Series 3 - Episode 8: Japan

Episode 8: Japan

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Tue 20:00 21 Oct

Robson starts his Japanese adventure with an early morning visit to Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji market – the largest fish market in the world. Ten per cent of all the fish caught across the globe pass through this vast emporium, which takes millions of pounds every day. Some 400 different types of seafood are sold here – amongst them the highly poisonous fugu, or blowfish. “It says a lot about the Japanese that their favourite delicacy is a fish that could send you six feet under,” reflects Robson. “And they’ll pay up to a hundred quid for the pleasure!”

Unfortunately for him, Robson’s experience of the iconic fugu does not end at Tsukiji. The following morning, the Geordie joins a local fisherman for a perilous trip into the unknown. “It’s bewildering and petrifying at the same time,” he says. Having donned several layers of protective clothing to safeguard against the deadly toxins in the fish’s skin, Robson helps prepare the lines. So valuable are the blowfish that Robson’s guide lays some 1,500 hooks to ensure he does not return to land with nothing. After a long wait on the calm seas, it is time to pull in the lines. Will Robson have caught his first fugu, and will he live to tell the tale if he does? “The suspense is killing me!” he says.

The next stop is the Kano river, where the intrepid angler prepares for a fishing trip with a difference. A popular sport in this region involves dressing in wetsuits and using live bait to catch ayu, a tiny but supposedly delicious fish. Using a method known locally as ayu-no-tomozuri, Robson and his guide hook a live ayu, then release it into the water. When the hooked fish encounters another, a fight will break out and the second fish will also become ensnared – or at least that is the theory. After four hours in the water, Robson has had no luck. “I’m reliant on how aggressive my little fish is feeling,” he says. “Unfortunately, this one seems to be a bit of a pacifist.” Half an hour and a change of bait later, Robson finally manages to catch a tiny fish – but promptly drops it when removing it from the net.

Having had little luck with the ayu, Robson moves on to the rich coastal area of the Ise-Shima National Park to try a fishing technique as old as the hills. Ama diving is a 2,000-year-old tradition that involves freediving to the seabed in search of snails and sea urchins. More comfortable fishing from the safety of a boat, Robson flails around in the water for a while, until his guides show him the ropes. Visibility is poor beneath the surface, but the Geordie lad eventually manages to collect a handful of giant snails – which he later eats with his guides.

The final day of Robson’s trip takes him to Suruga Bay at the foot of Mount Fuji – a mecca for sports fishermen from all over the world. “If there’s one thing Japan has plenty of, it’s wide-open seas full of huge fish!” he enthuses. However, a sudden change in weather means that this trip will be somewhat soggy. Undeterred, Robson and his American guide cast their lines and soon bring in a grunt and a horse mackerel. But having travelled thousands of miles to be here, Robson is determined to land a giant of the sea before heading home.

Long into the night, when the local fishermen have given up and returned to shore, Robson and his guide remain on the boat in the pouring rain, rods in hand. Eventually, the pair’s patience pays off as Robson gets a bite from what he hopes is an oilfish – a hefty species of horse mackerel that can grow up to two metres in length. But will Robson manage to land this monster of the deep, or will it be the one that got away? “Now then, we’ve got an extreme fight on our hands!” he yells.

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