National Geographic : 1972 May
by half since 1945, and we have lost many of the services we once took for granted. Of course we have electricity, thanks to an under sea power cable from Shikoku, and now even television. But we no longer have our own hospital or doctor, our junior high school or senior high school, our post office, or even our own policeman. Most services are provided by the city of Matsuyama, or by one of the larger islands." He nodded toward Shinji. "This is his final year in elementary school, and then he must leave Futagami Jima. Next spring he will begin boarding at a junior high school on the neighboring island of Naka Jima, and later at a senior high school in Matsuyama. After that, few of our children return home. Today there are no more than a dozen islanders still in their 20's. We are slowly becoming a vil lage of old people." As we talked, the muffled thunder of diesel engines started up across the harbor, and I realized that we had cost the Maedas their lunch hour ashore. "It is no matter," Toshiharu said. "Very often we do not come in until after sunset. Perhaps you would care to join us some day, or go out with another boat. We have many kinds of fishing here; you have only to choose, and one of us will take you." IT WAS A GENEROUS OFFER, and we accepted it. Both Jim and I were familiar with net fishing, so we decided to begin with a method that was new to us-the art of catching tako, the octopus. Before sunrise the next day, we joined Tatsuo Hisano and his wife Takiko aboard their 30-foot boat, Tatsu E Maru (Dragon Prosperity), to haul their string of offshore traps. As we ran south toward the small is land of Yuri Jima, Tatsuo explained the age old Japanese technique of octopus fishing. "Our 'traps' are actually not traps at all," he said, "but merely earthenware jars [page 689] without lids or bait, tied at intervals to a long rope and laid across the ocean floor. Tako likes dark crannies for his home, and he crawls inside the jar and stays there, even when you haul the jar up." No buoys marked the location of Tatsuo's jars, which lay in more than 150 feet of water three miles offshore. Estimating his position with reference to several distant mountain peaks, Tatsuo shut down the power and threw a grappling hook overboard, dragging it along the bottom. Within two minutes he 684 snagged the rope connecting the jars and hauled it to the surface. Transferring the rope to a wooden winch at the stern, he hauled the jars aboard one by one and explored the inside of each with his gloved hand. At first the results were disappointing, but before too long it seemed as if every other jar held a squirming three- to four-pound octo pus. Tatsuo deftly plucked each one from its hiding place and tossed it forward to Takiko, to be dropped into a salt-water holding tank below deck. Presently she handed me one to inspect. I admired the perfect symmetry of white suction cups studding each of the eight mot tled-brown arms, and carefully avoided the beaklike mouth that can pierce a man's fin ger, or amputate its own or other octopuses' arms.* Takiko then showed me another speci men, a full-grown octopus with seven per fect tentacles but only a tiny stump where the eighth had been. Takiko blamed hunger for the loss. "It can happen when he is starving," she said. "When there are no snails or mussels for food, he may turn on himself, and he will eat until he is crippled-my husband and I have caught tako with only two of their eight arms left. Such helpless creatures rarely live long enough for the arms to grow back. "It is not a pretty thought," she added. "In the village we have an expression for those who use or injure their loved ones for selfish reasons-tako no tomogui, meaning to de vour one's own, like an octopus." Despite the early season we did very well: 40 octopuses from some 200 traps, a haul worth about $45. Returning to the island in midafternoon, we transferred the catch to the fishermen's cooperative, and I thanked Tatsuo and his wife for a fascinating day. But it was some time before I learned to enjoy that island delicacy, boiled octopus arms dipped in soy sauce. Our first invitation led to many others, and we were soon involved in village life. Jim and I spent one memorable morning with the funadaiku, or village boatbuilder, Tadayoshi Maeda. A cousin of the couple who had wel comed us the first morning, Mr. Maeda is one of the few villagers who neither farms nor fishes. With tools little changed since his father and grandfather followed the same trade, he provides Futagami with its sturdy cypress-and-cedar fishing boats, at the rate of *Dr. Gilbert L. Voss wrote of the "Shy Monster, the Octopus," in the December 1971 GEOGRAPHIC.