People | 20 QUESTIONS

Larissa Corriveau: Cormorant fisher hooked on the small details

by Ayako Nakano

Staff Writer

Name: Larissa Corriveau
Age: 28
Nationality: Canadian and German
Occupation: Assistant operations manager for Ebisuya Rickshaw
Likes: Running, traveling, winter
Dislikes: Idling cars, feeling tired

1. You debuted as a cormorant fisher on July 1. How did you get into ukai (cormorant fishing)? Last summer the senior manager of Ebisuya Rickshaw asked me what I thought about ukai and if I wanted to try it. Knowing this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I don’t have anything to lose, I decided to give it a go.

2. Was a month’s training enough? One month is certainly not enough to master something new. I did get the bare basics down, but it will certainly take more time to become more skilled and be able to handle more birds.

3. What was the hardest part of the training? To pay attention to all the small details and movements to make ukai as smooth and enjoyable as possible, for both the spectators and the cormorants.

4. How does it feel to be described by domestic media as “the first” non-Japanese cormorant fisher? Technically speaking, I am not “the first non-Japanese” cormorant fisher. Cormorant fishing was and is still practiced in countries like China and Greece. Being called “the first” feels overrated.

5. What first brought you to Japan? I came in 2001 for a two-month summer vacation. The daily life here intrigued me so much I decided to come back and stay longer. It took a while, but 10 years later I finally made the move.

6. What did you study at Ritsumeikan University? I completed my master’s degree in International Relations, writing my thesis about the North Korean succession of leadership.

7. What’s keeping you here? My job.

8. Whom in Japan do you most admire? There is no person in particular I admire, but I do find people with a great sense of humor, courage, perseverance and zest for life most commendable.

9. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase?Nandeyanen,” which means “What are you talking about!?” It was one of the first new words my roommates taught me. I was a bit surprised at how smooth and oddly comforting a Japanese word can feel. The expression made me aware of how important intonation is.

10. Is ukai terminology difficult? It’s not so much the terminology, but some words I’d never heard of or used, like tsukamaru (to be caught) and kamu (to bite).

11. Is Japan cool? Regardless of which definition of “cool” you mean, Japan is such a magnificently colorful country that generalizing it to one word would be inappropriate.

12. Where are we most likely to find you at 10 o’clock on a Friday night? I generally work on the weekends as well, so my Friday nights are the same as any other day. By 10 p.m. I’m most probably fast asleep.

13. If someone wrote a biography about you, what should the title be? Maybe “Human 08/15.” The German expression 08/15 describes “the same old” or “nothing new.” I am an average person, just like everyone else. To be honest, I would feel bad for the writer who had to write it.

14. What should spectators focus on when watching ukai? The fishing/ukai itself is naturally the main attraction, but guests should take this opportunity to also enjoy the general atmosphere and experience. The hour on the boat could be a time-travel to the days when ukai was not yet a tourist attraction.

15. Other than Kyoto, where in Japan would you recommend to tourists? I would suggest they definitely make a trip to a small town. Be it the countryside surrounded by rice fields or a fishing village on the coast, visitors can enjoy the quieter and less crowded parts of Japan without the sensory overload of sights and sounds.

16. Where’s your secret hide-out in Kyoto? It’s a secret, so I can’t tell you! The next best place would probably be somewhere along the Kyoto Isshu Trail.

17. How do you survive Kyoto’s scorching summer? After over six years, I’m getting used to it. Growing up without AC or a fan at home, I still don’t use them in my Kyoto apartment. Staying well hydrated, not thinking or complaining about the high temperatures makes the summer so much more tolerable. After a few months the weather rewards us with a cool fall and gorgeous autumn foliage!!

18. What gets under your skin? Lately, things related to traffic. Pedestrians and cyclists not keeping left on the sidewalk; cars not stopping at crosswalks. What’s the point of having a designated crosswalk?

19. What other new challenges would you like to take on in Japan? Challenges are like opportunities, you can’t really plan, so I’m not sure yet what will be next. Living life day by day, there are bound to be some unexpected encounters along the way, which can result in new challenges. Not knowing is part of the fun.

20. What’s the biggest joy as an ushō (cormorant fisher)? Though working as an ushō after my regular job makes for a long working day, the evenings when the cormorants, the tomonori (boat rower) and nakanori (assistant) and I work well as a team and deliver a smooth ukai performance are the best!

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