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Most of the Japanese population lives on coastal plains, and mainly on the Pacific side. The Japan Sea coast, although it has had pockets of urban development, was never a location for great cities and their activities. But both coasts have dozens of smaller towns and villages in which fishing and agriculture represented the primary economic effort. The Natural Resources Section of the Japan Occupation was particularly concerned with the organization of fisheries, especially the system of private boat owners. These "boat owners" in the village behaved like oyabun, or paternalistic bosses, and paid the village young men who formed their crews, minimum wages--although at the same time, often guaranteed their employment, and provided certain benefits in cases of illness and other emergencies. The Occupation wanted to supplant the private boat-owner system with fishing cooperatives, in which all or most of the families were members.

The Public Opinion and Sociological Research Division was commissioned by the Natural Resources Section to conduct research into the social and economic conditions of cooperative relations. This was a continuing program, and its first products were the studies of specimen rural communities eventually published in the monograph: The Japanese Village in Transition (Arthur Raper and others, SCAP, 1949-1950). Work on fisheries, represented in some of the photographs in this Portfolio, was a later study. The field trips associated with the project focused on a number of other issues, such as problems of transportation in isolated coastal and inland communities with reference to economic welfare and development. This portfolio provides photos of some of the communities that were studied in the original "Raper Study" and in our later follow-up research.

But fishing and occasional farming were not the only activities in the coastal communities. Many of them also participated in the internal tourist industry, and possessed inns and hotels of varying sizes and facilities. Hot springs often surfaced in the mountains behind the coast, and were developed into onsen hotels. Boat tours, scenic drives, craft activities, bathing, and so on have been part of the pleasure industry for centuries.

We open here with an extract from my epistolary journal, describing the setting of Kamogawa, a fishing community on the Chiba Coast, northeast of Tokyo. Pictures of other fishing communities are also included in the Portfolio.

Journal Extract: The Fishing Communities


If you look at the map I sent you, you will see that Tokyo is bordered by two peninsulas, one on either side of the great bay. Atami, where we went several weeks ago, is to the left, on the Izu peninsula and Kamogawa, where we went this weekend, is to the right, on the Chiba peninsula. Of the two, Chiba is the more wild and the least frequented by the Americans, and is also more beautiful in many ways. We drive out of Tokyo, and for miles the highway goes along the usual endless village streets, lined with closely packed houses, no sidewalks, and with the horn blowing constantly to get the assortment of people, children, and animals out of the way [1990s: a superhighway now exists, to serve the Narita International Airport in central Chiba]. Not to mention the buses, which tear thru these narrow passages, horns blasting. (Actually, Japanese are good, quiet drivers--not at all like Americans.) But pedestrians will not get out of the way of cars--it seems to be a national habit to walk right in front of the car, completely unconcerned, and they jump away only when you are practically on top of them. Kids are constantly in the streets, and you are having thrills all the time when a three year old winds up suddenly under your radiator. Pretty soon you get into the country, and the usual mountains appear on the horizon. Then the endless rice paddies and wheat fields of Chiba appear. After this you get back to the seacoast, and drive for about 25 miles right along the shore--which is a most curious shoreline, more like New Jersey than anything else. There is at least a mile of offshore shallows--mud flats--on which is grown edible seaweed: nori. This is one of the basic foods in Japan, being used for all sorts of things. At low tide these flats are covered with stranded boats of all sizes; at high tide the boats all float and are used in streets of the villages, and cover the beaches. It is quite a sight at dusk, with the sun silhouetting all the boats and the people working in the shallow water--a mile out from shore. Beyond that point various depths for different kinds of fishing occur, so actually you have several strata of occupations as you go out to sea. At times there are probably as many as 1000 people working in a half square mile of ocean! A regular community out on the water.

Then the road leaves the coast and cuts directly across the peninsula, over the low but very rugged mountains. This is some trip. The roads are ghastly--tiny, narrow lanes on steep cliffs, with deep mud holes all the way. But the scenery is as usual incredible. Farms all over the mountains, with nearly every square inch terraced. Not like the other places I have told you about, because the vegetation is much lusher in Chiba--almost tropical. Also the place is full of rushing mountain streams, which run in jungle-like canyons. One view looked like something out of a dream--there was a big, deep, roundish valley, with medium mountains, terraced, all around it. Three farms were at the bottom. Then right in the middle of the hole was a pyramidal mound, steep, about 200 feet high. Probably had been a hill, which was gradually hacked down to regular form. Then on the top of this was a shrine and three cherry trees in full bloom. The brilliant green of the wheat fields around the sides and bottom of the valley highlighted the pink trees at the top of the mound.

