Fishing in Japan: The Best Angling Experiences You Shouldn’t Miss Out On
Sep 9, 2019 | 18 minute read
Reading Time: 18 minutes

Want to hear our favorite old fisherman’s saying? “Wherever there’s water, you’re bound to find someone with a rod and reel who’s ready to fish it.” This is especially true when it comes to fishing in Japan!

It’s not just surrounded by the plentiful waters of the Pacific Ocean. This archipelago of islands is also home to various freshwater mountain streams, lakes, and rivers. 

Never really considered heading to the “Land of the Rising Sun” for a fishing adventure? We understand. It’s more famous for its futuristic technology, must-see tourist spots (Disneyland, anyone?), and the buzzing metropolis of Tokyo.

If you dig a little deeper, however, you’ll soon discover that Japan and fishing have a strong history. In fact, we like to think that they’re something of a power couple!

This duo rivals some of the world’s most famous combinations. We’re talking about peanut butter and jelly, fish and chips, Tom and Jerry. 

Japan’s commercial fishing industry has existed for centuries and is still booming, thanks to the country’s fondness for seafood. There’s a reason why sushi has stood the test of time as the nation’s favorite dish! 

And recreational anglers, fear not. Fishing is viewed both as a serious sport and leisurely hobby here. This is definitely reflected in the country’s incredibly diverse fisheries.

Forget about choosing just between freshwater and saltwater fishing. Why not cast off under the shadow of Mount Fuji, in the very center of Tokyo, or from the center of a frozen lake?

With such a mammoth variety of fishing locations to be discovered, selecting your perfect angling adventure in Japan has the potential to send your head spinning. 

Luckily, we’ve outlined the most exciting and unique opportunities below. There are options suited for everyone, from brand new fishermen to the most hardened of anglers. You’re bound to find something that will “wet” your appetite, as well as your line!

Urban Angling, Fine Dining

Credit: Thierry Draus, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As one of the world’s top consumers of fish, it doesn’t seem fair that the inhabitants of Japan’s biggest city should have to miss out on the fun of hooking their own table fare.

However, the hustle and bustle of urban life often leaves city-dwellers feeling like they don’t have the time to cast off. How to solve this dilemma?

Well, Tokyo’s inhabitants and many tourists are in luck, as Japan’s love for fishing has spread to the city. It’s created a whole new type of angling that’s being called “urban fishing.” There’s an increasing number of man-made lakes and fish-filled ponds cropping up in the center of Tokyo. 

An example of urban fishing in Tokyo! Credit: Tomohisa Suna, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

However, there’s one place in particular that we feel deserves a special mention. It really takes things to the next level! Want to explore Tokyo’s metropolis and fit in some fishing at the same time? A visit to Zauo restaurant should be at the top of your list.

Fish for Your Sushi Supper at Zauo!

With 13 locations spread throughout the Tokyo area, Zauo offers something that you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. You’ll hook some prized fish, which will then be expertly cooked and served up for you in a cozy restaurant setting. 

An example of what your freshly-cooked meal at Zauo could look like. Credit: Thierry Draus, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

You can choose what you want to target, and the species on offer are seriously delectable. Red Seabream (often called Red Snapper), Flounder, and local Ayu (Smelt) can all be hooked! You can also catch Shellfish, depending on when you visit. 

Visiting one of Zauo’s restaurants will no doubt offer up a new experience for even the most hardened of anglers. It’s especially suitable if you’re traveling with little ones or newbies. With ponds and tanks that are just swimming with fish, it’s pretty impossible to not catch something. 

Credit: Thierry Draus, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The real excitement here isn’t necessarily the angling action itself, but the reaction from the staff and patrons when you hook your fish. You’ll be met with plenty of applause! 

Seeing your catch being cooked up in your preferred style (fried, grilled, boiled, sashimi, or sushi) is pretty special, too. On top of this, what makes Zauo so irresistible for city-dwellers is its simplicity. 

Take a break from urban life, whether you’re a tourist or a nine-to-fiver tired after a long day in the city. Indulge in a spot of escapism at Zauo by making a reservation, showing up, and grabbing a fishing pole!

Saltwater Stars Against the Tokyo Skyline

Credit: Joi Ito, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As Zauo has proved, fishing in Japan isn’t just limited to the greener parts of this archipelago. This is especially true if you’re happy to spend your time fishing man-made waters. However, this does have its limits, particularly when it comes to the species on offer.

