Masami Sakakibara AKA  Tenkarano-oni

Interview by

Valerio "Balboa" Santagostino and Hubert  (Ubi) "Exuvia" Calligarich pose their questions to Masami Sakakibara (Oni San).

The Master Sakakibara was  born in 1951 in Shizuoka ( central Japan) near Mount Fuji. He grew up in Morimachi in a very nature-filled environment, surrounded by mountains and streams. He started fishing with his father at the age of 4 and up to the age of 18 he fished only  in fresh water. 

Like all great fishermen he has experimented with different fishing techniques  (including English-fly) and always oriented towards fresh-water creek fishing. 
He was responsible for the development of the so-called "Oni Style" of Tenkara fishing. Of the seven great masters in the Tenkara technique, he  is considered to be the most innovative. 
Very passionate about nature itself, he likes to retreat into his master Koya (shelter) on the  Toyama, which is his favorite river. Here he teaches his philosophy to his students and passes on his  fishing techniques. Hanging around the Koya walls are bamboo plates. Each of them bears the name of a person considered by the Master to be worthy of adopting the study path, which then  consecrates  entrance to his narrow circle of students. In order to become a student one must breathe with humility and understood the guiding spirit of the Master.

Balboa:  Shisyo ( Japanese teacher) First, welcome to our country! What is the meaning of the word Tenkara?
Oni san:    There are several hypotheses on the origin of the word Tenkara. The first is that it means "from heaven" (TEN KARA = from the sky). The fly sitting on the water,   comes from heaven. The second hypothesis is that it is a  foreign-derived word that is most probably from China. 
Unfortunately this is only speculation as there is no precise evidence.

Balboa:  But what does mean Saint Oni mean?
Oni San:   Ah , "Oni" means demon in Japanese and years ago my students began to jokingly call me "Tenkara on Oni", which means "demon Tenkara" due to  the  passion and the ”devilishness” that comes over me while I am fishing.

Ubi:  Shisyo, today you are considered a leading expert in this technique. Do you remember any significant event in your life that made
​​you realize that your passion for fishing would last forever?
Oni san:   Yes, there was one episode that struck me in particular. One day, I was fishing with my father as a child. 
In order to demonstrate the Tenkara technique
he began to twirl his horsehair line over  a hole in the ground.  Just above this point and high up  in the branches of a tree  I suddenly saw a squirrel climb up into one of them in search of food. Seeing my father it stopped abruptly and stood watching  him for some time, - probably just out of curiosity. I thought how amazing it was that the harmony of Tenkara had captured the attention of an animal that is normally so shrewd and suspicious. From that moment on I knew that fishing would be my greatest passion in life.

Ubi:  Shisyo, do you have to take courses or internships to become a "Master" as in our country?

Oni san:   Absolutely not. Students start as simple beginners. And from there they are eventually "promoted" to Master. 
A title in this field is achieved by the confidence and skill  you can demonstrate and for the respect you accomplish from others. It is something that is granted upon you by other people.

Balboa:  In Japan is there still much to be considered in any way under the figure of the student teacher?
Oni san:   Absolutely. I think over here you have a slightly different concept of teacher-student-disciple.

Ubi:  And did you have many students?
Oni san:   Endless numbers....

Ubi:  Shisyo, what exactly is the Oni style?
Oni san:   The  Oni style is a very personal style of fishing that I developed by contemplating  both the fish and the river. And it is the result of several components: the study of the approach to the river, the extreme delicacy and precision of the cast, the technique called "Sasoi" and the "oni" casting technique  that was  invented by me. It allows you to successfully manage fluorocarbon fishing lines ranging from 4 to 12 metres. This depends on whether I'm fishing in an  infrascati narrow environment or wide open rivers. 
My cane, the "oni rod", has been specifically  built to employ this  launch technique .

Ubi:  Is it different from  traditional techniques?
Oni san:   Absolutely. You are not expected to use a level line in traditional fishing. 
We use a braid  made
​​of nylon or horsehair in ever-decreasing thicknesses. Casting is made easier by the taper of the line,  but its landing is not as delicate as in my particular style. Furthermore, the "Sasoi" technique booster doesn’t exist and the fishing line is only a more or less standard length. So this is also very standardized within a fishing environment. I, however, can rapidly replace the lines that allows me to fish easily in tighter areas rather than in larger ones.

Balboa:  Shisyo, please explain how you produced the  Sakakibara Special (Oni Rod).
Oni san:   I wanted to create a rod that even women and children could use. 
We initially use basic Ayu raw cane onto which we assemble yet another raw material that makes it very light and so obtains a smooth barrel with a  light  parabolic action. Excellent for small - medium sized fish. I have also recently built an Oni rod that is thicker and reinforced to handle large fish. My rods range from 3.60 to 4.60 meters. Obviously, the dimentions  are larger for larger rivers.

Ubi:  Shisyo, how is your approach to the river?
Oni san:   I move very slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible. 
In this respect,  the "Ninja" walk is a great help to me. This consists of placing the outer part of the foot into the water first and not the tip. And then, if I see small fish, I do not bother because the small trout bustle about out of fear. Jokingly we say that the trout go and tell everyone of the great danger there is out there.

Balboa: Shisyo, which fish do you prefer to tackle?
Oni san: Amago trout, which is a fish of extraordinary beauty. All shiny silver with micro red dots.

Ubi:  Shisyo, what is the largest fish you've ever caught with Tenkara?
Oni san:   A beautiful iwana about 45 cm in size and captured on the Mashita river, which flows through the district of Gifu.

Ubi:  Shisyo, what do you think of the no-kill idea?
Oni san:   We're promoting this a lot now in Japan. Unfortunately, the older generations  still feel imposed to  capture their catch, and do not trust  the new generation very much. There is a fishing license in my country and even a stipulated maximum number of trout that can be retained.

Balboa:  So there are no poachers ...
Oni san:   Actually this does not pose a problem ....

Ubi:  Shisyo, but I see that you are struggling to wipe out the use of  the barbed hooks. 
Oni san:   It is very common. We also have to take into consideration that in Japan it is very difficult to find specialist fishing shops that supply barbless hooks.

Ubi:  Shisyo, a curiosity I have. I noticed that you pray before you actually start fishing. Even in Japan I saw you pray in front of  the  Spirit of the Eyes statue. Why?
Oni san:   Well you see, whenever you are on the river, you should appeal to the spirit of the river and duly thank him for the opportunity to fish. But as far as  the spirit protector of eyes is concerned, I thank him because it helps me see where the best fish in the creek are. In addition to this fact,  the statue evokes good memories of when I first met my wife.

Ubi:  Monkfish too ?
Oni san:   Most certainly ...

Balboa:  Shisyo, do you have any other hobbies besides fishing?
Oni san:   I love photography and art, but fishing stands out above all other things.

Balboa:  Shisyo, what message would you give to young people and even the not-so-young who read Pipamisti?
Oni san:   We live in nature and nature allows us to live. The important thing is to feel this nature directly on the skin and understand that there is no need to  conquer it , but simply to be a part of it.

Ubi, Balboa:  Arigatou gozaimashista Shisyo!
Oni san:   Arigatou to all of you and Pipam.