Kyoto by the Sea: Ine Fishing Village
Continuing on my journey past Maizuru, a port city heavily influenced by its naval history, and Amanohashidate, known to be one of the three most scenic spots in Japan, I arrived at the north end of Tango Peninsula.
Here, fishermen of the picturesque seaside village of Ine have continued to preserve their unique way of life and live in a harmony with the sea for centuries. It is a secluded idyll complete with rare natural beauty, singular architecture and timeless traditions.
Spectacularly set against the thickly-forested mountains, Ine boasts a collection of 230 funaya, fishermen’s homes built centuries ago on stilts over the water. The first floor doubles as a workspace and a garage where the fishermen haul their boats, while the second floor is a living space for their families.
The local fisherman Toshikazu Yamada, 70, shared that his ancestors believed the surrounding forests attract fish to the tranquil waters of the bay by singing to them with the sweet, rustling sounds of their leaves called uo-tsuki-rin, or fish-gathering forests. To avoid disrupting the harmony, the fishermen built their homes over the water instead of in the forests.
The funaya frame the bay, creating an organic seam that beautifully moors the mountains and the emerald sea together. These unique Japanese structures are now considered Important Cultural Properties, served as a backdrop for numerous local dramas and are the main tourist draw to the area.
Thanks to the unrivaled camaraderie and commitment, the village has escaped economic setback which is affecting many aging rural communities around Japan. Young generations are rejoining their families in Ine, passionate to bring new life to the fishing village.
The community has successfully developed and implemented a marine ecotourism program which has allowed to revive Ine without compromising the integrity of its heritage. Fifteen families in the village renovated their funaya and converted them into guesthouses. By opening their doors, the fishermen give guests an opportunity to enjoy local hospitality and get an intimate insight into their traditions. On the other hand, the limited lodging space available for guests, allows locals to have subtle control over how many people stay in the village thus ensuring the local rhythm of life is not disrupted.
Guests can indulge in home-cooked meals prepared using seafood fresh out of these waters, partake in village activities, take a boat tour or customized fishing trip, hike cliff paths or rent a bike for a leisurely ride to the nearest secluded beaches.
Husband and wife Katsuko and Toshikazu Yamada are also part of the marine ecotourism, operating daily 30-minute cruises around the bay. As he helps me board his tiny boat which seats 12, Toshikazu handed me a life vest and a pack of special food for the soaring seagulls. “I inherited our funaya from my parents. It is over 100 years old,” he said as we docked briefly in front of his boathouse.
The audio recording during the tour gave me ample information (in English) about the history of the village as well as its current sustainable fishing practices. Local fishermen still use a 500-years-old ama set-net fishing technique which is set in a way that it traps only mature fish in a modest number. This way the villagers enjoy the bounty gifted by the sea without exploiting it.
We first share the catch of the day among the community, said Toshikazu, by taking everything to the village’s hamauri market. Most villagers can take a few fish for just a 100 yen (less than $1) donation to the community tin, while the elderly get it completely for free.
Later that day, Katsuko showed me mondori, a small cage dropped into the water right below their funaya to demonstrate a simpler fishing method used by villagers to secure fresh sashimi for dinner. This is how my grandparents used to do it too, she said.
The success of Ine’s marine ecotourism has also prompted the development of local businesses. There are a handful of excellent sea-to-table restaurants. Funaya Shokudo is one of them, offering elaborate meal sets which pair wonderfully with the uninterrupted views of the bay.
Further down the road, the Mukai Shuzo Sake Brewery, which has been distilling sake since 1754, offers brewery tours and sake tastings. Its head brewer is Kuniko Mukai, one of the few female sake masters in Japan. I sampled her award-winning specialty Ine Mankai, or Ine in full bloom. With a striking crimson color, this ancient red rice sake packs a mouthful of sweet and sour flavors of beet, plum and rose.
In response to my question about the best time to visit Ine, Katsuko says: “Any time.” Winter is the peak season to taste the local seafood at its fattest and richest, buri yellowtail, fugu blowfish, and Taiza giant crab being seasonal highlights. Late spring brings along schools of leaping dolphins by day and the nightly viewings of mesmerizing blue glow emitted by the plankton in the bay. During the last weekend of August, Ine comes alight as the village hosts a paper lantern festival culminating in fireworks.
It is a relief to see that, despite the influx of tourism, Ine remains uncrowded and maintains its serene vibe. It is a delight to dive deep into the daily life of this undisturbed haven and observe the slow life of the village: wake up to the laughter of fishermen at the crack of dawn as they venture off beyond the bay, watch local women gossip outside the hamauri beach market before they carry on with their daily chores, nosh to your heart’s content on rich morsels of sashimi, enjoy the salty air while watching the sunset and drift asleep to the soothing sound of water brushing against the boathouse embracing the intimate and beautiful connection with the ocean that the fisherman of Ine have maintained for centuries.
Closest train stations are Amanohashidate Station (Kyoto Tango Railway) and Miyazu Station (Kyoto Tango Railway). There are trains that go directly to Amanohashidate and Miyazu Stations from JR Kyoto and JR Osaka Stations.
From Amanohashidate Station or Miyazu Station, take a local bus (丹後海陸交通) bound for Ine Yubinkyoku-mae, Kama-nyu, or Kyoga-misaki ([経ヶ岬] [蒲入] [伊根郵便局前]). It takes about an hour, bus fare is ¥400 from either station. See the bus schedule here.
The boat cruise lasts 30 min. and costs ¥1,000 for adults. Free for kids age 12 and below. At least two passengers per cruise are required. There’s no cruise timetable, so you can just call and set a time for the boat cruise. Ine has two other similar boat cruise operators and they charge the same rate. More details on their official site.
Address of Kameshima Maru Ine Boat Cruise and Ine Town Tour
Kameshima 822, Ine-cho, Yosa-gun, Kyoto 〒626-0424
Phone: 090-8579-1002 or 0772-32-0585
Guided tours (one hour long) of Ine town cost ¥1,800. See the English website of Ine Tourism Information Center for more info on guided tours.
Ine has a number of waterfront fishermen’s funaya inns. Please note, they are popular and get booked up quickly. They charge around ¥10,000/night including dinner and breakfast. Guests can even go fishing. You can get detailed information and make a reservation here.
Stay tuned for part 3 of this journey as I take you along the silk road of tango peninsula. Mett local chirimen (silk crepe) producers and merchants, get behind-the-scenes into chirimen manufacturing process and find out how the locals have preserved this centuries-old craft.
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