What about some hardcore saltwater fishing action? There’s no way you could possibly battle big game species a stone’s throw from Tokyo, right? 

Not so. It can be easy to let the futuristic bright lights and towering skyscrapers of Tokyo fool you into thinking that nothing natural exists here. However, head just southeast of the city, and you’ll come across the gateway to the mighty Pacific Ocean. Yep, we’re talking about Tokyo Bay!

Sportfishing for the Urban Angler

A view of Tokyo from the bay

There are plenty of ways to access Japan’s saltwater fishing grounds – it is an island, after all! But an angling adventure in Tokyo Bay offers up a completely different experience.

The best way to explore these waters is alongside a local captain. The locations of Kanto and Edgowa are especially popular departure points for charter boats. 

You’ll make your way to the bay by traveling along winding narrow waterways, as commercial skyscrapers and residential apartment complexes crowd the skies above you.

There’s no indication that you’re just minutes away from the open ocean until – bam! – you’re suddenly out on the water, with the city skyline behind you.

Fishing Tokyo Bay isn’t just special because of the scenery, either. The species you’ll find on offer here are pretty incredible. The bay is a diverse fishery, with man-made structures, grassy flats, shell beds, docks, and deep offshore waters waiting to be explored. So what does this mean? 

Many anglers here opt to fish from the shore or one of the many docks that provide access to the bay.

Well, whether you want to battle big game, hook tasty table fare, or cast off for hard-fighters from the shore, you’ll have plenty to choose from.

Bass Fishing in the Bay

The most popular fish to catch here is the Japanese Sea Bass, also known as suzuki or sea perch. It’s more than just your bog-standard Bass, too. In fact, it’s often described as the Japanese equal of the Snook, thanks to the fight it puts up! 

Why not test your skills against the feisty Japanese Sea Bass?

Tokyo Bay is recognized as a world-class fishery for this species, with many trophy sizes being caught here. You’ll be able to hook suzuki year-round on the fly or using conventional spinning tackle. Fall is the most productive time to visit, though. This is when these fish head to topwaters to gorge themselves on bait.

Tokyo Bay is also home to some world-famous big game fish. If you’re looking for some serious bragging rights, you can definitely find them here!

The most popular offshore catch in the bay has to be Tuna, and it’s not hard to see why. Yellowfin and Skipjack species can be caught here during the fall. 

One of Tokyo Bay’s many fishing ports shows off their Tuna catch.

Mahi Mahi, Yellowtail, Amberjack, and Giant Trevally are other hard-fighters that could appear at the end of your line, too. 

The icing on the cake? After a day of saltwater fishing action, you won’t have to travel far to reach the bustling center of Tokyo – and your bed, for some well-deserved rest!

Saltwater Zen in Hachijō-jima

Hachijō-jima at dusk. How’s that for a slice of escapism?!

We’ve covered Tokyo’s urban fishing opportunities, but how about those of you who crave a side of escapism with your angling action?

For many anglers, the peace and quiet that comes with a day on the water is just as welcomed as hooking a huge catch. So where can you find this much-desired tranquility in Japan? 

If you’re looking to get back to nature on your fishing adventure, then nothing quite beats Hachijō-jima. This volcanic island, located in the Philippine Sea, is part of the archipelago of Izu and belongs to the ward of Tokyo. 

There’s plenty of stunning scenery on-land, too.

One thing’s for sure, though – you definitely won’t feel as though you’re anywhere near a big city here! Hachijō-jima is less than an hour’s flight from Tokyo and easily accessible, but it’s pretty much the definition of the word “remote.” There’s plenty of lush, natural scenery to take in.

So yes, it more than fits the bill when it comes to escapism, but what’s the fishing like? 

Deep Sea Action in a Tranquil Paradise

Well, if experiencing Japan’s deep sea angling action is a “must” for you, a visit to Hachijō-jima won’t disappoint. This eastern side of the island is home to a barrier known as a “breakwater.” This was naturally formed from the coral reefs here, and protects the coast from the sea’s current. 

A huge variety of fish swarm the reefs around Hachijō-jima, which form a unique “breakwater.”

Even better? Big game species gather in the deep drop near the reefs, and can be caught a mere casting distance from the shore. Deep sea fishing that requires no travel time? We’re in!

The species on offer here are impressive, too. You can hook huge Tuna varieties, including Bluefin, Bigeye, and Yellowfin, and Amberjack (both greater and Yellowtail) species. 

