Footsteps of the Masters

Footsteps of the Masters
By John Vetterli
Tenkara Guides LLC

June 1st 2014, two American tenkara fly fishing guides, Erik Ostrander and John Vetterli, along with Erik’s wife Ann traveled to Nagoya Japan to begin the tenkara journey that would profoundly change my views on tenkara methods, tools, cultures, and most importantly, is tenkara different in the land and culture of its origin as compared to what we know back home in the United States?

We have been very fortunate to make some fantastic friends in Japan. People who most western tenkara anglers know only by name and reputation. Friends like Eiji Yamakawa, Kiyoshi Ishihara, Masami Tanaka from the Harima Tenkara Club. Hiromichi Fuji, Nissin tenkara rod designer and pioneer of modern tenkara. Dr. Ishigaki, Daiwa tenkara rod designer, and the World Tenkara Ambassador.

And my mentor, teacher, and friend Masami Sakakibara (Tenkara no-Oni) Designer of the famed Oni rods and perhaps the greatest living tenkara angler in the world.

All this name-dropping has a purpose. Erik and I traveled to Japan to meet, fish with, and learn from some the best Japanese tenkara anglers alive today.

When we arrived in Japan, our first adventure was to travel by train from Nagoya to Mazegawa fishing center to meet for the first time, Masami Sakakibara, his wife Kyoko, and Rocky Osaki, our newest bestest buddy and translator.

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Masami Sakakibara is and incredibly humble man. Unassuming, no ego, quick to make a joke, and an incredible caster and angler. We spent time learning about the biology of Iwana and Amago, where they live in the rivers, their personalities and feeding habits and then it was off to the water.

The next several days consisted of early morning breakfasts long days on the water accompanied by lots and lots of skill tweaking and instruction of Masami’s theories about fishing strategies, casting mechanics, bio-mechanical efficiency, and just a hell of a lot of fun. Masami is a true friend who will freely share with you as much of his 35 years of tenkara knowledge as your brain can process.

During one of our many conversations he said something to me that rocked my tenkara world. I asked him “How does someone become a tenkara master in Japan?”

He simply said, “There are no real rules to become a tenkara master. You simply work very hard to develop your skills, innovate whether it be a product like a rod, lines, flies, a casting technique, a method of fly manipulation, etc. Then you must share your knowledge and continue to refine and perfect what you know.”

So I condensed that to Explore, Innovate, Share, and Repeat. It’s a never-ending cycle.

After several days with Masami we hooked up with our old friend Dr. Ishigaki for several more days of fishing at Itoshiro Village and to attend the Itoshiro Fisher’s Holiday. A meeting of all types of mountain stream anglers. Western fly fishers, tenkara anglers, spin casters, keiryu bait fishers, it’s a chance to see the mountain stream fishing spectrum of Japan all in one spot.

We met Dr. Ishigaki at the first Tenkara USA Summit in Montana in 2011. We immediately hit it off with him and a great friendship began to develop. Over the years Dr. Ishigaki has been a great resource of information for me as we kept our friendship alive via email.

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Dr. Ishigaki is the face and voice of tenkara in Japan. If there is a tenkara celebrity, it is Dr. Ishigaki. He appears on television shows, magazine ads, articles and interviews, lectures, and teaches many students. His personality is infectious. This is a guy who takes his fishing very seriously but himself very lightly. A man with a great sense of humor, a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with and just a great all around guy.

We spent long hours discussing the arts of fly manipulation, stream tactics, and a lot of fishing. And I learned that Dr. Ishigaki could probably eat his weight in rice. Man, that guy loves his rice.

During the Itoshiro Fisher’s Holiday we met hundreds of other anglers of all types. Fished side by side with keiryu bait fishers and spin casters. Met some extremely talented western fly rod designers and craftsmen. Talked about what fishing is like in the Western United States. Answered lots of questions about cowboys and Indians.

(Apparently the American Wild West is a fascination of the Japanese). The festival was an amazing experience to meet a lot of people.

I also asked Dr. Ishigaki about how one becomes a tenkara master in Japan. Strangely enough, his answer was the same as Masami Sakakibara’s answer.

Explore, Innovate, Share, Repeat.

