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Hometown heritage focus with Satoshi Takahashi #1: Trawling for 'god's gift'

Fishermen ride a trawler on their way to hunt for "hatahata," or sailfin sandfish, on the cold waters of the Sea of Japan off the coast of Akita Prefecture's city of Oga on Dec. 19, 2020. (Satoshi Takahashi) =Click/tap photo for more images.

Japanese photo journalist Satoshi Takahashi, renowned for his pictures of the political unrest in Cambodia over the past decade or so, has recently been focusing on the diverse heritage of his hometown, the northern prefecture of Akita. The Mainichi will carry his new series, kicking off with scenes on a commercial fishing boat hunting for "hatahata," or sailfin sandfish, a soul food savored in various ways: grilled, stewed, and fermented into sauce or dried for preservation.


    At 7 a.m., the bitter winter weather was typical of a Sea of Japan harbor in Akita Prefecture's city of Oga. The trawler I had boarded, Daihachi Choyo-maru, left Wakimoto Port, and on the rough waters, the wind strengthened and the snow slapped my cheeks.

    This was the start of "seasonal hatahata fishing," of which the period is extremely short. Huge schools ascend from the sea bottom to spawn near the coast annually around December, when thunderbolts trumpet the arrival of the cold season. Folklore states that the creature is a gift from the god of thunder. The seafood is an indispensable part of the local culture.

    The fishermen, with due respect to the ocean, confronted the freezing-cold and angry waves to haul in the "fish of god." Tears filled my eyes as I took pictures of this life-risking expedition, overwhelmed by sensing the unchanging desires of the people of my hometown.

    Docked again, the men's farewell words, "Come again next year," were delivered in the nostalgic Akita dialect. Their warmth still lingers in my heart.

    Yes, I want to revisit them this winter, while wishing for another good catch.

    (Japanese original by Satoshi Takahashi)


    Satoshi Takahashi was born in the city of Akita, Akita Prefecture in 1981. Residing in Cambodia from 2007 to 2018, his photos captured the social problems of Cambodia and were published globally. In 2019, his publication titled "RESISTANCE" (the subtitle roughly translates to "the undaunted spirit of Cambodians") won the 38th Domon Ken Award sponsored by the Mainichi Newspapers.

    In Photos: Trawling for 'god's gift' in Sea of Japan

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