Tenkara – no – Oni — Masami Sakakibara’s World of Tenkara —

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Post from UK about Oni Tenara

Posted on | February 12, 2016

This is good reading about Masami tenkara-no-Oni Sakakibara,from our friend in UK.

Paul Gaskell and John Pearson fromDiscovertenkarahave spent time in Japan studying tenkara with Masami and Coco in both 2014 and 2015 as well as speaking many times using Skype and Facebook. After the 2015 visit, where everyone spent time in Itoshiro and Touyama, they have agreed to describe some of their experiences with “Tenkara-no-Oni” on the English “Oni-Blog”. In this post, John’s photographs accompany Paul’s words.

It is a great honour to be asked to write a guest blog post for Oni-site and also to be the first Oni-approved British tenkara guides.  Thank you Shishou and Coco for these privileges. In the modern world, the word “master” is used far too much – when people actually only mean someone with very good skills.

I firmly believe that Masami belongs to that very small group of people who genuinely deserves to be described as a true master.

So, in this blog, I want to try to write a little bit about what gives Masami his mastery of tenkara. This is a simple thing to say – but it might actually be impossible to properly explain!


I will start with the most important thing. It is really strange – but most anglers forget to think about the fish. Or maybe there is a better way to say it. Perhaps most anglers do not spend enough time learning to understand fish at a very deep level.

Masami’s complete understanding of how a fish will behave (and why) is at the core of every move “Oni” makes on the river. It is not just that he knows what fish will be doing under a small set of conditions. Instead, he understands exactly how fish will react differently to all conditions that they experience.  He can also translate that into what that means in terms of where he should stand in order to make the perfect presentation of his kebari to that fish.


The aim is to do this with his first cast every time – so each and every cast is delivered with the full intention of catching a fish.


Now, depending on whether there is actually a fish in the spot he has identified (or exactly how the kebari needs to be shown to that particular fish at that time), he may or may not catch a fish on that cast. This does not matter – because “making every cast your best cast” is the surest way to improve both your skills and your understanding of how and why tenkara works.

The way that he manages his rod and line, and the supreme casting skills for which he is famous, mean that Masami only rarely gets tangled or catches on a snag. It is not that he is infallible, it is just that his rod and line are so much an extension of his own body that it happens a lot less to him than to most anglers. In the same way, when the fishing is tough – Masami might not catch ten, twenty or a hundred fish; but he will almost always catch a few when most other people are catching nothing at all.

Masami is, rightly, famous for his unbelievable casting ability. Although that is an obvious supreme skill – it is probably not the most important thing that sets him apart…Instead it is his innate understanding of the habits of fish and how their whole lives are blended inseparably with their environment. This is the real core of Oni Tenkara – whether that is on genryu (headwater), keiryu (medium sized rivers) or honryu (main-river) settings. When you couple that insight with his ability to make a kebari do almost exactly what he wants it to, then you have a powerful combination in a fly fisher.


He told us when we visited his family home in Shizuoka that, as a child he would swim down to the riverbed and clasp a large rock to his chest so that he could sit beneath the surface and watch fish for as long as his breath held out. As he showed us the spot in the river just a short walk from his mother’s house where he used to do this, Masami explained that the water was much clearer when he was a child. Now, the growing demands of the expanding town mean that it carries a slightly milky, pale-green tinge and the visibility is not so good.

This kind of fascination and obsession should give you some clues as to how, after a lifetime of practice and study, Masami has achieved his mastery of tenkara. When you couple this with his constant practices like casting between the stems of plants to improve accuracy, then it becomes almost inevitable that he has made himself into such a formidable angler.

It seems that the passion that drives him to perfect his techniques and understanding come from his deep love of nature – and especially mountain rivers. He and Coco spoke many times of the sorrow that they feel at witnessing the decline of amago populations in the Toyama river. This has been due to dam construction (degrading breeding habitat) and also over-fishing by people who want to eat everything that they catch. Having seen rare amago captured and released by Masami in the Toyama river – it is easy to understand how sad that their decline is. Masami is one of the small (but growing) passionate advocates for Catch & Release fishing. For him, the wild fish is a precious part of nature that he holds as most important of all. He views it as a privilege to catch one, admire it up-close for a moment and then to let it go. His love of wild fish extends far beyond fishing. It is a tradition for Masami to observe wild fish as they make their breeding migration – even though he will not fish for them during that season. He says that part of the reason he enjoys this is that it helps him to understand why fish choose certain paths to move through the stream. In other words, it is deepening his understanding of their behaviour even more.

Prolonged, varied and extensive observation is the key.


Our DVD, then, will aim to share a lot of Masami’s techniques and on-stream secrets with the world. We have many hundreds of hours ahead of us viewing the 80-plus hours of footage before processing it into a 90-minute film that captures and explains his mastery. The writing process to form these sequences into a single story (as well as the script to describe not only what is happening, but why) will be hard work but great fun too.

In the video, we hope to showcase and explain how Masami uses his positional sense to sequentially tackle a section of river using different presentations. We will also show how he uses combinations of river currents and breeze to control the depth and pace of his kebari drifts. The film will also analyse his “form” and the way that his posture and movements give him such a solid base to perform his excellent casting and drift control movements with the rod and line. This aspect is also crucial to the way that he moves around the stream safely and stealthily or quickly as necessary.
It is a challenge that we are all looking forward to and, as I hope you can see from this blog post, when I said that we are truly honoured to receive an official “Tenkara-no-Oni” stamp of approval for our tenkara and tenkara guiding; I really meant it.

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One Response to “Post from UK about Oni Tenara”

  1. David
    February 19th, 2016 @ 10:15 AM

    A delightful blog post with insights into Oni’s balance of the love of nature, streams, fish behavior, and Tenkara. I will forward to seeing these topics explored more fully in the DVD. Thank you Oni for passing on these attitudes, and skills to John and Paul to share with the Tenkara World via their excellent Tenkara DVD series.

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