Anyway, over on the other side of the peninsula was the little town of Kamogawa, mostly a fishing village. The Division used this and a neighboring town as one community for the rural survey. During this work Herb Passin became a personal friend of a local scholar and gentleman-sportsman who owns an inn or small hotel, on the beach. He will not accept money for the rooms we occupy, so instead we present him with various precious items--soap, lotion, bread, etc. Herb hadn't been there for a year (although Cora and Tommy [wife and son] were there for a week last summer), so we were treated like rare and royal guests. We had a large room with a balcony overlooking the garden and the enormous beach, and all night long we could hear the surf crashing on the sand. Food was not as we expected, because fishing has been very bad, and there is not a variety of seafood. But we did have excellent flounder sashimi, cooked sea bream and yellowtail. Saturday night we visited the home of Herb's other friend, the local town photographer, a nice guy who has spent most of his life photographing the local color, which is really worth photographing. He presented me with some prints of his choicer negatives, including a set of the wonderful ama, the fishing and diving girls who do it naked (see the pictures in portfolio fourteen). There are several communities on the Chiba coast who have these girls, and fortunately the GIs haven't discovered them as yet.

Sunday morning, at 5 AM, we got up and went out on a fishing boat. The fishermen are rugged rural characters, about as far from the elitism of Chrysanthemum and the Sword as one can get. We happened to be the guests of one of the captains of the Fixed Net Association, the outfit that operated the anchored nets about a mile and a half offshore. One captain has a powerboat, and the four larger scows. The boats are all made in the village, by the local ships carpenter. They are huge, heavy, dowelled tubs, showing the basic 17th century lines of all Japanese native boats (copied from the Portuguese trading vessels of the period). Anyway, out we go, with the captain's boat hauling the big scows in a long line. Out at the net, the boats break up and with enormous sculls; the fishermen maneuver them around on four sides of the net--which is really circular--with the captain's boat making the fifth side. There are about 80 men in all boats, not counting a few scavenger rowboats and chakachaka (small motor boats, also locally made). Then the big operation begins. They start to haul up the net on all sides (after closing off the one side which has an opening out into a long passageway of nets which permits the fish to come into the central area). The hauling up is a tough job, taking about an hour, and it is done to the tune of the most wonderful chants. As it comes up, and is folded into the boats the boats all draw closer together, and things get more and more exciting, because pretty soon they'll know what they caught. Then the nets get shallow, and the big fish begin jumping all over the place. Suddenly the boats are all touching, bow to stern, and the men start gaffing the fish, spearing them, netting them, and in any other way available getting them into the open holds of the boats. Everybody is yelling, chanting, and laughing and falling over--like the climax to a terrific drama--and what's more they did this twice a day! [Photos of this operation appear later.] After the big event, we had to stay out on the water another hour while the crew changed the net, which was done remarkable efficiently and quickly, considering its enormous size.

Finally got back on land, and by this time the clouds had blown away and we had bright sunlight and clear air. The coastline was beautiful, with little islands, really steep-sided rocks with trees on them, all along the little bay the town is located in. (Each little bay on the peninsula, and there must be dozens, has its own little fishing town or village). The harbor was full of picturesque fishing boats and little trading schooners and powered boats that carry little cargos up and down the coast. The boats are painted in blues, reds and yellows if they are painted at all, and most of them aren't, and the natural wood colors blend nicely with the painted boats.

After we landed, we watched the women of the village carry the fish up out of the boats in big bamboo baskets--that is, except the private fish which are tucked away in spare corners of the boat for use of the fishermen. Illegal, but accepted as a practice. We were presented with a couple large sea bream, about 10 pounds each, which the hotel packed in ice for us to take back. We then wandered thru the village, taking pictures, and wound up on the enormous beach (a mile long, 100 yards wide, gray volcanic sand), watching the Dragnet Association pull in its net. This net is thrown out from the shore into shallow water, where they catch mostly sardines and the like. The net is controlled mainly by repatriates from Asia, and other poorer people from the village. The net is pulled in mostly by the women, who have ropes tied around their middles, and who work in groups of four, singing chants with alternate verses--first one group, then the other, in rapid succession. The men, stark naked, are down at the water's edge, getting the big net into shore, and easing the burden on the women. This, too, is terrifically exciting, with everyone chanting at the top of his or her lungs, and when the net is up on land, the whole mob crowds around, shrieking, and the women filling their aprons or baskets with fish. We got some good pictures.