After several great days of fishing in Itoshiro, we were on the road with our great friend Eiji Yamakawa headed to Kyoto to meet up with the legendary Hiromichi Fuji.

We met Eiji Yamakawa, Kiyoshi Ishihara, and Masami Tanaka at the 2nd Tenkara Summit our company hosted with Tenkara USA in our hometown of Salt Lake City, UT.

Eiji, Kiyoshi, and Masami are members of the Harima Tenkara Club. One of the oldest tenkara clubs in Japan. These guys are awesome! They are some of the most fun people I have ever fished with. Eiji taught me how to build tapered furled tenkara lines from fluorocarbon. Masami is a supreme stream tactician; Kiyoshi is perhaps the most humble man I have ever met. They each bring their own version of tenkara to the table. Each man has developed his own complete system of tenkara. It includes rod type, kebari patterns, casting methods, stream tactics, line types. Each has his own distinct style.

So, after about a 5-hour drive and an intense trip through Osaka rush hour freeway traffic. (Los Angeles traffic is nothing compared to Osaka Japan). We reached this tiny hut alongside a fairly busy mountain road across the street from this beautiful river that flowed through the valley. As we pulled up to the hut, a small group of about 6 men ranging from ages 20-75 came to the cars to greet us. We were immediately introduced to Hiromichi Fuji. A quiet and unassuming man about 75 years old.

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For a man who is for all intents and purposes, the father of modern tenkara, he is very warm and approachable. He is quick with a joke, a perfectionist in everything he does, and a very patient teacher.

We dumped our gear in the hut and immediately began fishing the river across the street.

Hiromichi Fuji or Sensei as his students refer him to, is the guy who pioneered the use of monofilament line materials for tenkara. He is most likely the first person to use nylon and fluorocarbon materials to build the first furled lines of these products. He is also the designer of the Nissin Airstage Fujiryu family of tenkara rods. These rods were my first true Japanese tenkara rods. If you have never used one, you are missing out on something unique.

Fuji Sensei discussed his casting technique with us and began to immediately teach the subtleties of his methods and his personal tenkara philosophy.

Fishing with Fuji Sensei was one of my life’s greatest honors. He is a living legend, one of the modern sports greatest innovators, a fantastic teacher, and just a fun and interesting man to talk to about everything from his experiences in Japan during World War II and how the country rebuilt itself after the war, tenkara history both ancient and modern. His many different kebari patterns he ties and uses, and most interestingly, how the sport is evolving now that it has left the country of its origin. Fuji Sensei looks to the future of tenkara with great excitement. The West is pushing it in new directions, unexplored regions, new cultural ideals, evolving, and developing new skills. I get the strong feeling that Hiromichi Fuji sees the full circle at this moment. He has seen the evolution of tenkara from mystery and a practically lost art to the modernization of rods from bamboo to fiberglass to carbon fiber, lines from horse hair and silk thread to fluorocarbon level lines and now the surge of new ideas freely flowing from a distant culture that is a bit wild and unencumbered by past history. We are just going to do what we are going to do best. Adapt and make it our own.

One evening Fuji Sensei and I were sitting on the steps of the hut, just the two of us and I asked him my now infamous question “How does someone become a tenkara master?”

Fuji let out a little laugh and said “Learn all you can, explore and make your own tenkara, share it with others, never stop learning.”

The next morning we left the fishing hut and headed to Fuji Sensei’s home in Kyoto to visit his workshop where he ties kebari for Nissin and manufactures the spectacular Nissin PALS furled fluorocarbon tapered tenkara lines.

After spending several hours learning about his line designs and watching him make several lines, he sat at his desk and tied a few of his signature kebari and then it was done. Our time with Hiromichi Fuji was over. We then piled into Eiji’s van and we were off to our next adventure. Somewhere in the middle of the Japanese wilderness. I have no idea of where the hell we were headed, but I was very excited.

We first spent the night at this really cool village an hour or so out of Kyoto. This house we stayed in is around 250 years old. A building that existed during the reign of the Samurai.

The next morning we headed out with Eiji and Masami for a few more days of fishing. We travelled up high into the mountains and explored streams that I cant even do justice trying to describe. Steep canyons, volcanic rock and granite, the clearest water I have ever seen, lush cedar and bamboo forests. After a few semi-rappelling descents into the canyons, we hit the water and started fishing.

