The Nagara River runs for 166 kilometers through the heart of Gifu Prefecture, in central Japan. Although some 830,000 people live along the river banks, the water is renowned throughout Japan for its pristine clarity. It is also famous for its abundant ayu ("sweetfish"), a species of freshwater fish that only live in unpolluted waterways, and which make a summer specialty for food lovers across the country.
John Moore was born in Ireland but has lived in Japan for 30 years. On this edition of Journeys in Japan, John explores the Nagara River, meeting with residents who feel a strong bond with this waterway and who work hard to keep the river clean and clear. Their efforts are maintaining the habitat of the ayu fish and supporting the work of local artisans.
40 Nakakarayama-cho, Kagamihara, Gifu Pref.
Tel: +81-(0)80-8256-4295 (in Japanese only)
78 Oze, Seki, Gifu Pref.
Tel: +81-(0)575-22-0799 (in Japanese only)
Nagara River Diving Resort
1559-1 Minato-cho, Mino, Gifu Pref.
Tel: +81-(0)575-31-0588 (in Japanese only)
2249 Aioi-cho, Mino City, Gifu Prefecture
TEL: +81-(0)575-33-0621 (Japanese only)
1184 Hakusan, Minami-cho, Gujo, Gifu Pref.
Tel: +81-(0)575-79-2959 (in Japanese only)
Traveler: John Moore > More Info
Length of residence in Japan:31 years
Reason:Japan had called to my heart since I was 18 years old, and I came to work in Japan as a PR copywriter for an advertising agency.
THE NAGARA RIVER CLEANS MY SOUL
By John Moore
I live deep in the high mountains of Shikoku. Naturally, the rivers there are fast, deep and clean. But I had heard about another river that was just as crystal clear - but which flows through towns and villages with as many as 830,000 people.
Pristine enough to allow flourishing populations of ayu ("sweetfish"), which only eat river moss? Could it be true? I travelled to Gifu Prefecture, right in the center of Japan, to check the Nagara River for myself.
First, I visited the ancient river town of Gujo Hachiman, where I wandered among wonderful tiled houses and temples. My aim was to discover this legendary waterway. To my delight, I discovered so much more.
I found a deep culture of living together with water. Recycling with respect has been normal for centuries. People here would never disrespect the water by throwing rubbish into it. Clean living is the social consciousness.
I met one lady who washes all her food in mountain water, and who carefully leaves the remaining rice as food for the fish. In cities we usually use and flush. The dirt goes away, but here does it go? We don't know, and few care. So our city rivers are dirty, and dangerous to our health and our children.
Fishing for ayu, I went out river diving. Underwater, they flicker through their ecosystem like rays of light dappling a forest glade. They are territorial about the moss that grows on the river stones. If you use a live ayu as bait, when the resident ayu defends his territory, he gets hooked!
I also observed the spectacle of cast net fishing - looping a net around an ayu feeding area. An amazing nature sport!
And then there is the night fishing - with cormorants! The tethered birds dive for ayu by the light of a wood-fire brazier on the foredeck of the boat. It felt like a Japanese Noh drama, slipping back some 13,000 years. Fire, wind, moonlight, drums, songs, wind, and diving fish: a summer festival of river life.
I ate that night's catch. Delicious! So clean and pure! Because the river is so pristine, the ayu do not smell "fishy."
The Cormorant Master is an employee of the Imperial Household Agency, and I sat in the very same seat used by the Emperor of Japan when he visited that house to eat ayu.
I strolled through streets, and visited wonderful old Japanese stores selling washi, the traditional paper that's been handmade here for a thousand years. Today's artisans paint designs of ayu on paper so thin it floats on air. Their skills are old but the designs are very modern.
If you need to learn how to grow a social consciousness that cares for waterways, explore the Nagara River. If they can do it here, you can do it where you are. And it's all an open book.
See you on the road!