White Sails On Kasumigaura

It was another beautiful summer Saturday and we were off to Kasumigaura - Japan's third largest lake - a 40 minute drive from home. In ancient times, this lake was part of a river delta, but during the Edo era, massive flood control and canal projects narrowed the mouth of the river and the water rose and spread out to cover 220 square kilometers (about 85 square miles). As a result, the lake is only 4 meters deep on average, and 7 meters at its deepest point. Check my previous post "Of Float Planes and Zeppelins" for some 20th century events concerning Kasumigaura.

The town we were headed for is Tamatsukuri on the east edge of the lake, which boasts a new water themed park, science museum, and observation tower. First we went into the tower for a 360 degree view of the lake and surrounding fields of rice and lotus from 190 feet up. The sky had scattered culumulus clouds and visibility was good enough to allow a glimpse of Mt. Tsukuba some miles away. After a picnic lunch we toured the museum. It had lots of hands-on displays, science oriented computer games and two small theatres with movies playing every 30 minutes or so. It was quite comprehensive in scope, covering the lake's history, flood control, fish and water plants, the water cycle, erosion, human need for water, and so on. A kid at heart, I could have played and learned there all day, but we had come for another purpose.

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There are many types of fish in Kasumigaura. One species popular as sushi is shirauo (called ice fish elsewhere), a small - perhaps one to two inches long - slender fish that is so transluscent as to resemble, well, ice. Shirauo has been fished from the lake since Edo days, and because of its size, requires very fine gill nets to catch. Some people like to eat it while it is still alive and enjoy the feeling of the fish wiggling on the way down. In addition to shirauo, about five thousand five hundred tons per year of carp is farmed in Kasumigaura, and the pens used for this purpose line the shores.

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In the late 19th century, an inventor by the name of Ryohei Orimoto came up with a unique way to catch shirauo. He designed a sailboat which used the sail to pull the boat and an array of lines attached to a net sideways. This allowed the boat to put out a large fine net and provided the strong force needed to pull it slowly through the water. Called "hobikisen" the boats were very successful and were in commercial use on Kasumigaura from 1880 to 1965 when powered trawlers replaced them. Orimoto shared his invention freely with fishermen who used to have to work for large organizations to earn a living. Having access to the new technology allowed many men to earn an independent living and helped to stabilize the local economy.

Nowadays, hobikisen can still be seen on Kasumigaura on summer weekends. They are not used for fishing, but rather take tourists for rides or are sailed on display. They are a beautiful sight on the lake and a nostalgic one for older Japanese people.

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Hobikisen Rig

We took a one hour ride in a powered fishing boat to view two hobikisen in the middle of the lake. There were only three other people on our 25 foot boat, which made for great views and photo shots. We circled the two hobikisen many times and were able to see them and photograph them from many angles and watch them being set up and taken down. Unfortunately for me, my 35 mm camera's computer chip decided to act up and most of the 40 shots I took were out of focus (remember the good old days when cameras where manual?). I would not learn of the spoiled shots until the film was developed a few days later, so it didn't ruin my day. The experience of being out on the water and seeing those big white sails billowing in a fresh breeze before a backdrop of distant mountains and clouds was what we came for anyway.

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I saw several large species of fresh water fish leap out of the water to avoid the nets and one made a huge leap right across our bow as we approached the dock. I'm not a fisherman so I am sorry to say I can't tell you what kind they were. Funny thing was, K didn't see a one and she thought I was pulling her leg when I'd try, too late, to point them out.

For a view of the lake from space, click here: Click Here The photo is centered on Tamatsukuri with Kasumigaura on the left and smaller lake Kitaura on the right. The channels of Kashima Port can clearly be seen to the lower right.


The Moody Minstrel said...

They've been building that water park steadily for the past decade. When I first came to Japan back in 1990 the tower was already in existence. The water/science museum and water park were then added bit by bit over the years.

What's really nice is in late April to early May. They put up a long string of carp streamers from the top of the tower. It can be seen from quite a distance away, and it's quite a sight.

Incidentally, Tamatsukuri is no longer Tamatsukuri. Along with my town (Aso) and Kitaura Village, it is now all Namegata City. Incorporation fever is still spreading across the land.

Pandabonium said...

Wow, that's interesting. The first we saw it was early this year on the way to Hyakuri air base - via the scenic route. At the time the tower was closed and covered in scaffolding, so we assumed it was fairly new. Must have just been doing maintenance.

Incorporation fever - where will it lead? All Nippon Megalopolis?

The Moody Minstrel said...


My daughter just had her entry picked as a finalist in a hobikisen poster contest sponsored by the Tamatsukuri (now Namegata) Fureai Park. Last year she was picked as a finalist as well, not in the hobikisen division, but in the tower division.

[big, sappy grin]

Pandabonium said...

Cool. Way to go Minstrel's daughter, budding artist.