Before the age of graphite, carbon fiber, and fiber glass - fishing rods were typically made out of bamboo. In Japan the bamboo fishing rod is called wazao and is considered an art form, with craftsman spending a lifetime perfecting their art. Unfortunately, this exquisite art form is becoming more and more rare in Japan. This is due in part to decrease in demand, a decline in the availability of the necessary materials, and the fact that the trade does not provide enough income to compete with modern wages. In an effort to keep the tradition alive Tosaku 东作, which has been creating hand made fishing rods from bamboo for eight generations, has modernized their business model. Their main office is located a brisk 10 minute walk from Ueno Station in Tokyo and I highly recommend, that if you are in the area, you drop by.
I came across Tosaku's website (they are the only wazao manufacturer with a modern website, part of their effort to stay afloat) after reading an article in Craftsmanship. After reading the article I knew I needed to stop in and take a look at their lineup. Well that opportunity came when I found myself in Ueno visiting the Sansui Fishing Store to buy some fly tying equipment. Since the Tasaku office is so close I obviously had to stop in.
The store has two isles, which are barely wide enough to fit down. All the shelves are loaded with bamboo rods and all other sorts of wooden fishing goods (e.g. tamos, bait boxes, wooden reels, etc...) The owner, Kouhei Matsumoto, and his wife were inventorying goods in the back but when I introduced myself they were very excited to show me around. I told them I was interested in Tenkara and he quickly ran to the front of the shop, grabbed a rod, and directed me outside. Once outside Matsumoto-san showed me an absolutely gorgeous three piece bamboo Tenkara rod. The action was indescribably beautiful, I want one... No I need one. I swore I would never pay more than $300 for a rod but for this rod I will make an exception.
It was a very hot day in Tokyo so after a brief demo we returned to the cool air conditioned shop and chatted about fish. They presented me with a gift, a Tosaku scarf and after a few quick photos we exchanged business cards, and I returned to the streets of Tokyo - a smile on my face and thoughts running through my head about the fish I would catch on their bamboo rod when I returned to buy my own.
Written by Isaac Tait who now lives in San Diego but dreams of returning, one day, to Japan. You should follow him on Twitter