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Fishing with Eiji Yamakawa is always a lot of fun. Eiji or “Eddie” as his friends know him, is a legitimate tenkara master in his own right. He has no interest in titles or recognition. I like to refer to Eddie as the “Reluctant Master”. His casting skills are deadly, the way he approaches a section of stream and analyzes it, allows him to pull fish out of the most unlikely places that 99.999% of anglers would pass by. His personality is very laid back and filled with humor.

Masami Tanaka is another “Reluctant Master”. He and Eiji have been fishing partners for decades. They move through a stream together as a seamless team. Each has their own distinct style and methods that equally balance out the other. There are simply no gaps in techniques between the two. They move through the water leaving no potential lie untouched by more than one method of casting, fly manipulation, drifts, or angles. With these two guys in the stream, the fish just simply don’t stand a chance.

So, following the theme of my trip to Japan, I asked Eiji my question “How does someone become a tenkara master?”

Eiji may very well be the originator of the term “The 10 Colors of Tenkara”. He simply said, “You must find your color of tenkara. Take the basic skills and explore them, shape them, make them your own. Find your tenkara.”

And just like that, I was sitting on a Boeing 747 leaving the ground at Nagoya Airport and my first journey to Japan was over.

I had 18 hours of travel time to digest everything that I had experienced in Japan fishing with several of the best and most renowned tenkara master anglers alive today. Met hundreds of people along the way. Ate some of the best food I have ever had. And had a hell of a lot of fun.

These people are just that, people. Here in the West, there has been a tendency to put them on a pedestal and idolize them. Maybe that is just our way of romanticizing tenkara. It has centuries old history based in a distant and exotic culture, in our countries outside of Japan; tenkara is still in its infancy. So it seems natural that we would look to the land of origin for heroes to follow.

So, here is what I really learned from my time both in Japan in 2014 and even as I write this article. Tenkara is not mystical, exotic, Zen, or any of that. It is just simply a method of fly-casting. There are no hard rules. There is no single and correct tenkara method. Tenkara is a reflection of the angler who uses the tools and techniques to suit his/her natural environment, fish species, knowledge and skill base they bring to the table from past fishing experience. Tenkara is just you.

I believe that the next generation of tenkara masters is in the process of being created right now, at this exact moment in time. This next generation will most likely come from the West. We are pushing tenkara in directions it has never been. Carp fishing, warm water species, and ocean fishing. We as a culture are unencumbered by tenkara’s history. We are completely free to Explore, Innovate, Share, and Repeat.

The history of tenkara and its origin is Japan. The future is being forged here in the West. There is no other time in the fly-fishing culture that such a dramatic swing has ever occurred. We are all a part of this paradigm shift.

I had a conversation with Hiromichi Fuji about how he feels about how tenkara is being changed and adapted outside of Japan. He finds this exciting and a necessary evolution of tenkara’s future. The sport was gradually dwindling in popularity in Japan. The peak of its popularity was most likely in the early 1980s. Once tenkara left Japan, a true revolution occurred. There is a lot of speculation among tenkara anglers in Japan that tenkara is vastly more popular in America than it ever was in Japan. There are more tenkara anglers outside of Japan now than inside.

This is the future and we are all taking a part in shaping it.

To follow the footsteps of the masters is impossible. For as soon as every one of the Master’s footsteps are made in the stream, the water washes them away. There is and can be only one tenkara path. Your path.

Go and Explore, Innovate, Share. Find your own tenkara. Make it yours. Share what you know, never stop questioning what you know.

And above all have fun.

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This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Do you have a story to tell, a photo to share, or a fly recipe that’s too good to keep secret? If you would like to contribute content to our next issue, click HERE for more details.

What Do You Contribute to The Tenkara Community?

What Do You Contribute to The Tenkara Community?
By John Vetterli, Tenkara Guides LLC

Now that is a loaded question, isn’t it?

Back in 2009, Tenkara USA was launched and the beginning of a small yet humble revolution within the fly fishing industry was afoot.

Back then, there were no resources of any kind in English and the resources in Japanese were beyond our understanding because we had no experience base to draw from and make any sense out of the information that was available.  It was a difficult period in tenkara outside Japan, yet it was full of optimism, hope, and exploration.

