Urban Fishing

Men fishing in artificial ponds in Ichigaya, Tokyo

These men are at Ichigaya Fishing Centre, which is right in the centre of Tokyo. It costs ¥690 for men, ¥590 for women and ¥420 for children for each hour’s fishing, with an additional charge of ¥100 for rod rental, and ¥80 for bait. There’s even a mini-fishing section for children stocked with goldfish instead of full-sized carp. The fishing centre is open every day of the year from 9:30am to 6pm. It’s usually busy, but at weekends and on holidays it can be really packed. To get there, take the Chuo-Sobu Line (local) to Ichigaya Station, which is right next to the fishing centre. From Shinjuku Station the journey takes around 9 minutes.

Fishing is a popular hobby in Japan, but many Japanese people don’t have the time to head out to the countryside, or don’t want to sit around all day waiting for a bite. The solution to this problem has been to bring the fish to the people: Scattered around Japan’s cities are venues where fishing has been turned into a process as efficient and convenient as everything else in the country.

The first option, and the one that’s probably closest to (or least far from) the authentic experience, is to head to a fishing pond. Here you pay by the hour to sit by the side of a concrete pool and fish for the carp that the pond’s owners have put in specially for you to be able to catch. Once you’re done, you take your catch to get weighed, and you’re awarded points based on how many kilos of fish you’ve caught. Points can be redeemed for prizes, or if you get a really good catch you might even get your next session free.

Unfortunately you don’t get to take your catch home. Once they’ve been weighed, your fish are put into a tank so they can have a rest before being returned to the main pool ready to be caught again. Either the fish don’t mind being caught, or they have very short memories, because they must all have been caught over and over again, but they never seem to learn.

This video documents a family’s trip to an indoor fishing centre. (Video is courtesy of Herro Flom Japan.)

If it’s cold or raining, you might not want to sit around outside outdoors, but Japan has a solution to this problem too – indoor fishing. Essentially it’s the same concept as the outdoor ponds, but the fish pool can be anywhere – even halfway up a high-rise building. During the week it’s mainly middle aged and retired men who go to these venues, but at the weekends there are lots of children, and if you go on a Friday night, you might find yourself surrounded by couples.

Regardless of whether fishing pools are inside or outside, there’s not usually any attempt to recreate any aspects of the natural environment, so the appeal of urban fishing doesn’t seem to be anything to do with getting closer to nature. Perhaps it’s just a chance to take a break from a hectic city lifestyle. It doesn’t seem to be very often that most Japanese people get the chance to sit around and do nothing – so fishing might be a welcome opportunity for a bit of solitude and quiet contemplation.

A boy and his father, with the fish they have just caught and are about to eat, at a Zauo restaurant

This boy has just caught his dinner at the Zauo restaurant in Shinjuku in Tokyo.

Of course many people see the point of fishing as catching something that you can then eat, so if this includes you, you’d be much better off heading to a ‘catch your own’ restaurant. It’s a relatively new concept, but there’s now a chain of restaurants called Zauo that lets you do just this. They have branches in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka, so virtually all visitors to Japan will have once close-by at some point.

Customers are provided with fishing rods, and the tables are on a boat-shaped area surrounded by pools full of fish. All you have to do is dangle your line over the side and hope that you catch something tasty. What you end up eating is largely down to chance, but once you’ve caught it the staff will prepare it however you want. You can have it cooked, or cut up as sashimi, in which case it might well still be moving when it’s brought back to the table ready to be eaten – at least you’ll know it’s fresh. This kind of restaurant is definitely a novelty even for the Japanese, but it seems to be popular with all sorts of people, from families with kids to suit-wearing groups of office workers.

Watch this video to see for yourself what goes on inside Zauo’s restaurants. (Video is courtesy of Tofugu.)

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