Jeff Prest comments on tenkara and its current inner turmoil
First criticised from outside, it seems tenkara is now turning on itself. A fifishing row, or just human nature in action...?
HE doesn’t actually cry but he does give the impression that much more of this nonsense TF and tears will be inevitable. For now, though, he says his piece and the video ends with him trudging away from his chair in the style of one who ‘needs a moment.’ His name is Jason Klass, and it seems all is not well in the world of tenkara. In a clip entitled Let’sEndtheTenkaraCivil War! Klass laments that the ‘tenkaraverse’ is fighting among itself, ruining everything “withego,slanderandhate”. Klass, according to his website TenkaraTalk, is a former flyfishing guide and casting instructor based in Colorado. He was an early adopter of tenkara in the West and has been fishing the method for a variety of species since 2009. So he presumably now knows that unveiling something new is like grief: it has five stages. Stages one and two are scepticism and ridicule, and if you’ve only followed tenkara’s arrival in western angling on a casual basis, you won’t need much more detail. Let’s just say that when oneupmanship joins forces with “but we’ve always done it this way”, any innovator is in for a hell of a fight, even if his shiny new idea strips down to nothing more threatening than a minimalist strain of flyfishing born on Japanese mountain streams. Shorn of a reel, its long rod and light line combination optimises fly presentation, went the sales pitch. It is flyfishing without the complexities. Compared to lobbying for legalisation of drugs or the normalising of open marriage, it was tame stuff but that didn’t matter. Its opponents found their foot in a familiar door and the chance to re-run a well-worn script was irresistible. They affected knowing smiles and slow headshakes and, if asked for their opinion on this new way of fishing (or even if they weren’t) would issue a response that nearly always included the words, “It’s all very well, but...” And when a superiority complex alone failed to force tenkara back under its stone, they introduced Scepticism’s bastard twin, Ridicule. Tenkara wasn’t just ‘odd’ or ‘unnecessary’ now, it was the province of people a little bit up themselves. Metrosexuality in waders. The traditionalists weren’t having it. Stirring At this point, journalists being people who stir for a living, we mulled the possibility of a satirical cartoon strip in Trout Fisherman, featuring an unwitting counter- revolutionary by the name of Ken Tara; a man who embraces tenkara’s Far Eastern culture with a toe-curling crassness that horrifies the purists – right down to the trout sushi dinners and the lone pagoda on a Basildon housing estate. Pure mischief-making, but the fact is, we’d spotted trouble in both camps by this stage. Different facets of that same, tiresome human trait for seeking out spurious pedestals on which we feel we can stand to look down at others. With varying degrees of subtlety, we do it with everything, from what we drive and where we holiday, to how we worship, so when the Great Unimpressed hauled themselves atop 500 years of western angling tradition and gave this Japanese interloper a piece of their mind, they were simply displaying that same genetic tendency towards division and conquest. And now, if Jason Klass’s concerns are justified, we have witnessed stage three. The rancour has moved in-house, as if tenkara devotees have become so accustomed to justifying themselves to outsiders, they have begun taking the fight to each other.
I had a feeling we might end up here, when I read a blog post several years ago entitled, 10signsyoumightbetaking tenkaratooseriously... I particularly remember the tendency to out-namedrop one another when it came to your favourite ancient Japanese tenkara guru. Again, whether you fish or not, that is just our species all over. I’m sure we’ve all been to rock concerts where the cognoscenti vie to recognise the next song before anyone else. Someone I know once saw this go horribly wrong at a Neil Young gig, when the guitarist plucked only two chords before someone began manically applauding. “Thanks,” said Young, “but I was actually just tuning up.” Ooooooh, let me get you some cream for that burn… While the Klass video hints at the same self-regard that may have brought matters to where they now are (‘tenkaraverse’? ‘Civil war’? Seriously...?) it also marks stage 4 – acknowledgment; and if he’s wondering what comes next, I might be able to help him. For I, too, have tenkara’d. Wandered Derbyshire streams with Bernie Maher [ TurningJapanese,TF473] and marvelled at the convenience and simplicity of the method, as the contents of a single chest pack secured numerous brownies and a day’s easy walking. Later, as Bernie enthused about the Japanese connection, its history and its flies, I began to perceive how sport could once again provide the gateway to a land and culture about which I know so little, just as cricket once did with the Indian sub-continent. So I’m happily sold on tenkara, but in the same way I think Bernie is; not as a social accessory, nor as some quasireligion, but simply as a charming way to fish, that takes its place alongside all the others. Behold stage 5: acceptance and perspective. Now someone get Jason a hankie.
“Tenkara wasn’t just ‘unnecessary’ now, it was the province of people a little bit up themselves. Traditionalists weren’t having it...”
Tenkara: all rather lovely once you remove your head from where the sun doesn’t shine.