A day with tenkara craftsmen

On June 22, 2011
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Yesterday I headed south to visit two craftsmen. The primary purpose of this trip was to visit the renowned tenkara net maker (tenkara tamo) Mr. Yukihiro Yoshimura, of the store “Mankyu”.

Visiting Mankyu was quite a dream. He’s the most renowned tenkara net maker in Japan and spending time looking at so many of his nets showed me he is a true master. Yoshimura-san has been making nets for 45 years, a craft he learned from his father. He’s also the longest practitioner of tenkara I know of , he’s been fishing tenkara for about 63 years.

Kuwata-san and I spent the morning with Yoshimura-san and his daughter, who helps him with the shop and works on connecting mesh bags to net frames. His daughter showed me how she connects the mesh bag to the nets by connecting a new bag to a frame I had made – they complimented my craftsmanship on the net construction, and gave me some invaluable pointers on finishing it. It was very impressive to see her skills at connecting the mesh to the frame, one of my most feared tasks. She said that often people make the frame and bring it to her for connecting the mesh.

We talked at length about tenkara nets. At one point in the conversation we discovered that both of us knew Katsutoshi Amano. Yoshimura-san picked up his cell phone and called Amano-san. Amano-san must have put in a good word for me, as Yoshimura-san then invited me to return and learn net making with him. I was definitely able to find time for that on my calendar, after all that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Japan for an extended visit. I will be spending a full day with him the day before I return to the US.

Though I wish I had met him earlier to spend time learning about tenkara net making, this leaves me with an excellent reason to return next year, when I hope my Japanese will be much better. I will certainly write more about him after my day at his workshop.  This encounter was quite a treat since Yoshimura-san frequently declines giving interviews to newspapers and magazines and has declined invitations by NHK to appear on tv.

I spent the night at the home of Kazuhiro Kuwata, who makes our tenkara leather wallets. It was great watching his craftsmanship as he finished a custom knife I ordered for my own net making.

Kuwata-san lives and works in a large 100-year old traditional Japanese home in the country side. He loves vintage things and was attracted to the character of the house – which some people say is haunted.

We drank sake from his collection of Edo-period porcelain cups and enjoyed yakitori cooked on a irori . Kuwata-san doesn’t speak much English, so our conversations took place mostly in Japanese through the evening. Then he pulled out one of the vintage guitars he restored and played some American rock. These are experiences I wanted to have in Japan, and I’m happy I did.

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3 Responses to A day with tenkara craftsmen

  1. Rick Setina says:

    What an unbelievable trip you are having. For most people this would be a once in a lifetime adventure, but I think you’ll be visiting Japan many more times in your lifetime. At such a young age you have really done well.

  2. Jeff Butler says:

    For me this is one of your best reports of your travels in Japan –they all have been very interesting with awesome pics but there was something more to this one that reminded me of my experiences in Japan and that desire to go back again someday – this time to fish and meet those that fish.

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