Hiroyuki Takahashi: The Floating Peacocks

, 2010/05/28

The third of a three-part series looking at superstitions surrounding fishing in Yaizu, one of Japan’s most notorious fishing ports.

Fishing can sometimes take on mystical dimensions. In Yaizu, superstition is rife among sailors and their captains, affecting everything from the choice of bait (goldfish or plastic ocotpus?) to carrying a ‘fundama’ when you sail; a tiny box containing a lock of a woman’s hair, some dice, money and Sake- symbolic links to the fishermen’s ‘other’ lives on land.

However the most flamboyant example of a fishing superstition is the Tairyo-ki, or the fishing flag. Traditionally, whenever someone buys a new boat, their friends would have Tairyo-ki made up for the boat. The flags serve no other purpose than turning the vessel into a floating peacock to invoke as much good fortune as possible. Things used to be much more utilitarian. “Originally flags were used by fishermen in the same way CB radio is used today,” says Hiroyuki Takahashi, owner of the one hundred twenty year-old Takahashi Somemono-ten dying shop, “one flag would let other ships know where the fish were, or if there were no fish that day another flag would be used.” In those days the shop was used for Kimono dying and it would be another ten years once the high-quality German dye’s made their way to Yaizu and his grandfather had begun to experiment with fishing flag designs.

“I even remember my father constantly making Tairyo-ki when I was young,” he says as he continues to work on a flag. A white canvas is stretched tight with hooks and he is painting on the first round of glues, which the dyes will work around. Paint tins, stencils, brushes and dying detritus clutter the space. “Yaizu culture has changed though,” as he begins washing one of the flags, “I don’t get the chance to make many Tairyo-ki anymore.” The flags he makes now are for “sports teams, companies, farmers and even newborn babies.” The city has transformed, and it is to stay looking over your shoulder at times gone by in Yaizu. But the town is more than the sum of its pasts; by some mystical process Yaizu’s residents have managed to live fully in the present without letting go of their traditions.


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Hiroyuki Takahashi
Takahashi Somemono-ten
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