From there we got the sand out of our shoes and wound up in the village streets, waiting for the Hana matsuri procession--a flower festival celebrating the birth of Buddha. Pretty soon it came, and we were invited up on the balcony of a house to take pictures from above. (Japanese are courteous and considerate at all times, especially in the small towns and villages). The procession was touching, with the devout old ladies tinkling their little bells and singing their chant, undoubtedly having a sweet old time. Following came these shakuhachi players (big bamboo flutes nobody can really play well, not even the experts), with their white barrel shaped head masks, then the priests in brilliant robes, finally the little girls with the mothers, the former all dressed up in their fancy kimonos, faces painted white, with brass headdresses with tinkling spangles and beads. The mothers were proud, looking for all the world like mothers at a primary school Christmas play in the States, and bowing to their neighbors in the crowd lining the street. These Japanese matsuri--festivals--which go on all year, are heart warming and somehow bring tears to one's eyes largely because it is the only and major form of amusement most people know in the small communities, and because it obviously means so much to them. One gets absolutely no sense of mysterious east-ism here--its is all quite simple and touching, a chance to feel proud because you have a pretty little girl, or a chance to show the young people that you are a good Buddhist and have been all your life. And leading the procession of course are the local bankers and solid citizens--so it is all socially complete and hardly mysterious.

people and carts on the street

264. Onagawa Harbor: Our Take-off Point
The ship whose cabin structure is visible to the left, below the concrete dock area, is a coastwise passenger boat our research crew used to get from one village to another along the coast.

docked ships

266. Still another Picture of Onagawa Harbor, Fishing Community
Fishing boats at rest, big and little. The fisheries cooperative and preparation shed can be seen in the background, to the left. These men are about to row out to their anchored boat. They are taking their aluminum teapot with them.

a man and his son on a small boat

267. Family Fishermen in Onagawa Harbor
Like father, like son--they started early in the fisheries business, as in this picture where a fisherman for crabs and other shellfish is bailing out his homemade boat with the help of his little son. The fishing business in coastal communities was complex and varied, with a great many types and varieties: specialists in particular species of fish and other marine animals: large-scale general commercial fishing and small-scale individual fishing; cooperatives, where the entire village participated; and also boat-owner types of management, which the Occupation was trying to replace with cooperatives where the work and proceeds could be spread over a larger local population (and the main reason we did research on these coastal communities). Most of the pictures to follow were taken in the village of Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture, on the northeast coast of Honshu.

a woman standing in the water with a large bucket

268. Women Work Hard in the Fishing Villages
An elderly female resident of a fishing village, washing out her tub. Note the massive carpentry on the prow of the big surf fishing boat on the beach. In general the roll of women in the coastal fishery communities was higher than in farming villages, largely because the frequent absences of the men required the women to take charge of the household and the finances as well as various tasks associated with fisheries.

the shore

269. Harbor of Futomi Mura, a Pacific Coast Fishing Village
On the Pacific side of Japan, north of Tokyo, the coastal communities, nearly all of them practicing fishing and occasional farming, form a continuous strip--or did into the 1940s. This is the breakwater harbor of a mixed farming-fishing community of the Chiba coast. Two small skiff-like fishing boats can be seen behind the old breakwater. This community was included in the "Raper Study" volume of village studies mentioned previously.

a building built on the hillside

270. Ogatsu Mura: From the Harbor's Edge
Still farther north, in the far northeast coast of Honshu, lay the community of Ogatsu Mura shown here from the beach area. This village could not be reached by road, because of the mountainous massif along the coast. We came by coastal ferry, and did our interviewing and studying on foot, staying at the village ryokan (the building on the left).

a building with a large Japanese character drawn on it (kori - "ice")

272. Cooperative Ice House: Ogatsu Mura
The Ogatsu Fishery Cooperative Ice House. The small figure on the edge of the cliff is a gentleman hiker from the city. The huts are fisherman's residences.

