Okinawa is a prefecture of Japan made up of 161 islands that span over 1,000 miles. The abundance of shoreline and access to the Pacific Ocean has made fishing an important part of Okinawa’s economy, lifestyle and tradition. While you can charter deep-sea fishing boats and use modern rods, reels and equipment, there are fishing tools that are unique to Okinawa. When commoners were forbidden from carrying weapons, an entire style of martial arts, Kobudo, developed around traditional fishing and farming tools, and weaponry like the eku, nunti bo and rochin all derive from traditional Okinawan fishing tools.
The eku is a traditional Okinawan boat oar used by fishermen to direct and propel their vessels. The tool is made of local wood and is usually between 5 and 6 feet long. It has a wide end, used to impel a fishing boat through the water, and a circular, narrow handle used to grip the tool. The eku developed into a weapon used in Okinawan Kobudo by fishermen defending themselves against attackers.
The rochin is a fishing spear used by fishermen in Okinawa mainly in shallow waters. The tool consists of a wooden handle that is typically 12 to 18 inches long, with a sharp blade on the end. Okinawan fishermen would wade into the waters off shore and forcefully throw the rochin at fish they could see. Along with the tinbe, or shield often made of a turtle shell, the rochin is one of the lesser-known instruments used in Okinawan Kobudo weaponry training.
The nunti bo is a tool used much like the rochin, but it includes a hook that allows a fisherman to pull a speared fish into a boat, so it can be utilized in deeper waters. The nunti bo consists of a long wooden pole, usually 6 feet or more, with a sharp, dagger-like pointed end with hooks protruding from the blade on either side. The multipurpose tool could be used to spear and pull in fish, pull nets into a boat, to steer through shallow waters or to push a boat from a dock.
One traditional Okinawan fishing tool is a simple stone. A technique called ishimaki-otoshi, or wrapped stone drop, is used to catch larger fish near the bottom of the ocean, on the coral sea bed. Bait, such as a small fish, is placed on top of a stone, and fishing line is wrapped around it several times. A breadfruit or banana leaf is sometimes wrapped around the stone and bait and fishing line is wrapped around the entire package, with a slipknot tied at the end. The stone is thrown overboard and gently floats to the bottom, at which point the fisherman jerks the line, undoing the knot, the package unravels, and the bait and hook are ideally placed at a level for large fish to find.