If you’d rather battle these beasts alongside an experienced captain, you’ll find plenty of charters on offer. This is a tourist-friendly island, after all! You’ll even find a variety of lodges and Japanese-style B&Bs (known as ryokan) on offer.

The best place to start your fishing adventure is from Hachijō-jima Fishing Club. Located on the eastern side of the island, it caters for charter fishing and shoreline fishing

This club will organize charters for you and rent equipment to you. They’ll even provide suggestions for restaurants on the island that will cook your catch. You can purchase old and used fishing rods for a low cost, or rent brand-new gear. There’s a suitable price point for every guest.

So how do you get to Hachijō-jima? If the journey is the destination for you, then you can take the ferry from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Sanbashi Bay. The ride lasts for approximately 10 hours, stops at other islands in the area, and is perfect for visitors who really want to take things slowly and relax. 

Alternatively, there are daily flights departing from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to the island. The flight lasts for a more manageable 55 minutes!

Casting in the Shadow of Mount Fuji

The view of Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchiko.

So by now, you’re probably pretty aware of Japan’s impressive saltwater fishing opportunities. But what about those of you who are avid freshwater fishing fanatics? What does a visit to the “Land of the Rising Sun” have to offer you? Some top-quality angling action, of course!

Thanks to its mountainous terrain, Japan is home to plenty of freshwater streams, lakes, and rivers. As the majority of these tend to be located in the more remote parts of the region, it can be pretty hard for visitors to track them down. Finding a charter captain or guide nearby is nearly impossible. 

However, there are some freshwater fisheries that are easy to access, full of exciting fish, and suited for guests of all skill levels. One of the best ones just so happens to be located right at the base of Mount Fuji!

Freshwater Fishing Next to a Natural Wonder

Known as Fuji-goko, or the “Five Lakes Region,” the northern base of Mount Fuji is home to, well, five lakes. In no particular order: Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Yamanakako, Shojiko, and Motosuko. 

The name is somewhat misleading, however. A visit here will most likely see you fishing only Lake Kawaguchiko. This is by far the most popular lake, and the easiest one to access. The other four lakes are a lot less developed and much harder to reach. 

Lake Kawaguchiko is known for its Bass fishing opportunities, particularly when it comes to Largemouth Bass. You’ll also be able to target Rainbow Trout. This fishery is active year-round, and the best way by far to explore it is alongside a local guide. 

Whether you fish from shore or a charter boat, a local guide will be able to show you the hotspots.

Head to the north side of the lake, where you’ll find plenty of tackle shops and charter boats. We particularly recommend paying a visit to Wilderness Lake Lodge, located near Oishi Park. They’ll hook you up with fishing gear, as well as plenty of local tips and tricks.

You can also purchase a “play fishing” ticket here, which is needed to explore the lake.

Traditional Techniques in the Mountain Streams

Credit: Yasuhiro Kojima, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

As well as offering top-notch freshwater lake fishing, a visit to the Fuji-goko area is the perfect starting point for anglers looking to experience a taste of Japan’s mountain stream fishing along the Katsura and Sagami Rivers. 

Katsura and Sagami are two of the only places where tourists can test their skills against river Rainbow Trout, Char, and Japanese Trout. Even better, you’ll be using a traditional Japanese fly fishing technique known as “tenkara.” It’s been beloved by locals for centuries due to its simplicity and elegance.

An example of Tenkara fishing in a mountain stream.

Don’t worry if you’re not quite ready to give up Western-style fly fishing, either. You can rent conventional fly rods here!

Fuji-goko is located southwest of Tokyo. Although it has its own airport, the easiest way to access it is by taking a train or bus to Kawaguchiko Station from the city. Something to be aware of is that the climate here is much colder than Tokyo, so wrap up warm. 

Other than that, you’ll probably want to bring a camera along. Fishing in this area provides some seriously spectacular photo opportunities. No matter which part of the lake you choose to explore, you won’t be able to escape the shadow of majestic Mount Fuji!

Ancient Traditions and New Arrivals on Lake Kasumigaura

Speaking of freshwater fishing, there’s probably an image that jumps into your mind when you think about it.

Perhaps you picture a lone angler settled along the bank of a river, armed with a slightly battered but trusty rod.

Either that, or a freshwater enthusiast decked out with the latest fly gear, as well as a few battle scars from that time they fought a record-breaking King Salmon.

When it comes to Japan, however, there’s one symbol that represents freshwater fishing more than anything else. It’s the sight of a hobiki-sen cruising along the water with its sails fully extended! 