There was a single internet forum page on Tenkara USA’s website where all of us were hanging out sharing ideas, experiences, asking questions, it was really cool.  Everyone involved was shaping a new sport, industry, and culture.

Now, 7 years later, tenkara is firmly established worldwide.  There is an actual industry outside of Japan consisting of multiple rod companies, vendors, accessories and gear makers, destination travel resources, and professional guides.  From its humble beginnings of a few fly fishing misfits to a complete industry is quite staggering when you look at how young this sport is outside of Japan.

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How did this happen?

It evolved because of the passion and excitement of everyone involved in the sport.

The use of various social media platforms in the past few years has made it explode.

There is a double-edged sword to this massive expansion in such a compressed time frame.

As our collective experience has grown, we are on the edge of falling into the pit of despair that has plagued western fly fishing for several decades.  It is called Elitism.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying, using, and thoroughly enjoying a quality built tenkara rod that costs $95.00.  Anyone that jumps on Facebook and belittles another angler’s choice in a moderately priced tenkara rod truly represents the worst character our community has to offer.

We all develop personal preferences as our experience grows and deepens.  I’ll be the first to admit I have an affinity for really high-performance tenkara rods.  My personal favorites are the Oni family of rods.  There are a few reasons for this.  Masami Sakakibara is my teacher, mentor, and a true friend.  I have had the honor of fishing with him a lot over the past few years.  My casting style developed in a vacuum just like everyone else’s has outside of Japan.  The first time Masami and I met, I realized that my casting style was very similar to his.  Learning from him was easy.  In fact, it was second nature for me to quickly adapt to his teaching.

So, since I have a natural affinity to my teacher’s style and method, using the rods he developed to match his style and methods really feels good to me.  And I’ll admit, these rods have a real sentimental value to me.  It’s something that came along with buying them out of the back of his car in a parking lot next to the river in Japan.

I also really like Nissin rods.  For some reason, I just like them.  I can’t put a finger on the exact reason.  I just do.

I also like some more moderately priced rods from domestic vendors such as Dragontail, Tanuki, Badger Tenkara, and the Tenkara Bum Suikei 36.  There are really high-quality rods that are available.  You don’t have to own a top end Japanese rod to truly enjoy tenkara.

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So, knowing myself and my love for things that perform at the highest levels, I try to be cognizant of the audience I might address when it comes to certain questions.

Being one of the owners of the first professional tenkara guide company in the world carries with it another level of responsibility.  That is to nurture and grow new tenkara anglers into experienced tenkara anglers.  That comes along with the territory.  We get clients all the time that bring their shiny new entry-level rod for their guided trip and they are so excited to learn how to use it.  The worst thing I could do is tell them that the rod they purchased is a piece of crap.

Just because the rod they have is not something I personally might not use, it does not make their choice wrong or irrelevant. The first rule of being a professional tenkara fly fishing guide is “don’t be a dick.”

Being members of not only a community but a culture, we all share a similar obligation.

Elitism is the poison that has the potential to consume not only an individual tenkara angler but also the entire community.  There is the form of elitism regarding the gear you use, the types of waters you fish, or the places you travel to. And the elitism of “tenkara is so much more effective than western fly fishing.” Mix those things together and you have a really volatile cocktail of arrogance, ignorance, and division.

Through our business Tenkara Guides LLC, I spend a lot of my time interacting with the much wider audience of the fly fishing industry.  That includes both tenkara and western fly fishing.

Here is a revelation I want to share.

There has always been a rift between western fly fishing and tenkara.  In the early days of tenkara, there was a lot of criticism and hostility tenkara anglers faced from fly fishing anglers on the water and from local tackle shops.  You mentioned the word tenkara and you were pretty much openly ridiculed on the spot.

That made our little fledgling community pretty punchy and hostile.  There were a lot of social media posts put out there on both sides that drove that wedge deep and wide.

We were really good ambassadors within our own community and not necessarily the best outside our community.

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The western fly fishing world is now reeling from the tenkara community’s version of tenkara vs. western fly fishing elitism.  Believe me, this is real, it’s damaging, and it does nothing but hurt both groups.

This is the chasm that currently exists.  The western fly fishing world is on the verge of openly accepting tenkara.  The only thing holding it back right now is us.

