Usho fishers are active from May through October, bringing a colorful scene to the Nagara River. Since the Meiji period, they have officially been public employees of the Imperial Household Agency, titled as “Usho, Shikibu-shoku” (Shikibu-shoku means the Board of Ceremony). Honor and responsibility form two sides of the same coin. He confesses he becomes nervous every time at the Goryo ukai ceremony, at which fishes are caught to be offered to the Emperor. The long history of his family over a dozen generations also rests on his shoulders. However, ukai cannot be done solely by usho. Along with two fellow crews on board, also involved are makers of boats, iron baskets for fishing fire, baskets for cormorants and fishes, and costumes. He takes precautions against his hubris.
Although his role is hereditary, he was not spoon-fed. Since he succeeded in the family business at the age of 27 when his father collapsed from illness, he has been a keen student of nature. By living with cormorants every day, he has reached the essential point of knowing the importance of one’s relationship with them.
A customer’s question once surprised him: “Does a cormorant have a mind?” He can now declare positively, “Yes, of course it does. It is my life to continue communicating with the cormorants through the heart, day after day. Relationship is everything for human to human as well.”

Junji Yamashita

Born in Gifu City in 1939. Graduated from Aichi Gakuin University Faculty of Commerce. Gained the position of Usho, Shikibu-shoku, Imperial Household Agency, at age 32, and a delegate of usho since 2002. He rebuilt a part of his own house as a museum for ugai, and opened it to the public along with the breeding pond for cormorants.
Cooperation: Gifu Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Mr. Tomonori Mori, Advisor, Gifu Prefecture Rinri Corporation

This article originally appeared in “Shinsei” magazine, November 2011 issue, published by RINRI Institute of Ethics. Partially rewritten to update for this internet release.

Spirit and Spine
‘Kitohone’

created by
THE SPIRIT AND SPINE
CREATIVE FORCE,Tokyo

project direction
Gaku Okubo (ISUKE INC.)
photography
Yoshitomo Tanaka (Vivot)
site design
ISUKE INC. and ICA
title calligraphy
Kenryo Hara (Kikkokai)