An Ukai




Type: Netsuke

Sold. USA, private collection.

Materials: Tagua nut. Stained. Amber inlay.

Dimensions: 51×28×38 mm.


The idea of a cormorant netsuke belongs to Anatol Ionis from Seattle, USA (with a few changes). I decided to call this netsuke "Ukai". I myself enjoy fishing and this subject couldn't leave me disinterested.

Ukai is a type of freshwater fishing using specially trained cormorants. This fishing method has been utilized in Japan for the past 1300 years.

Ukai usually takes place at night. Special torches on long poles are lighted above water to attract fish. Each cormorant is kept on a long leash attached to fisherman's hand on one end and to a small metal ring around the base of the cormorant's neck on the other. This ring is just large enough to make swallowing of any large fish impossible. As soon as the bird catches any sufficiently large fish, the leader of the fishing team - he is known as usho - immediately pulls the cormorant by the leash to the boat and extricates the fish.

Ukai was very popular among the feudal lords from the Heian period and through the Edo period. It gained special recognition as it was also used to catch sweetfish (ayu) for the Imperial Family. Nowadays this unique fishing method is protected by the Imperial Household Agency.

This netsuke is carved from a tagua nut and stained. This is only my second work in tagua nut. The eyes are amber inlays. An amber inset with my signature is on the bottom of the netsuke.