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  • Writer's pictureOlivier

Japan: Tanajibu, the Fishing Huts on the Ariake Sea

Updated: Mar 6

Nestled in the heart of Kyushu's maritime landscapes, the Tanajibu, these traditional fishing huts, emerge as sentinels over the Ariake Sea. These structures, perched on stilts and battered by the tides, represent a fascinating chapter of harmony between man and sea, a living tableau of age-old traditions that defy time.


Japan: Tanajibu, the Fishing Huts on the Ariake Sea

In this article, I invite you to explore the world of the Tanajibu, delving into their construction, significance, and the imprint these traditional huts leave on the maritime landscape of Kyushu Island.


Their architectural simplicity, combined with the majesty of the tides of the Ariake Sea, creates a hypnotic spectacle that captivates photographers and nature lovers worldwide. Also, I offer a selection of 3 sites where you can photograph the most beautiful examples of the region in tranquility.


The Ariake Sea, Japan's largest inland bay, is known for its extreme tides, among the world's highest, with a range close to 6 meters. These conditions create an ideal environment for certain types of fishing. This part of Japan is particularly famous for its Nori seaweed cultivation and for clam and other seafood fishing. Read my article on the landscapes of the Ariake Sea.


The Tanajibu are reminiscent of the "pêcheries" on the Atlantic Loire and Brittany coasts or the "carrelets" on the Charente-Maritime coasts in France. See my dedicated portfolio.

Other equally spectacular hut examples also dot the Adriatic Sea coasts between San Marino and Venice in Italy. These are known as "trabocchi."


Japan: Tanajibu, the Fishing Huts on the Ariake Sea

What the Tanajibu are Made of

The Japanese fishing huts are typically built on stilts and connected to the shore by long walkways. They are equipped with large suspended nets, known as "Yana" in Japanese. These nets are lowered into the water using a system of levers and pulleys during the rising tide and lifted at low tide, thus capturing fish.


These structures, strategically dispersed along the coasts of the Ariake Sea, contribute to a unique landscape and have become a popular subject for photographers of minimalist landscapes. Their simple yet effective design is a testament to the harmony between traditional fishing methods and the natural environment. In addition to their practical role in fishing, the Tanajibu huts contribute to the beauty and cultural identity of the Ariake Sea region.


My Equipment: K&F Concept ND Filter Kit + magnetic ring and carrying bag. Rain-proof treated glasses. The practical solution for photographing in difficult conditions without compromising on quality.

My Equipment: K&F Concept ND Filter Kit + magnetic ring and carrying bag. Rain-proof treated glasses. The practical solution for photographing in difficult conditions without compromising on quality.


They are often located near coastal towns and villages like Yatsushiro, Tara, and Itoshima in Fukuoka Prefecture, as well as in other parts of Saga, Nagasaki, and Kumamoto Prefectures. These regions offer not only the chance to observe these unique structures but also to discover local fishing communities and enjoy spectacular maritime landscapes.


It is possible to photograph similar structures in other coastal regions of Japan, but the Ariake Sea remains the most emblematic place to observe the Tanajibu. For photographers, especially those specializing in minimalist landscapes, these huts provide a unique opportunity to capture the interaction between traditional human activities and the natural maritime landscape.


Japan: Tanajibu, the Fishing Huts on the Ariake Sea

Photographing the Tanajibu on the Shores of the Ariake Sea

The Tanajibu, with their unique construction and strategic placement in changing marine landscapes, offer a fascinating subject for photography, especially for those specializing in black and white landscape photography.


Here are some aspects that make the Tanajibu particularly attractive to photographers:


1. Visual Contrast: The simple and clean structure of the Tanajibu strongly contrasts with the complex and dynamic expanse of the sea. In black and white, this contrast can be even more pronounced, capturing the tension between human order and natural chaos.


2. Play of Light and Shadows: The light interacts dramatically with the fishing huts throughout the day, creating deep shadows and bright reflections. These variations offer endless opportunities to capture unique moments in images.


3. Reflections in the Water: The tides around the Tanajibu create fascinating reflections, especially during the transitions between high and low tide. Black and white photography allows capturing these nuances with great sensitivity.


4. Minimalism and Composition: Minimalist compositions will find an echo in the simplicity of the Tanajibu. Their streamlined structure, aged by time and tides, allows for an exploration of photographic composition. Each element of these structures can be carefully balanced for maximum visual impact.


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Luminar Neo: Artificial Intelligence for the Production of Perfect Commercial Images.


5. Visual Storytelling: The Tanajibu tell the story of fishing communities and their relationship with the sea. As a photographer, you have numerous opportunities to capture these narratives and legends, giving a visual voice to these traditions.


6. Change and Permanence: These huts, although permanent, witness the constant changes of the tides and seasons. This duality of change and constancy provides fertile ground for exploring deeper themes through photographic work.


7. Timelessness: The timeless style of the Tanajibu aligns perfectly with the pursuit of tranquility and timelessness in photography. They represent a link between the past, present, and future, capturing the very essence of what makes an image both eternal and ephemeral.


