National Geographic : 1904 Sep
THE FISHERIES OF JAPAN BY HUGH M. SMITH, OF THE BUREAU OF FISHERIES no other country has the sea played a greater part in the material and sentimental development of a people. With only a limited area available for agriculture, fish early became a great food staple. Every day in the year every Japanese family has some form of fish food. As conducted by the Japanese, fishing is more than an industry-it is a fine art. Centuries ago Japanese fisheries had attained great importance. Some of their fishing literature goes back a thousand years. For weeks at a time I was away from towns which possessed a European hotel, and I lived at Japanese inns in strictly native style, sleeping on the floor, receiv ing callers while kneeling on the floor, and eating while sitting cross-legged before miniature tables, my wants sup plied by more polite waitresses than one ever meets in any other land. A typical Japanese meal abounds in products of the water, and is replete with surprises to the unsophisticated foreigner. This is particularly true of the smaller fishing villages, where I passed many days. When it comes to eating water pro ducts, the Japanese have few prejudices. If they discard any species of fish, these must be very few indeed, and I did not learn of any. Among their commonest, cheapest, and most wholesome food fishes are sharks, which are brought into the markets and butchered much after the manner of beeves in our own country. Raw fish is one of the national foods. I acknowledge that my repugnance to it was great, but was overcome by the first dish, for, as prepared and served by the Japanese, the thin, cold, boneless slices of perfectly fresh mackerel, taken with chop sticks and dipped in, say bean sauce, are delicious. Other articles which I have eaten at a single full course are fish, soup, fried fish, baked fish, fried eels and rice, pickled eggs of sea urchins, dry octopus or squid, boiled abalone, see-weed jelly, and shredded whale cartilage pickled. For some reason we do not knowingly eat sharks, and in this we miss a good deal. As some people are doubtless aware, the dogfish, which appear in such immense droves on our east coast and are so destructive of other fish life, are excellent when fresh or canned, and I predict that the day will come when these and other sharks will be regularly seen in our markets In asserting that Japan is the leading fishing nation, I am, of course, aware that its fisheries are exceeded in value by those of two or three other countries, but Japan is preeminent in the actual number of people making a livelihood in this way; in the proportion of persons engaged in fishing of the total popula tion; in the relative importance of fish ing products in the domestic economy; in the ingenuity and skill shown by the people in devising fishing appliances and in preparing fishing products; in the ex tent to which all kinds of water products are utilized; in the zeal displayed by the government in promoting the interests of the fishing population. The annual value of the water pro ducts is now about $30,000,000. The fishing vessels and boats number nearly 500,000, of which about 18,ooo are more than 30 feet long and 85,000 more ex ceed 18 feet. One-twentieth of the en tire population are fishermen. The latest figures available give 940,000 profes sionals and 1,4oo,ooo who devote a part * Courtesy of Boston Evening Transcript.