Every year during the month of May the historic port city of Tomonoura hosts the Taiami Fishing Festival. During this celebration of traditional fishing methods, groups of Japanese men board old wooden boats and cast their nets into the Seto Inland Sea, scooping up many a fish.
While every English translation I’ve seen has called Taiami a “festival”, I’d call it more of a performance. Every Saturday and Sunday during May there are scheduled times to watch the fishing take place, as well as the many rituals that happen before the event. When my girlfriend and I arrived in Tomonoura, we were surprised by the large number of people who had gathered for the event. Usually the city is dead on the weekend, and even during other local festivals the crowds never amount to more than a few families with children. This time there were large tour buses from neighboring prefectures, unloading many senior citizens onto the street.
To be honest, we didn’t really know what to expect from the festival or even where it actually took place. Much to our surprise, the main event actually took place not in Tomonoura, but on nearby Sensui Island (仙酔島). Also to our surprise, the event cost 3,000¥ with an option to buy a souvenir fish for an additional 500¥. We opted to not get a fish.
Once on Sensui Island, we made our way to the beach, where chairs and tents had been set up for viewing the pre-fishing festivities. These consisted of dancing, drumming, and an alluring fan dance by the princess of the festival. All this while the men prepared their boats for fishing, though they also made some time to throw good luck mochi to the crowd. Once all the dancing was finished, the crowd lined up to board two large ferry boats docked on the beach. These ferry boats follow the fishing boats as the crowd watches the action.
Now when I say action, I mean traditional net fishing — which takes a long time and isn’t really that exciting. We killed time talking to small children and buying T-shirts. After about half an hour the men on the boats had pulled in their catch of Tai fish. The crowd was electrified, so we knew something exciting was about to happen. Our ferry boat slowly came alongside the fishing boats and we watched the many fish jump around in the nets. Soon, tourists boarded the fishing boats to get a closer look and buy fish. Yes, for only 500¥ you could buy a fish and take it home with you (if you didn’t bring a cooler with you there were souvenir ones available for purchase on the boat). The weird part was that we were in the minority for not buying a fish. Even children were carrying around bags with fish in them. I would have just let my fish go.
Once the fishing boat moved away from the ferry, we were treated to a short sight seeing journey around the area before returning to shore. While the festival isn’t extremely exciting, it is very interesting, especially if you want fresh fish. But if you’re looking for a good excuse to visit Tomonoura, it does make a nice day trip when combined with some sight seeing in the city.
Also, how many events do you go to where you can get a souvenir fish?