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...?

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

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.

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