It’s no secret that fly fishing has been on a steady decline for the past 15 or so years.  Tenkara is the shot in the arm this sport needs.  It’s relatively easy to learn the basics, the cost of entry is typically less, and it’s fun.

The same thing happened in the ski industry back in the early 1980s. I grew up in Park City Utah, one of the premier ski destination resort towns in the world.  I was a part of this ski revolution that occurred in the 80s.

Skiing had become a sport of the wealthy.  The gear was expensive, the nice clothing was really expensive, lift tickets are prohibitively expensive, and it’s difficult to learn.

The ski industry was “eliting” itself out of existence.

Then came the snowboarders.

We were a bunch of kids that were not constrained by the rules of civilized ski society.  We started out in the backcountry snowboarding big mountains, deep powder, and having a blast on a snowboard that cost $150.00 and a pair of Sorel winter boots with old ski boot liners in them.  Quite a contrast to the $900.00 skis, $300.00 bindings, $600.00 boots, $125.00 ski poles, $1,200.00 Bogner one-piece ski suits, and $75.00 lift tickets.

Snowboarding took about 10 years to be openly accepted as a part of the ski industry and sport.  In the early days, snowboarders had to have a “chairlift certification” card to buy a lift ticket.  A lot has changed in the past 30 years.  Snowboarding started as a fringe sport that ended up bringing skiing back from its inevitable decline.  It wasn’t an easy road but now people enjoy both disciplines.  The most difficult decision for many skiers is “Do I take the snowboard out today or the skis?”

Fast forward a couple of years and tenkara has proven it belongs in the spectrum of fly fishing.  It has carved its place and it is here to stay.

Now more than ever, we as a culture of tenkara anglers must be aware that now we have a place within this wider fly fishing culture, and we must learn how to better integrate ourselves and our sport with the longstanding traditions of western fly fishing. Many western fly anglers want to try tenkara but they are hesitant to jump in because they fear a backlash from the tenkara community because they came from the “other” discipline.

It all boils down to basic human decency and respect for all anglers that want to enjoy time on the water.  It doesn’t matter if you like fishing for bluegills, bass, trout, whatever.  It doesn’t matter if you use a spinning reel, a bait casting reel, a fly reel, or no reel.  What matters is that we as a tenkara community take a big bold step and be personable, friendly, and accepting of every fishing discipline we encounter.

Everyone deserves the right to enjoy their fishing.  It’s not up to you or me to dictate to them which method is superior or what gear is superior.

We are not all that different.  When you break it all down into its most basic components.  It’s just trying to catch a fish with a stick, a hook, and a string.

We need to be the best ambassadors of our sport to both those within the tenkara community and those in the greater fly fishing community.

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This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Myth Busting Tenkara in Japan

Editor’s Note: As relative newcomers to the tenkara scene, many of us Westerners (with the aid of the internet) have developed certain ideas about tenkara and how it is practiced in Japan. In the Summer 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler, John Vetterli of Tenkara Guides, LLC set out to separate fact from fiction, as well as provide some insight on what traveling to Japan might really feel like for those interested in making the trip.

Myth Busting Tenkara in Japan
by John Vetterli

A while back I visited Japan for a few weeks of fishing with several recognized tenkara experts.

When I arrived in Japan, I thought I had a pretty solid grasp of how tenkara was practiced in the land of its origin. Man, I was completely off about that.

Here is the short list of tenkara myths that many westerners have about tenkara in Japan.

1. One Fly is the way Japanese tenkara anglers fish

Well, I hate to break this to you but the One Fly thing is for the most part an American interpretation of Japanese tenkara.

There are a few tenkara anglers in Japan that do use one fly pattern, very few. And within that one fly pattern there are variations of size, color, and hackle size/stiffness.

Most people I fished with used a pretty wide variety of fly and kebari patterns. These included Masami Sakakibara and Hiromichi Fuji, two of the most respected tenkara anglers in Japan.

There are some tenkara anglers in Japan who do use only one fly pattern.

Dr. Ishigaki is perhaps the most widely known One Fly Guy. These anglers are using the one fly method as a personal challenge to add a level of self-imposed difficulty. It is a game they play with themselves.

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2. Level Line Tenkara is what most anglers do in Japan

Well, not exactly.