A Hobiki-sen in the distance is a common sight for Lake Kasumigaura’s anglers.

These traditional trawling vessels are powered by their majestic sails. They were first used as a way to commercial fish in the mid-1800s. Witnessing a hobiki-sen in full flight is a real sight to behold. You can only witness it on Lake Kasumigaura, located in eastern Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture. 

Wet Your Line Alongside an Ancient Angling Tradition

Even better? Although you can’t fish from a hobiki-sen, Lake Kasumigaura offers up plenty of angling opportunities for recreational fishermen. You’ll be able to cast your line among a landscape that you quite literally will not experience anywhere else.

Lake Kasumigaura was once a bay that fed into the Pacific Ocean. Now, it has the bragging rights of being Japan’s second-biggest lake. Covering 220 square kilometers, there’s room here for both recreational anglers and commercial vessels alike. 

Bustling Ueno Station is your doorway to some incredible angling action.

Located about an hour from Tokyo, the lake can be easily accessed from the city’s Ueno Station. It’ll take you just over an hour to reach Tsuchiura Station on the JR Joban line. From there you’ll be a short walk away from the lake. You’ll be able to spot the hobiki-sen easily! 

Lake Kasumigaura more than helps Japan live up to its reputation as a nation of Bass lovers. The most popular catch here by far is the Largemouth Bass, known as an “alien species.”

Alien species? Maybe. Fun to catch? Absolutely!

You may also find non-native Channel Catfish at the end of your line. Local species such as pond Smelt, Icefish, and Trident Goby are common, too. But chances are that when you’re fishing in Lake Kasumigaura, you’ll be focusing on Bass!

Visitors can fish from the shoreline, which is popular with locals, or head to the western end of the lake. Here, a plethora of charter boats (known here as “leisure boats”) will be waiting for you.

Then it’s just a case of choosing to fish conventionally or on the fly. Prepare to be awed not only by the hobiki-sen, but the incredible angling on offer!

Hokkaido on Ice

Winter arrives in Hokkaido!

Finishing up our list is an ice-cold location that has some seriously hot fishing opportunities. Think that a winter excursion to Japan pretty much rules out any chance of casting off? Think again!

From around January to March, the northernmost island of Hokkaido turns into something of a Wakasagi-fishing winter wonderland! 

Hokkaido is the second-largest island of Japan, and is separated from the mainland by water. The best way to reach it is via the Shinkansen rail network. This passes through “Seikan,” the world’s longest rail tunnel and Hokkaido’s only connection to the rest of Japan.

It’s fair to say that even traveling to this island is pretty exciting and unusual, let alone the fishing it offers! 

The “Final Frontier” of Fishing in Japan

Ice fishing is the perfect winter activity for anglers of all ages!

Ah, the fishing. Hokkaido is technically home to a year-round fishery, but what really keeps visitors flocking here is the island’s incredible winter-time ice fishing opportunities.

Locals and tourists alike come to Hokkaido for the chance to set up shop on a frozen waterway and hook tasty local Wakasagi (known as Smelt in English). 

This form of angling is so popular here that it’s routinely known as “Hokkaido’s winter tradition.” It’s easy to see why this island has earned that title. It’s home to a vast number of lakes and rivers that become frozen fish-filled hotspots from January to March.

Smelt is a popular (and tasty!) catch in Hokkaido.

So where exactly should you visit to embark on your very own ice fishing adventure? For tourists and first-time visitors, we suggest heading straight to Hokkaido’s capital city, Sapporo.

Not only is it the biggest and most accessible location on the island, but it also provides direct access to some of the area’s most celebrated ice fishing locations. 

The famous Barato River is located only 30 minutes from downtown Sapporo. This is the perfect starting point for brand new ice fishermen and women.

You’ll find plenty of experienced guides dotted around the river, running trips in half-day chunks. There’s even a local restaurant that will fry up your catch afterwards!

Lake Shinotsu is another Sapporo-adjacent ice fishing destination that we feel the need to highlight. Located less than an hour from the center of the city, it’s easily accessible by public transport, and is packed full of tasty Smelt. 

Anglers who choose to fish here will have the option of casting off alongside an experienced guide in three different ways. You can opt to set up a tent on the lake, select a pre-built fishing hut, or brave the elements and bait your hook out in the open, surrounded by a spectacular snowscape. 

There’s a reason why Hokkaido is often called Japan’s final frontier. Why not come discover it for yourself?

BONUS: Fishing with Birds

Yep, fishing with birds!

