FALCONRY AND THE KAGA CLAN
After the Meiji Restoration, certain aspects of Japanese culture survived under the protection of the Kaga Clan.
Falconry is the hunting of wild animals by means of a trained bird of prey. There are two traditional terms used to describe a person involved in falconry: a falconer who releases a falcon, or the German-origin term austringer, someone who controls a hawk or eagle. Falconry is currently practiced in many countries around the world, and remains an especially important part of Arab heritage and culture. The UAE allegedly spends over 27 million dollars annually for the protection and conservation of wild falcons, and has set up several falcon hospitals in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In Japan, falconry was enjoyed by shogun and daimyo during the Edo period.
Falconry was employed as a strategy within politics.
At the beginning of its history in Japan, falconry was an activity for fun among court nobles. It was first brought from the Asian continent in 355. Then it changed with the times to a status symbol of a ruler during the age of samurai. Nobunaga Oda, Ieyasu Tokugawa, and our ruling Maeda family loved it so much, especially Ieyasu who was a keen falconry enthusiast. In the Edo period (1603-1868), delivering or receiving birds such as hawks, cranes, swans, bean geese, Eurasian coots, ducks, amongst others was entirely controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate. The birds considered as prey for hawks were ranked in order of importance. Crane rated as the best, and thus receiving a crane from shogun was considered a great honor for a family. Falconry of cranes by the ruler shogun was held annually as one of the most important rituals. Those caught cranes were dedicated to the emperor. In brief, the falconry tradition was exploited as a strategy of politics.
Now ‘takajo’ are in the public eye for protecting historic architecture from pigeon dropping damage in humane manner.
Did you know pigeon poop is destructive to historic buildings and statues? It used to be a huge problem at Kanazawa Station as well.
The hawker, or Takajo, Mr. Yoshida and his “master” hawk Komatsu help protect the station from pigeon dropping damage on occasion. Any pooping pigeons flee after only a couple of hawk flights around the site. Once you know why, you will agree that this is an awesome idea. We visited Mr. Yoshida, who is the owner of Takamaru Co,. Ltd, in Komatsu City. He is an authorized hawker of the Japanese Falconers’ Association, having learned his craft under the Suwa School of falconry. There used to be many schools which belonged to each of the clans during the Edo period; however, only two survived after the end of the samurai age. The founder of our clan, Toshiie Maeda, started falconry, and then both of his two sons: Toshinaga (the second lord) and Toshitsune (the third lord) grew to love it very much. In the Suwa School, hawks, not men, are the masters. So hawkers always respect their birds. Why did Mr. Yoshida become a hawker? An animal lover since he was little, he worked at the pet shop in Tedori Fishland, which is a well-known amusement park in Nomi City. One day a wounded peregrine falcon was brought into the shop. He developed a great curiosity about these birds-of-prey while taking care of it. As soon as he learned about Japanese falconry, he groped for some clues on his own to become a hawker. “I eventually visited a special shop in Gifu Prefecture to get my Harris’s Hawk, which I named Komatsu. There are two kinds of wild birds that may be trained while still sporting their juvenile plumage: one is a downy bird unable to fly from the nest; they never learn to fear man, but can take time to train.
The other is a bird that has just started to fly; they are not seasoned flyers, but will never be completely as ease around humans as they are the wilder of the two. Both have their merits and demerits” Mr. Yoshida says. Now he lives with 16 predatory birds to fulfill job rotation requirements. “Training birds sometimes looks odd to outside observers. We occasionally have to train at night, and we do so while wearing black clothing! Ancient hawkers were also depicted working in this manner, so it’s a tradition. Right after the Meiji Restoration (1868), the continuation of falconry was unsteady, yet the culture lasted under the protection of the Kaga Clan. I feel we must take care not let the tradition die out.”