close-up view of a building with a large Japanese character drawn on it (kori - "ice")

273. Close-up of Ice House
A close-up of the Fishery Co-Op ice house. The large character is kori--"ice"--made large so other fishermen out in the bay in need of ice can see it.

about 20 people pulling nets onto the shore

274. Ogatsu-Mura: The Dragnets Being Pulled In
Dragnets would be put out into the surf in the mornings and usually pulled in during the late afternoon.

people on the beach laying fish out to dry

275. Kamogawa: Drying the Small Fry
These fish are used in making dashi (fish flavoring) and other products. Kamogawa was a fishing and resort community on the Pacific coast of the Chiba peninsula, built along the "Ten Thousand Ri Beach"--a vast expanse of white sand. Some of the traditional hotels are visible here.

fish being taken off the boats and into large wooden baskets

276. Kamogawa: Unloading the Day's Catch
The women of the village carry the fish in the homemade bamboo baskets to the markets and points of shipment to the cities. There were many ways for the boat owners and their fishermen employees and the employees' wives to be paid for their services. Sometimes the boat was operated as an informal co-op; in other cases, the men were simply wage earners, and their wives could or could not keep small percentages of the sales. And so on.

several people mending very very large nets

279. Kamogawa: Networks
Mending the great nets on the famous Ten Thousand Ri Beach on the Chiba Peninsula, near Kamogawa.

8 women turning a windlass on the beach

280. The Kamogawa Surf Boat Windlass
The surf boat windlass on the beach on the Chiba Peninsula. This windlass, manned by women of the village, winds up the rope that gradually pulls the surf boat up on the beach. Surf boats were rather large vessels that cruised daily just outside of the reef or at the end of the beach shelf, netting for fish patrolling the area. The men and other women of the village handle the rope further down the beach, but these ladies wind it up. Note the elderly lady calling the tune with a chant: and the strapping young woman in front. In the background is a traditional beach ryokan, or inn, for tourists.

women turning a windlass on the beach

281. The Windlass in Operation
Another instance of vigorous participation by the fishery community women. The young woman on the left was nearly six feet tall! The elderly woman on the right is calling the chant to maintain the rhythm of movement.

women seated on the beach working on the rope

283. Kamogawa: The Windlass Rope Handling
Handling the rope--feeding it to the windlass ladies.

a boat with semi-naked people comes to shore

284. The Surf Boat Comes Upon the Beach
This area is--at Kamogawa--part of the great "Ten Thousand Ri Beach," and its flat surface made this surfboat fishing possible. The fishermen in the boat are largely sans clothing, by the way--the captain is stark!

children gathered on the beach

285. Kamogawa: Children on the Beach
Fishing village children on the beach, watching the surf boat pulled in.

an old woman standing on the beach with a pile of firewood at her feet

286. Kamogawa Beach Scene
An elderly lady collecting firewood.

a young boy climbing on the back of another boy

287. Kamogawa: Children on the Beach 2
A village boy and his little brother, searching for snails in the tidal area.

a small boat being pulled ashore

288. A Smaller Surfboat
Here comes a smaller surf boat, out of the water, and with the ropes attached that pull it up on the beach. The simple log cradles are moved forward as the boat moves up on the sand (near Ogatsu Mura, Iwate Prefecture).

docked ships

289. Fishing Trawlers
Two wooden fishing boats in Sendai harbor. These boats were made in many of the local seaside villages by local carpenters, often using the timber behind the village on the mountain slopes. A few were still being made in the 1980s, but nearly all coastal fishing activities used metal ships.

front view of an old boat

290. Old Fishing Boat
A closer view of a classic village-constructed wooden fishing boat, with an observation cockpit for the captain.

people sitting on the rocky shore

291. Beach and Bay: Izu Peninsula
A typical scene in a bay on a summer day, with a small local fishing boat and tourists inspecting the tide pools. The Izu Peninsula is south of the Tokyo area and its climate and vacationing facilities make it a kind of "Riviera" for Japan.

a fisherman working on shore

295. Fisherman on Shore
Fisherman handling his nets on the shore, using a block and tackle. These big nets require special tools; they are heavy and difficult to lift and spread (near Numazu, Izu Peninsula).

shore-line: anchor, tree, and boat

296. Shore Vista
And finally: A Vista on the Shore--Anchor, Tree, Boat (near Numazu).