Had your fill of hands-on angling action? Want to take a step back and see how the locals do it? You just have to pay a visit to Gifu Prefecture’s Nagara River!

Sounds familiar? We’re not surprised. This river is well-known worldwide for quite a few reasons. It’s one of the only three clear-flowing rivers in Japan, and is a popular tourist destination due to its collection of iron-filled healing hot springs.

In our humble opinion, though, Nagara River’s real claim to fame is its incredible fishing history.

Nagara River is packed with history.

For the majority of Japan’s anglers, Nagara River is synonymous with one thing only – cormorant fishing. This unique method of angling has played a vital role in the history of Gifu Prefecture. 

It first started as a means for local fishermen to provide their families with food. It’s been around for a whopping 1,300 years, and has evolved into a profitable industry and a huge tourist draw. So what makes cormorant fishing so special?

For those of you who aren’t in the know, a cormorant is a large, prehistoric-looking bird that’s known for both its love for fish and acrobatic diving abilities. And yes, cormorant fishing involves using these birds to catch a variety of river fish species! 

An angler preps his cormorants for some angling action.

It’s a pretty tricky technique that involves anglers tying a snare to the base of their cormorant’s throat. This stops these greedy birds from swallowing the large fish that they’re trained to target. 

Unsurprisingly, you have to be somewhat of a fishing master to successfully grasp this technique, so not just anyone can give it a go. You have to train for at least 10 years to earn the prestigious title of “Cormorant Fishermen of the Imperial Household Agency,” which is passed down from father to son. 

How can I see it for myself?

Visitors to Gifu Prefecture can take in the incredible sight of expert-level anglers cormorant fishing on the Nagara River from May 11–October 18.

Often taking place under the cover of darkness, cormorant fishing is truly a sight to behold.

You may not be decked out with your own rod and reel, but witnessing these birds take flight and dive for their catch is just as pulse-racing as any hands-on adventure!

Need to Know

Okay, so now we’ve convinced you that an angling adventure to Japan is pretty unmissable, you probably have a few last questions.

Is there a best time to visit the area for prime fishing action? Do you need a fishing license? Will you really have to lug all your rods and reels on a plane?!

When to Go

Firstly, the best time to plan your angling adventure depends on what type of fishing you’d like to do, and where. If you’re visiting Japan in the winter months between January and March, then experiencing ice fishing in Hokkaido is a must. 

Want to stick strictly to Tokyo? Zauo Restaurant is open year round, whereas Tokyo Bay is most plentiful for both big game fish and Japanese Sea Bass during the fall. 

Hachijō-jima is productive year round, but if you’d like to visit during the summer and fall months, make sure you get in touch with Hachijō-jima Fishing Club in advance – it can get very busy! 

Freshwater anglers are in luck all throughout the year, but visitors to Lake Kasumigaura should plan their trip between July and October to witness the hobiki-sen.

How to Prepare

As for a fishing license? To put it simply, you pretty much don’t need one to fish in Japan. Saltwater fishing requires no license whatsoever, but there are regulations surrounding the species you’ll be targeting.

As these are subject to change, check local regulations with either your charter captain or local bait and tackle shops in the area you’ll be fishing from.

When it comes to freshwater fishing, you don’t need a traditional license to explore Japan’s rivers and lakes. However, you generally will need to pay an entrance fee or buy a “permit” for the day. These can be purchased from bait and tackle shops either along the river banks or shores of the lake you’ll be fishing.

If you’re stressing about how to pack up your fishing gear for the flight, don’t worry. We’d recommend doing so only if you have a particularly trusty rod that you’re not willing to leave behind.

If you fish with a charter captain or guide, you’ll be provided with everything you need for a productive day on the water. 

The fishing spots we’ve outlined above are all located near fishing clubs or a host of bait and tackle shops, where you’ll be able to rent or even purchase a variety of rods and reels. Japan is known for producing some of the highest-quality fishing gear around, so you’ll be spoiled for choice!

Come start your Japanese fishing adventure!

Remember that old fisherman’s saying we started this blog with? Whether you choose to follow our list to the letter or use it as only a starting point for your adventure, fishing in Japan will make you realize just how true it is.

With so many diverse waters to choose from, it’s time to grab your rod, get out there, and fish them. We can guarantee you won’t want to stop!

Have you ever been fishing in Japan? Do you have a favorite spot that isn’t on our list? Have you tried a fishing technique more unusual than using birds to hook your catch? Let us know in the comments below!

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