YAMATOKORIYAMA, NARA PREF. – A common sight at summer festivals is people crouched over pools trying in vain to catch goldfish with a paper scoop.
If only they knew how to do it.
“You need to level the poi (paper scoop) underwater and scoop the goldfish from the head,” says expert Koji Shimomura, 71, demonstrating the skill to onlookers.
Scooping is often done at festivals by children who pay a small fee and then take their catches home. But it is also the basis of competitive goldfish catching, where people compete to snare the wriggly fish in time trials.
Shimomura says it has social value, in that children and seniors competing shoulder-to-shoulder can forge a special bond.
Shimomura runs a flower shop in Yamatokoriyama, Nara Prefecture. His shop also sells souvenirs and has a small plastic pool where customers can fish for goldfish.
One day, he saw a man scooping goldfish one after another, surprising the other customers. He turned out to be the national scooping champion.
Shimomura learned the man’s techniques, catching goldfish from a pool with a paper scooper and putting them in a bowl. The practice requires care and speed because the poi can tear easily.
“I became fascinated,” he recalled.
After practicing over and over, Shimomura and his team won the team competition at the 2004 national scooping contest in Yamatokoriyama.
The city has cultivated goldfish for more than 150 years and is still the biggest producer of the fish in Japan.
An annual scooping competition has been held in the town every August since 1995, and men and women of all ages take part from across Japan.
In 2006, Shimomura placed a number of pools in the parking lot of the souvenir shop so people planning to take part in the competition could practice.
He also began to give tips on scooping goldfish and set up a training school. Around 400 people have now taken training, ranging from elementary school pupils to those in their 70s. Some have traveled from as far as Hiroshima Prefecture and Hokkaido to attend the training.
The souvenir shop has become popular with junior high and high school students on school outings to Nara.
People who take Shimomura’s class end up doing well in the annual competition. Since many of his students are young, he teaches them not only how to win but also how to care for the fish and the importance of being polite.
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