Статьи Скотта Гормана (Scott Gorman)

January 13, 2009

A Morning at Sea Aboard the Katayoshimaru

The alarm startled me awake at 5 a.m., interrupting a dream. Just an hour or so later, I was living another one.

There I was, along with Kenny Lee, an assistant language teacher who works with elementary school students in Kisakata, bobbing along in Nihon Kai along with Captain Saito Mitsuo and the 13 crew members of the fishing boat Katayoshimaru. The morning sun was struggling to break through a heavy cloud cover, but the sea was calm at low tide. The men who crouched and stood at various parts of the 13-meter-long boat were used to being here, but for Kenny and I, this was our first time on a fishing boat that was part of the fleet that calls Kisakata home. I actually felt a little silly, to be honest, because everyone had a real purpose but me; the fishermen to gather in nets full of salmon and squid to feed their families and make money, and Kenny to translate Japanese to English and back again. Me, I was just along for the ride, privileged to be a witness to a journey that has been made time and again in this ancient culture, people taking to the open sea in small boats to harvest the bounty that nature has provided.

It had been arranged for me by the good people at Town Hall, who understand that my purpose here as a Fulbright Senior Researcher is not really about books and papers and institutions, but about people, those who make their homes here, and about the things they do every day to survive and prosper, to put a roof over their heads, to look after the future of their children and grandchildren. These men were engaged in a time-honored profession that has helped sustain the people of this region for centuries, and despite all the modern trapping of contemporary Japanese life, helps sustain it still in what is a difficult but essentially simple enterprise; humans using their wits, their courage and their muscle power to gather fish and shellfish that is the lifeblood of this string of islands off the Asian continent.

We were made to feel welcome by Saito-san and the crew. And then we set off, to motor to nets that had been set before so we could return now to see if the fates were kind and we would discover many fish to eat and sell.

I find Kisakata very beautiful any time, from any perspective, but it was especially lovely looking back at the town from the sea, with Chokai-san peeking out in the background, the neat homes where many of my friends live just starting to come alive with lights and movement as another work or school day began. The well-kept boat, which nonetheless showed signs of lots of past hard work, made steady progress to the fishing grounds.

As is my habit, and a part of my writing profession, I asked many questions and was rewarded with friendly and patient answers from the captain, with Kenny translating between us. He too was patient and kind to me, as he always is, and slowly I began to understand where we were going and how we would proceed. Mostly, I tried to stay out of the way of these men engaged in serious work, reflecting how far away I was from my home but how much being on a boat in the Kisakata fishing fleet was so much like being on a similar boat in Anacortes. The language and some equipment may be different, but the object of the search was exactly the same.

Well, maybe not. Once the men pulled up the nets, teeming with salmon and squid, I noticed one essential difference. Back home, the salmon themselves are what’s really valuable and every reasonably sized one, male and female, is pulled aboard so it can be taken ashore, sold, cleaned and make its way to the meal table. Here, the captain and crew kept the males for later, but the females were immediately sliced open and their egg sacs removed, then tossed overboard. In America, in most cases, if the roe is not simply thrown away or used for bait it is taken to shore only to be packed up for the long journey for Japan. Here, the salmon would not fetch all that much money when it was sold to a broker and later at the fish store; in the current depressed market, wild salmon is not expensive, as it is in the United States. Here, the real gold was in those eggs, which people in Japan love as much as most people in the United States (but not me!) dislike them.

This was a typical morning, a good day but not a great one. We pulled in about 400 to 500 male salmon that we took back to the dock, along with lots of squid. The men had been busy hauling in the nets, sorting the fish, throwing back the small ones, slicing open the females and carefully pulling out the egg sacs. Seagulls hovered above, begging for a free lunch. The deck filled with sea water and blood, which was quickly hosed overboard. The engines purred and sometimes roared; once in a while we lurched around a bit when we hit a swell, but mostly there wasn’t even a need to hold on to anything, so calm was the surface of the sea. I have never been seasick, even in small sailing ships in the open ocean off the coast of British Columbia, so I wasn’t worried about me. Kenny, however, looked just a little bit green around the gills, as we say back home, but it turned out to be no problem. He later described his condition at the worst of times as “like being just a little carsick.”

Just as we made out last pickup and turned for shore, the sun pierced the clouds and the sky was flooded with morning sun. It glinted off the shiny skin of the fish we had collected and danced on the surface of the sea; Chokai-san could now be seen clearly in the early morning light, and the day turned warmer. Those wrapped up against the mild cold unbuttoned and unzipped here and there. We were all happy at the success of the venture, and that we were safe and mostly dry and headed home.

Back at the dock, the kind captain gave Kenny and me bags stuffed full of salmon and squid, which would we be our dinner and that of our friends and neighbors. At my request, all the men stood on the boat as I clambered onto the dock to take a group photo with my ancient manual 35 mm Ricoh. The first shots were no good, as I had trouble getting everyone into the frame. But at my urging everyone bunched closer together so I could get all 14 mariners into the picture.

I looked at my watch. It was not yet 8 a.m. It seemed amazing to me that we had accomplished so much in such a short time. Kenny and I headed home with our plastic gift sacks, but the men of the Katayoshimaru were in for a short rest and then another journey out to sea, just one in a countless number of trips taken by untold thousands of fishermen stretching back through the ages.

But this one was mine, and I was very happy and grateful to have been along for the ride.

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