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Catch, sell, eat: New tourist attraction invites visitors to experience fishing

The creator of the tourism program "Tsutte Atami" (Catch Atami) Megumi Nakagawa appears in this undated photo.

ATAMI, Shizuoka -- Go fishing, sell your catch, cash you earnings in at a hot spring -- this is the unique tourism project headed by the municipal government here set to cast off on Sept. 15.

The "Tsutte Atami" (Catch Atami) projects sees visitors to the central Japanese city going fishing in the ocean off the coast, taking their catch to the local fish market and then receiving a voucher that can be used at city facilities like its many hot springs. Tourists can enjoy the thrill of ocean fishing, and if they manage to catch many fish, they could end up with a free meal or entrance to a hot spring.

Participants in the project include the Atami Fish Market in the city, rental boats for anglers and a total of 19 day-trip hot spring facilities, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars and other locations, and there are plans to further increase the number of businesses.

All fishing gear is lent out by the rental boats, and first timers can even receive lessons from the vessel's crew. Once putting the fish on ice on the ship and receiving a certificate of embarking on the fishing journey, if tourists take their catch to the market by 6 p.m., the market will buy it at the estimated auction price -- after deducting things like handling fees. In place of cash, one-day participants receive a coupon of the same value called a "tsutte."

The participating businesses where these tickets are used can then turn them in for cash at the fish market, so there are no losses to be had. The fish market makes a profit depending on how they value the fish caught by participant tourists. The rental boats can appeal to new open-ocean fishing fans. A representative from the Atami Municipal Government commented, "It's a new tourism resource where there are no losses."

The new sightseeing adventure was the brainchild of 35-year-old Megumi Nakagawa, the editor of the website "Tsutte," which features fishing and other local attractions from all over Japan. In March this year, Nakagawa caught too many red bigeye fish, and consulted with the Atami Fish Market. Masaru Uda, the head of the market, told her that they would sell for a high price at auction and quickly brought them off her. This became the inspiration for the program.

Last summer, Nakagawa informed the Tokyo human resources company where she was employed that she was going to start a business revitalizing rural areas through fishing, and told them of her intention to quit. However, the company stopped her. She then traveled around the country fishing from August to November 2017, and exchanged ideas and opinions with a variety of people working on town revitalization projects. She once again requested to leave the company, and her wish was granted that December. While whittling away at her savings, Nakagawa continued to create content on her website.

She first started fishing five years ago. She boarded a Japanese horse mackerel fishing ship not thinking much of it, but ended up being completely spellbound by the experience. "You can clear you mind just staring at the surface of the water, and when the fish bite and tug on the fishing pole, you can feel the movement of life," she said.

On her website, Nakagawa writes about the joy of taking the fish she caught to a local shop and getting to taste her successful catch, and stresses that through catching and eating the local fish, visitors can get a taste for the area as a whole.

"I want to break down the idea that fishing is a difficult activity," Nakagawa said. "Learning the meaning of receiving a living creature (for a meal) is the highest form of dietary education. I recommend the activity for children."

She hopes to help spread the program in Atami to coasts all along Japan. "Regional areas have appeal that even the locals don't notice," she said.

(Japanese original by Kasane Nakamura, General Digital News Center)

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