One hour from the city centre of Kochi, two Pachinko stores are either sides of the road and an old-looking sign of “welcome to Kure” looms over head. The day we visited, it was raining so heavily and loads of moored ships on the dark colored sea came into sight. Stepping out of the car, the first thing that hits you is the smell of the sea, the smell of a fisherman town which lets you know you have arrived in Kure.
Kure is a small city in central-west of Kochi populated by less than 10,000. This area is Nakatosa town and the station of this area is Tosakure, however, people call this town “Kure”. Although it’s small, it has attractive places to visit, so many visitors come to see this town especially during the Katsuo (one of the fish which is famous in Kochi) festival or the fall festival. At these times there are more visitors than residents. This town faces to the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by small mountains in the east and west and south of this town, which means there is plenty of nature from both the sea and mountains that the people love.
A short gray-haired guy in the Taishyo Ichiba shopping area told a story about the history of the market. “This didn’t use to be so rich” he said. “ We had one sheet to sleep on and to fish for the whole 5 or 6 members of the family. We all slept on the sheet during the night and then our father went fishing with that sheet as a flag of the ship in the morning. You can’t imagine that, can you?”
He was wearing a white shirt and loose trousers and black boots, which reminded me a typical fisherman. Taishyo Ichiba, where many stores came into the one long roof, started about 120 years ago. In addition, that store which the man is working for was set up about 150 years ago.
According to an article, even though now Kure has a image as fisherman town, it used to prosper with forestry once. “Before the world war finished, we had a hard time and the town was much smaller and poorer,” the fisherman said. “We put charcoal on horseback and lead them from the woods to the seaside, around the Kure Hachimanngu. The point is that there were many women who lead the horses and took the charcoal off from the horseback. Kochi’s women were strong enough to do that.”
“After the world war, Katsuo came into a boom that we started building up houses around here.” the fisherman said. “Every child got married and kept staying here with their family, not only for the first sibling but also for the second and third siblings. They became richer and richer because of the Katsuo boom in that age, until the 1970s.” then he went on talking, which is a sad story. “In 1940s, the Urume became popular, although nobody knows that fish now, so we sold Katsuo in spring and Urume in the fall and summer.”
Urume is a kind of fish, sardine that you eat them dried and grilled. It used to be much more consumption, however, after 1940s, because marketing gets smaller and smaller, many companies which deal with Urume went down.
The best days for Kure and its Katsuo fishery were from 1972 to 1976. Thirteen ships went out fishing at that time instead of just five now.
The woman in a shop near Taishyo Ichiba said “It was the richest time that men went fishing in the early morning, and they came back to this town once then return to the sea again. Even though we got that much fish, the Katsuo never went unsold.”
Of course, the decline was everywhere after the best days. Nowadays, it is difficult to find new fisherman. They have four foreign fishermen, but it’s still not enough.
“It is not same as the time that was best” the man said “But many young people work to keep Kure attractive. That’s the reason why Kure has still many visitors and this is the only town around here where tourist buses stop. Five years ago, the roof of the market was changed to the new wooden roof through the charity of 40million yen that every shop in the market and a big local company gave. ”
There is a tour that goes around Kure’s popular places, such as Taishyo Ichiba, Kuroshio Honjin, Kaze Kobou, and so on. Other small towns don’t have such kinds tours as the guy said. Kuroshio Honjin is a place that you can actually make smoked-Katsuo and many famous people have visited. In the big festival of Kure, ten to twenty thousands tourists come every year.
One of the big festivals of Kure is Katsuo Matsuri. “Although I spend one week preparing without opening my shop, I don’t mind if many people come and taste the deliciousness of Kure’s Katsuo.” the man working for a vegetable store said. That reminded me of the words the fisherman-looking guy. “The third Sunday of May, there was a Katsuo Matsuri. I was surprised because this small street, Taishyo Ichiba, was full of people.”
In Katsuo Matsuri, people compete in pole-and-line fishing riding in a 20 meters long boat wearing costumes for fun. There are many local special dishes that people prepare for this day.
There are lots of other excellent places to visit. These days, big cities are getting similar everywhere. Therefore, Kure might be unique and nostalgic Japan. Going around the town, there are many old-fashioned but cute things everywhere, which makes you want to take many pictures. A woman working at the cafe Kaze Kobou said, “please stay here as long as you want, it’s raining heavily outside” with the nice smile.