Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Chikako Enomoto
A Fisherman’s Story

While walking the lower reaches of the Agano River in Niigata City I approached a bank with wide open stretches of sand. Here, a small truck was parked at the edge of the sandy ground and an old gentleman was sitting on the water’s edge staring at the water surface.

I approached the same area and sat apart from him to look into the water as he did.  As we sat and pondered a variety of birds sang and small beetles ran underneath my feet. I tried not to step on them as tiny bugs hovered around me.

Suddenly, I heard splashing and I immediately thought it was a frog. The shiny surface of the water rippled, and I saw a flash of black and gold scales. Carp! Several carp swam in a tangled mess as I stared at the water surface quietly and breathlessly.

I soon realised that the gentleman was waving at me while blowing smoke from his cigarette. He is small and in his late 70s (I guess) and wears a cap, sunglasses and rubber boots. He doesn't wear a mask and I quickly put my mask on. He points to the ditch right next to the small sand pile where he knees down.

I also kneel down a little away from him, but he advises me that the best viewing position was on the small sand pile rise next to him: “No, you can see them better from here.”

I quickly measure the distance between us with my eyes and sit in the position he points out, wondering if it would be a safe distance. The man was old and a smoker, and I felt that I might be a danger to him.

He begins to speak without any sign of concern: “I can see it perfectly from this spot. The carp are laying eggs. They're all big ones and well over one meter long. They're so fat.” he said, making a circle with his hands. I came to the realisation it was a fish spawning location.

It was obvious he wanted to tell me what he knew about the situation: “Look there, where the grass is. There! They'll be back! The water temperature right now is about 23 degrees. The eggs will hatch in about five days in this weather. This warm, light, cloudy day in the spring is the best for them. The water temperature will rise and there will be rain soon. Carp know the weather well. If it rains, even the eggs that have been in the shallows will hatch sooner rather than later. There is usually five or six males swarming around one female.”

He continued: “They're so big and thick! But there is no point in catching such a big one. Those have tough meat and bones to cook and I can't eat them all. Though, the bigger one has more flavour. The trick is to cut the reeds into 1-metre lengths and sink them with a weight in the water where you can see them from the shore. Compare the length of the fish with the reeds, and when you find a right sized fish, scoop it up with a net. But I'm not trying to catch them today!”

I was attentive as possible and wanted to listen to his intriguing stories. There was more: “I did eat a crucian last week. It was about 40 cm long. I'm living alone, so I still have plenty left over. We can find any kind of fish in the Agano River and this is the season for cherry salmon. Trout and salmon can only be caught with the permission of the prefectural government, and trout can only be caught from boats. Actually, you need fishing license for carp and crucian carp as well. But the government aren't too strict about it. The Agano River is huge and the water rich – makes for very good fish.”

When he fell silent a lit another cigarette, I prompted him to continue and cocked my head with interest: “The Ministry of Construction built this spawning ground a long time ago. All the rivers have been sealed over with concrete so fish can't reproduce. They dug up this spot for fish to spawn, where the water is shallow and muddy, with grass. There is another spawning ground a little further out and that's where the bigger fish congregate. For years, a female carp, maybe 1.4 meters long, has been coming to lay her eggs here. She probably won't spawn until late spring, but she is the queen of the neighbourhood. She is my girlfriend! I go to see her every year”.

The gentlemen was a member of the Fishermen's Association of Agano City and has been fishing for salmon for decades. When I asked him how old he was, he laughed and said he was too old to tell others.

After we said goodbye, I thought about his age…

The Agano River waterways once suffered from a tragic mercury contamination known as Niigata Minamata Disease, caused by wastewater discharged by Showa Denko K. K. This disease caused great harm to the people living in the area who had a long and traditional history of eating river fish as a source of protein. The official confirmation of Niigata Minamata Disease was made on May 31st 1965. Although there is no longer any mercury pollution poisoning the river, the lives of the people living in the watershed changed dramatic for a long and continuing period. I guessed the gentlemen I met would have spent his youth during these disastrous times.

Chikako Enomoto is a photographer and archivist based in Tokyo, Niigata and Fukushima. Her ongoing project documents the history of Japan through rivers. She shares her field notes about associated projects on her Instagram account: (@aga_enomoto)