Pouring rain did not stop the citizens of Odotsu from turning out to welcome the return of their new boat, Ryomei Maru, from it’s first voyage.
Odotsu is a small fishing port about 40 kilometers south of Miyazaki. Tuna fishing has been a way of life here for centuries. And it is still done with pole and line, one fish at a time, on small commercial fishing boats.
It is hard work, though pole and line fishing virtually eliminates the possibility of accidental by-catch of other fish and creatures like sea turtles.
According to data collected by scientists at ISSF (International Seafood Sustainability Foundation) pole and line fishing accounts for only about 10% of the world’s tuna catch. Almost all the rest are are caught by vessels called “Seiners” using large nets.
One of the most important resources of the area is Katsuo (also called skipjack, a type of bonito tuna). They begin to arrive in Miyazaki in great numbers from late spring to early summer on their magnificent northward migration.
Every year, the villagers gather to celebrate the first catch of the season. But this year they had something special to celebrate: It was the first time that their new boat had set out to sea.
The vessel proved seaworthy, and sailed back to port where everybody had gathered to welcome the bounty of the ocean.
Japanese have a keen awareness of the change in seasons. Eating seasonal foods, dressing appropriately and displaying seasonal decorations at home or in the office are considered to be a refined way of “sensing the seasons“.
The first catch of the season, called “hatsu-gatsuo”, is an important annual event. The catch is so highly prized that the phrase hatsu-gatsuo is used in haiku poetry for referring to onset of early summer.
Katsuo is extensively used in Japanese cuisine. It is consumed as sashimi and in sushi or slightly seared (katsuo tataki). It is also smoked and dried to make one of the most important cooking stocks (katsuobushi) used in Japanese cuisines.