Edo bamboo fishing rods Edo wazao
Fishing with my rod in Tokyo Bay
Such a perfect Edo Wazao summer’s day
Edo Wazao are fishing rods produced in the Kanto region mainly in Tokyo and the Chiba and Saitama Prefectures. Edo Wazao are actually only made by craftsmen belonging to the Edo Wazao lineage, and the term Edo does not refer to the production area.
Edo Wazao are jointed rods and their characteristic feature is each rod is made from several different types of bamboo enabling a wide variety of rod types for catching different species of fish. By assembling different combinations of bamboo types such as hoteitake, yadake, hachiku, and madake, a variety of rods can be made to perfectly suit different fish, fishing techniques, and water conditions. Jointed rods allow easy repair or replacement of a broken section and give a long life to the rod. Another feature of Edo Wazao is the application of natural urushi (lacquer) making the rods both durable and exceedingly beautiful; some fishing rods are even decorated, and in the Edo period, daimyos (local lords) who enjoyed fishing as a hobby vied with one another over decoration. Different workshops have their own signature decorative finishes. Maintenance of rods is simple; after wiping off any mud and water, they are polished with a dry cloth and dried in the shade. These sturdy, light, and attractive rods will give many years of use.
The technique of making jointed rods was developed in the 1780s in the Edo period, and in 1788 Taichiya Tosaku opened his Edo Wazao workshop in front of Kotokuji Temple in Ueno, Edo. Later, his apprentices left to become independent, and today’s makers can trace their ancestry back to those times. The city of Edo was blessed with a large shallow bay and good fishing rivers, much enjoyed by the local people. Especially, in the season of whiting fishing in May and June, the scene of anglers sitting atop their stepladders set up in the shallow bay was a renowned summer sight. Each season had its favored fish species, presenting different challenges to the anglers and requiring different sorts of rods.
To increase their durability lacquer was applied, but the results were so attractive, further decoration followed and by the late Edo period, these humble fishing rods had reached the level of artistic crafts. Afterward, from the 1930s fishing rods decorated in a Western style were made, and in the post-World War II period they were popular as souvenirs for the occupation forces, and the industry peaked. However, with the advent of fiber glass and carbon rods, demand for the traditional Edo Wazao has decreased, and coupled with a shortage of successors, many workshops have disappeared. In recent years, increasing numbers of people are appreciating the suppleness and beauty of individually hand-made rods produced by master craftsmen.
General Production Process
- 1. Drying in the Sun
More than 10 varieties of bamboo are used to make rods, such as yadake, hoteitake, hachiku, and madake. Craftsmen collect bamboo growing in thickets and after scraping the outer layer and removing the oil, the bamboo is left to dry in the sun for about one to three months.
- 2. Cutting and Combining
Each type of fish, fishing technique, and water condition will have an optimum style of rod known to the craftsman; bamboo of several different varieties is selected for one rod. Before cutting the bamboo and working out the best combination, the craftsman considers the overall length and condition of the rod, the types of bamboo, the joint sections, and the length of individual sections.
- 3. Heating and Straightening the Bamboo
Each section is warmed over a charcoal fire to release oil; the oozing oil is wiped away and heating continues until the bamboo turns golden brown, and then a tamegi wooden tool is used to straighten any curves. When bamboo is heated, water is evaporated leaving the section dry and strong. This is a skilled task as each type of bamboo requires a different heating time to dry off the moisture and attain the same strength and degree of hardness.
- 4. Shaving and Winding Thread
To join bamboos of different thickness, the socket and spigot joint sections and node surfaces are shaved. Urushi (lacquer) is applied to the socket in preparation for winding on silk thread to reinforce and prevent cracking or splitting. While rotating the bamboo with the left hand, silk thread pulled with the right hand is tightly wound around with no gap; any uneven winding is adjusted. Animal glue is applied to the thread, which is then pressed and tightened using a kiwamegi wooden tool. Then, a lacquer undercoat is applied. The same process is applied to every section of the rod.
- 5. Joining
The prepared sections are now joined together. Typical joints are ferrule joints and telescopic joints. In a ferrule joint, a spigot is made at one end and a socket created by shaving the inside of the bamboo so that the two parts fit perfectly. In a telescopic joint, to increase the strength of even a thin bamboo stem, a yadake bamboo core is inserted into the spigot before joining. When joining, much skill is required to ensure the fishing rod has good flexibility and does not rattle when casting a line.
- 6. Preparation for Lacquering
Before the final lacquer coats, small detailed tasks are finished off such as inserting a plug in the end of the rod, and attaching a hebikuchi tip to the pointed end.
- 7. Second Straightening
The rod is assembled and straightened.
- 8. Lacquering
Lacquer gives color to the joint sections and the rod tip. The lacquer is filtered through washi (Japanese traditional paper) to remove impurities, and is applied paying careful attention to avoid any dust. The style of coloring gives each craftsman a chance to impress their individuality on the rod.
- 9. Wipe-Lacquering
While rotating the rod, lacquer is applied using the fingers; this technique is characteristic of Edo Wazao. Lacquer is rubbed into the rod, immediately wiped off, and the rod is left to dry in a muro chamber; this process is repeated to apply several layers of lacquer.
- 10. Finishing
The craftsman gives the rod a thorough final inspection and making any fine adjustments. Oil is rubbed onto the spigot sections and then wiped off, before a final lacquer coat and wipe to complete the rod.