A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The alarm goes off at 3am. I’m tired, it’s dark outside, and I wondering why I was so keen to join the crew of a local fishing boat. Fifteen minutes later, I’m sitting in the back of local fishermen Jerry’s car, chatting away in mixture of Japanese and English about the London bombings.

Jerry is an incredibly friendly and interesting guy, with a life story that could fill many pages of this blog. A fifty something Philippino man, who has now lived in Japan for eight years after an amazing tale of being smuggled through China and Korea which saw him being unknowingly used as a drug mule, living in hovels packed full of other illegal immigrants and trapped into the slave labour by his smugglers, he eventually escaped and headed to Obama, Japan, where he had a friend.

Now married to a Japanese woman, and fully legal, Jerry makes his living as a fisherman, pulling in his nets as the sun rises each morning, (though he has adventurous plans for starting up his own haulage company in the Philippines). As neighbours, Ryan has become friends with Jerry, and has been going out with these local fishermen over the last few weeks helping them out, and of course I jumped at the chance of getting out to sea and having a fresh experience.

We arrived at the harbour to discover that it had been a very bad night for the crew. Two of them were absent; one’s father had sadly passed away in the night, and another, in a completely unrelated incident, house had burnt down, so it turned out our presence was actually quite timely.

We stepped on board the old fishing boats, and chugged out of the bay in the grey dawn light towards the open sea, with one old fisherman curled up on the deck catching a few Zs. After around half an hour, we reached the first port of call. Through an elaborate maze of nets suspended by floats, fish are channelled into captivity. We hooked the nets using long poles, and then using onboard winches, we slowly brought the nets in, trapping the fish in a net between the two boats.

As more and more of the net is pulled up, the boats get closer and closer together, until there is just a small length of net between to two, packed full of sliver fish, who are probably just realising that their world has suddenly got incredibly small. The final stage is to scoop the fish out of the large net using a small net on a crane, and dump them into an ice filled hold on the boat.

We took in two separate nets, each taking about half and hour to empty, and then with the boat sunk low in the water, due to our heavy pay load, we chugged back in to the port fish market.

As the grey dawn diminished and the sun rose, the captain grabbed a couple of fish and a squid from the icey hold and proceeded to make the freshest sashimi (sliced raw fish) that I’d ever tasted. To accompany this feast, a glass of whiskey (from a 4L plastic bottle) and water was poured, and beers were cracked. This breakfast of fresh fish and whiskey is the standard procedure for the fishermen. I glanced at the onboard clock; 6:15am and we were starting drinking already. We ate the fish with soy and wasabi and admired the beautiful scenery of Obama bay, the lush forested mountains shrouded in dawn mist giving a mysterious calm to the place.

It wasn’t long before we hit the port, and after a relaxing ride, it was action stations again. We disembarked, and load by load, the fish were scooped out from the ice holds, and dumped onto a wooden table whence the sorting began. I was kept busy emptying crates of fish into their rightful containers, and keeping the sorters supplied with fresh crates.

It took a good hour or so sort the catch, which was immediately taken to the auction room and sold on to local restaurant and shop owners. It was enlightening to see the entire process from start to finish, but one thing that did alarm me was the phenomenal amount of fish that are wasted. Tens of thousands of small fry – ranging from 5cm- 10cm were simply swept onto the floor, and hosed down into the drain to become a massive free meal for the local gulls and hawks. Towards the end I was literally shin deep in small, dead fish. Having seen this terrible wastage first hand, it’s little wonder that global fish stocks are plummeting. It seems that it would be so simple to remedy though – just by using a net with larger holes would allow all these young fish to escape, and I wonder why they need such a fine net when they don’t keep the small fish.

By around 8:30am it was all over and we got into the car, together with our payment of several large fish called Sawada. I don’t know the English name, but they looked to me like some type of mackerel. It had been a great morning, though I think these local fishermen found it strange that two foriengers would want to come and work on their boat for nothing. At the same time, I think they liked the fact that we were taking a genuine interest in what they did.

As we drove back to Ryan’s house, feeling weary due to the whiskey buzz wearing off, and with yawns creeping in, Jerry passed on a compliment from the captain.

“My boss like you, he say you have wide mind”.

A massive thanks goes out to Jerry and the local fishermen crew, and Ryan who is sadly leaving Japan in a few days, to seek a fresh adventure. He’s riding his motorbike across Russia and Mongolia. Big Up to Ryan, seeya in Autumn, dood.

Thus ends the chapter of Adventures in the Deep South. Tomorrow, an international posse embarks on a new trail; the famed Fuji Rock Festival. Never heard of it? Just think of the Japanese version Glastonbury/Woodstock.

Stayed tuned to thefunkydrummer.


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