There is a lot of personal line choice exercised in Japan. I fished with people who use tapered furled fluorocarbon lines, PVC fly line, nylon monofilament level lines, tapered nylon monofilament lines, western fluorocarbon tapered leaders as tenkara lines, and of course fluorocarbon level line.

3. All rods from Japanese companies are manufactured in Japan

There are some rod companies in Japan that make and source every component of their rods in Japan. Nissin, Gamakatsu, Tenryu, and Sakura.

Other companies like Diawa and Shimano outsource many models that are made all over Asia in places like Vietnam, China, etc. The biggest difference in outsourced rods from a Japanese company is how they manage quality control. Most of these companies send a quality control team to the out of country manufacturing facility to directly manage the production run of the rods. Every piece of the rod from raw materials to final product has direct oversight of the Japanese quality control team.

4. Tenkara is very popular in Japan

Not exactly. Modern tenkara’s heyday was most likely in the 1980s when guys like Hiromichi Fuji and Mr. Soseki were resurrecting tenkara from historical oblivion by introducing modern materials like carbon fiber and fluorocarbon to the rods and lines. These two men really brought tenkara back from the dead.

Here’s the real deal on mountain stream fishing in Japan. Fixed line bait fishing is #1 there is no contest, period. Followed by western fly-fishing and spin casting with artificial lures.

On the fly-casting side, western fly-fishing is extremely popular in Japan. You are more likely to see someone who looks like they just stepped out of the Orvis catalog than anything else.

Tenkara is a small niche in the many hundreds of different types of fishing in Japan. My friend Masami Sakakibara has said that he is pretty sure there are a great deal more tenkara anglers in America than in Japan at the moment.

Tenkara is seeing an increase in interest in Japanese anglers because of all the commotion about it here in the States.

Here is something interesting. When you look at the catalogs from the big Japanese rod manufacturers, these things are a couple of hundred pages thick and the tenkara rods are usually less than one full page of the catalog. Nissin has more variations of fixed line micro fishing or tanago rods then they have tenkara rods.

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5. Japanese streams are healthy and loaded with fish

If you travel to Japan for tenkara fishing, you had better bring your “A” game.
Many mountain streams are over fished because catch and release fishing just isn’t really practiced in Japan. Over the past few years Dr. Ishigaki and Masami Sakakibara have made a lot of progress in changing the hearts and minds of tenkara angler in Japan but it is going to be a slow road before catch and release fly fishing is widely practiced.

Many of Japan’s rivers are dammed for hydroelectric power and that has had massive impacts on Iwana and Amago fish populations in the upper mountain streams. There are fish stocking programs in Japan but the rivers and streams are broken up into co-op areas and each region of a river/stream is independently managed. When you fish anywhere in a river/stream in Japan, you must purchase a fishing license from the managing co-op. Because of this type of stream management, fish stocking is pretty much a thing of “we will stock the river when we have enough money”.

So, mountain stream fishing is tough in Japan. Anglers reduce the fish population faster than it can reproduce and the dams screw up migration.

It’s still worth the trip though.

6. Travel in and through Japan is tough for non-Japanese speakers

Travel in and around Japan is really quite easy. Many people in Japan speak English. The announcements on trains and airports are both written and spoken in English, and freeway signs are printed in both languages. The money is pretty easy to figure out. And if you get into trouble, just look for a 10 year old kid. Their English is really good and they are just dying to try it on you.

7. The food…

If you like Japanese food, then my friends you are in luck because the food in Japan is freaking awesome. Some of it can be a little strange and confusing but you can always ask someone about it. Just be adventurous and try everything and most places have pictures on the menus so it makes it a little easier.

On our first night in Japan, Erik and I were wandering around Nagoya at 10pm trying to find a place to eat. We decided on this small restaurant that had a lot of people hanging out around it so our logic was if that many people are hanging around, it must be good right? We took a chance and went inside and were taken to a small table. When handed the menus, there were no pictures. So we did what any jetlagged, starving fishing guides would do, we just randomly pointed to a line on the menu to the waiter and rolled the dice. I have no idea of what kind of sushi we had but it was amazing.

Before you go to Japan, take some time and eat at a few more traditional Japanese cuisine restaurants and ask a lot of questions to the staff about the food.

