around the campfire.
When I decided to introduce tenkara outside of Japan, I realized my mission was to be a storyteller of sorts. In order to bring the concept over, it was not sufficient to just create a couple of telescopic rods, I needed to seek out what gave those rods a soul. In my mind that was to be found in Japan. Year after year, seven return journeys in total, I have returned to Japan in search of stories to tell.
I started this piece by trying to find my very favorite images from these travels. It was daunting. But, as I browsed the images I noticed that picking images at random and telling the stories behind them would work equally well. After all, they all have a bit of tenkara in them.
In my mind, this is the quintessential “tenkara-in-Japan” image.
This is one of those images that represents a story that would fill an entire book. It is likely you will see this image again in the book I will be publishing this year. In my 2013 visit to Japan I had the honor to spend time with Mr. Yuzo Sebata. At least photographically Mr. Sebata is known for wearing the traditional Japanese hat, and so images of him are easily recognizable.
Immediately upon arriving in Tokyo, Mr. Sebata and some of his friends picked me up and we drove 3 hours to our planned destination. We slept in a parking lot that night among dozens of cars that belonged to people who thought a night in one of the several lodges nearby was more reasonable accommodation. We were there to rough it. The next day we hiked a few hours, setup camp and went fishing. That’s when I captured this image. Mr. Sebata’s thick tenkara line shone brightly with sun above it.
I noticed the sun casting a glare on my camera lens, but for some reason it just felt right to leave that “defect” in the image. Mr. Sebata pulled an Iwana, a Japanese char, a few feet upstream, closer to the tumbling waters. We spent the next 2 days fishing this area, with me soaking in the “tenkara-in-Japan” experience and him showing the famous “Sebata magic” where he regularly pulled fish out of spots we didn’t think there were any.
The second night at camp with Mr. Sebata and some friends felt a bit surreal. After waking up underneath the blue tarps that kept us dry during the night, we fished all day. We explored the canyon upstream and downstream from our base camp. Finding ourselves there in prime mushroom and “sansai” (mountain vegetables) foraging season, we brought back a few pounds of mushrooms and several other edible plants we found along the way. Besides tenkara, Mr. Sebata is well known throughout Japan for his knowledge of edible mushrooms and plants. We brought them back to camp and prepared and incredible meal with our fresh foods. That made the experience whole, and brought to mind Mr. Sebata’s quote about tenkara:
“Tenkara fishing is very simple, which makes me feel I am a part of the mountains. If you want to submerge yourself deep in nature, it is the best fishing style. But just through the act of fishing, we won’t be able to enjoy real thrill and joy of tenkara fishing. Fishing becomes much more fun by experiencing the joy of being able to be a part of nature and learning something new in nature.”Yuzo Sebata
Sometimes it seems that time truly slows down when I go fishing. You identify a good looking pool, you move toward it with your tenkara rod in hand. You prepare to cast. At that moment your predatory instincts take over: your senses heighten and adrenaline makes things come into focus. The same happens, I suspect, when we are watching someone catch one of their first fish on tenkara. On this day, in 2012, my long-time friend Chikara, joined my teacher Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, and I on a fishing trip in Nagano prefecture. We watched as Chikara placed his fly in the ideal strike zone, the fly drifted along some rocks and seemingly in slow motion an amago leapt out of the water and took his fly from the surface.
When I was around 14 years old I learned people created lures by tying feathers to hook. The revelation that I could do the same sparked my interest for fly-fishing. Before I bought my first fly rod I had already tied at least a hundred flies with hooks, feathers I found while hiking, sewing thread and my own two hands – no vise. I couldn’t buy one, though that didn’t keep me from tying all the flies I needed to learn how to fly-fish.
In 2011 I spent two months in a mountain village in Japan, and that’s when I met Mr. Katsutoshi Amano. At that point I learned that some people also didn’t use vises to tie flies. After a day of fishing, a group of us hung out at an inn by the river. We drank a lot of sake and tied flies.
On the corner of the room Mr. Amano had a tiny box with all he needed to tie flies. A few pheasant feathers (which he had hunted himself), a spool of thread, and hooks. While holding the hook with one hand he wrapped thread around the hook and spun the feather around it until it took the shape of a “sakasa kebari”, or reverse-hackle fly. The simplicity of tenkara was inherent to every element of the method, even the creation of the lure.
Mr. Masami Sakakibara has been a good teacher for my tenkara. I have fished with him a few times in my trips to Japan. But, this was the first time we spent multiple days together. He and his lovely wife, Kyoko, arranged for us to stay an old traditional Japanese home, those with the thatched reed roofs. It had all the characteristics of a house that was all and more than its 150 years of age. The “living room” had the atmosphere of a place that had seen its fair share of anglers from past ages coming by.
The smoke exhaled by the group contrasted with the dark cedar used throughout the interior of the house. The cups of sake being filled by one another made me feel there were more souls around than we could really count. Sakakibara-san pulled the vise his father had made for him decades earlier. It is still his favorite to use. He lost himself in thought as he tied the flies and the rest of us observed. I wasn’t sure if he even noticed us there when he started turning thread.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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