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Oikomi Ryō

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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

A fishing technique unique to Okinawa for which the fisherman dives into the water to chase the fish into the net. This method catches a large number of fish with relatively simple tools but with high water temperature as a fundamental condition. In no other region would the fisherman think of going into the water himself. 

The way dozens of fishermen work together to catch fish, such as gurukun, is particularly called agiyā. Behind the attainment of this method was the invention of mīkagan (underwater goggles). In 1884, Tamagusuku Yasutaro of Itoman came up with underwater goggles to cover both eyes using monpanoki wood and glass. Oikomi ryō and shellfish harvesting were practiced before, but the efficiency between the naked eyes and underwater goggles is incomparable. This led to a major development of oikomi ryō

Several sabani1 work together for an agiyā. Fishnets are set up at an about 10m deep seabed, a couple of kilometers offshore, and the fishermen drive the fish into the net from afar. They lower a surushikā, a net or a stick with flaps attached, to lure the fish in. Words are useless underwater; correctly understanding the leader’s intentions and working together as a team is crucial to not letting a school of fish get away. In recent years, agiyā use scuba diving and has grown larger in scale.

There are also smaller oikomi ryō conducted in a lagoon with fewer fishermen. The net is set at the opening of a valley-like coral formation and the fish are chased in from the other end. It’s perfect for catching dinner or preparing festival meals (I have done it myself and it was quite amusing.) Here also, you need to be conscious of timing and direction, or else the fish will escape from the side. 

What’s interesting is that the fish never attempt to swim over the net. They always try to dive under. Hence, the net has to be touching the bottom of the sea. In the end, you lower the surushikā right into the school of fish at a loss, herded in the middle, and stir it around to drive the panicking fish to swim into the net head first.

I said earlier that the oikomi ryō is carried out by several people together, but there is an expert in Motobu who can do it all by himself. Although over 80 years old, Nakamura Zenei casts the net ten times a day and works almost every day, not to mention he magically catches squid gathered near the surface of the water, softly enclosing them with the net. This is what an ultimate oikomi ryō looks like.

Editor’s Note:

  1. Small Okinawan fishing boat