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8. Japan is really expensive

Yes and no. If you travel to Japan and only see the big cities, then yes, Japan can be very expensive. It would be no different than staying in New York City, London, Paris, etc. But, if you do your homework, you can stay and eat in Japan very reasonably. If I remember correctly, the most expensive place I stayed was $125.00 a night and that was in Osaka, one of the major cities.

When we were traveling throughout the countryside fishing, we stayed at Royokan Inns. Sort of like a bead and breakfast. Most of these places charged around $100.00 per person per night and that included breakfast and dinner. Everywhere we stayed had fantastic traditional cuisine that would set you back easily $25-50.00 per person back in the States.

9. Money…

Since Japan is arguably the most modernized country in Japan, my credit/debt cards should work everywhere, right?

If you travel to Japan, TAKE CASH. Japan is still a cash culture. Finding a place to accept a foreign credit card is downright tough. There is only one type of ATM that will accept foreign debt cards and it isn’t at a bank. It’s the Japanese Post Office. And not all of them have the right kind of ATM.

10. Japanese people are very formal and stuffy

Japan is a very polite culture. There are certain cultural protocols that come with that. It is good to have at least a minimal understanding of how one is to be introduced or to introduce someone.

For the most part, everyone we met was very friendly, inviting, and fun to be with. Every time I see Masami Sakakibara I get a big bear hug.

Remember, these master tenkara anglers are just people like you and me, they all have real day jobs, they love to fish, they all like to have a good time, they just happen to be very good at fishing tenkara through decades of experience.

I was slightly intimidated by meeting Hiromichi Fuji. I have read all of his books on tenkara and knowing his place in the modern tenkara timeline and how influential he has been, I’ll admit I was a little nervous. He is a man small in stature but commands great respect from his peers and students. When my friend Eiji Yamakawa introduced us, we both politely bowed and then he grabbed my hand and gave it a good firm handshake with a big smile.

Hiromichi Fuji is really fun to be with. He has a wicked sharp sense of humor and is very humble and relaxed once you get past the formal introduction part. Love that guy.

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11. Tenkara in Japan has very strict rules

This is where a lot has been lost in translation from Japan to the West.

Tenkara in Japan is very fluid. There are no hard rules or dogma surrounding it. Tenkara is simply a traditional form of fixed line fly-fishing practiced in mountain streams throughout Japan.

It has been said there are the 10 colors of tenkara, meaning, that for every 10-tenkara anglers there is a different and unique method being employed.

After my trip to Japan and many hundreds of Skype calls, emails, Facebook messages to my friends and mentors in Japan, I have concluded that there are really 10,000 colors of tenkara.

The way tenkara is looked at in Japan is that there are some basic tools like a telescopic rod with a fixed line attachment at the tip, a line made of what ever material and construction the angler prefers, and some flies. After that, it is pretty much open to the individual’s interpretation.

This leads us to the next and final item.

12. Tenkara anglers in Japan only use kebari pattern flies

Well, not exactly.

Let’s define the word kebari. Kebari refers to fly patterns that are native to Japan. They are not “match the hatch” type representations like we see in other parts of the world. Kebari are all not wet fly or Sakasa (Meaning forward) hackle patterns either. Kebari range widely in styles. There are dry pattern, wet pattern, and weighted pattern, forward hackle, and rearward hackle kebari.

In Japan, tenkara anglers refer to western style flies as “flies” just to keep the confusion down.

Some tenkara anglers choose to use only kebari patterns and some use a large mixture of both western flies and kebari.

To add to that, there are tenkara anglers in Japan who do match the hatch and some that don’t.

Again it all comes down to tenkara is very fluid in Japan. You can and are in fact encouraged to find your own “Tenkara Color”.

Make tenkara your tenkara. Don’t worry about anyone else’s opinions, just go out there and experiment and have fun.

Tenkara Guides Host 2016 Oni Tenkara School

Friends of Tenkara Angler, the Tenkara Guides LLC, are hosting the Oni Tenkara School in the United States again this summer.  Featuring the teachings of “Tenkara no Oni” Masami Sakakibara, the 3-day session will take place at Sundance Mountain Resort, UT between July 7-9, 2016.

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Spaces are limited, so if you are interested, check out the Tenkara Guides’ website HERE for more information.

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