These philosophical and technical aspects are merely a reflection of my years of photography on the shores of the Ariake Sea, which I hold dear, particularly for familial reasons. They are by no means exhaustive.


Japan: Tanajibu, the Fishing Huts on the Ariake Sea

All Tanajibu have a large square-shaped net that operates with a pulley system. At high tide, these huts are perfect for minimalist photography as they seem to float on the surface of a calm sea. The imposing pillars, which remind us of the importance of the tide in this area, are completely submerged. The nets are often raised and just above the water.


It is possible to find these clusters of huts in several locations, but not all allow for close access as one might wish, or are unfortunately poorly positioned from a photographic point of view. Unattractive backgrounds or elements full of distractions can easily ruin what could be a magnificent image.


Therefore, I will highlight 3 quality spots for photographing these Tanajibu around Ariake where it is possible to take one's time. Moreover, these sites have parking nearby, which facilitates long waiting periods in cold weather.


My Equipment: GITZO Mountaineer S3 and S3 ball head. The ultra-stable and lightweight carbon tripod. The ultimate reference for landscape photography and long exposures. A lifetime investment.

My Equipment: GITZO Mountaineer S3 and S3 ball head. The ultra-stable and lightweight carbon tripod. The ultimate reference for landscape photography and long exposures. A lifetime investment.


Accessing the Tanajibu

However, it is not recommended to venture onto the walkways that connect these huts to the shore. Firstly, for safety reasons, as these structures are sometimes precarious. Fishermen even remove some planks from these walkways to prevent access. Secondly, out of respect for private property. Indeed, these huts, although they sometimes seem abandoned, are private properties. Not all of them mention this, but it's important to know.


Moreover, the open spaces around these Tanajibu at the sites mentioned below are more than sufficient to multiply the framing possibilities without trying to access these huts. Even though one might sometimes wish to shelter in them during rain to observe the landscape or simply meditate.


On rare occasions, it is possible to see these huts in operation. By politely asking the fisherman, it is then possible to visit them. The experience is unique. But it is essential to speak Japanese.


Japan: Tanajibu, the Fishing Huts on the Ariake Sea

Finally, as in many places in Japan, these wooden structures are generally not dismantled when they are no longer in use. They are simply left to their sad fate. Time and tides will eventually engulf these huts, sometimes leading to original and interesting scenes in photography. Even if these structures are abandoned, I strongly advise against accessing them.


3 Sites for Photographing the Tanajibu

1. Yanagawa

This site is located in Fukuoka Prefecture, north of the Ariake Sea. It is imperative to go there by car. At this location, you will find numerous huts behind an imposing dike that stretches as far as the eye can see. About ten Tanajibu are aligned along this dike and all have different characteristics.


At this place, the background is made up of thousands of wooden and plastic stakes stuck in the sea as this site is also known for seaweed cultivation. These elements, seemingly disruptive, are actually very graphic in compositions.


Japan: Tanajibu, the Fishing Huts on the Ariake Sea

Naturally, the tide conditions greatly determine the photographic interest of the scene. Therefore, plan to visit at high tide or close to it. Otherwise, you risk having to include the imposing concrete elements of the dike in your images.


This site is located 1 hour 30 minutes by car (70 km) north of Kumamoto along the coast, or 1 hour 15 minutes by car (50 km) east of Kashima. Head towards the Yanagawa City Hall, where you can easily park. It is located 200 meters from the dike. This site is also an opportunity to stroll for several kilometers along the sea.


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2. Tara

This Tanajibu is located on the west coast, in Saga Prefecture, near the town of Kashima. There you will find a single Tanajibu situated behind a large rest area and a tourist information center, the Taramachi Sightseeing Information Center. So, you can park without any problem and stay as long as you wish.


Japan: Tanajibu, the Fishing Huts on the Ariake Sea

At this location, the Tanajibu is situated very close to the shore, so you have to deal with a lack of distance. With a wide-angle lens, you can capture the imposing structure of this hut against an open sea. This site is located a 15-minute drive (11 km) south of Kashima.


3. Kashima

This site is not far from the previous one. Here, you will find 2 Tanajibu. It is arguably the best spot. The clearance is ideal, the background is completely open, and water is present regardless of the tide state. There is also a large parking area available. You can then go to the dike made of natural rocks, which are much more elegant than concrete blocks if you choose to include them in the image.


Japan: Tanajibu, the Fishing Huts on the Ariake Sea

In my opinion, this is the best viewpoint in the region to photograph the Tanajibu with a vast expanse of water in the background. The compositions are also more varied as it is easy to move around on these rocks. This site is located a 10-minute drive (7 km) south of Kashima. The Tanajibu are situated behind the “Roadside Station Kashima” shopping center and gas station.


Japon: Tanajibu, les cabanes de pêcheurs sur la mer d'Ariake
 

The Final Words

The Tanajibu are another symbol of the harmony between man and nature in Japan. Their construction, simple and respectful, reflects a deep respect for the sea and a perfect understanding of its tides.


These fishing structures represent another remarkable adaptation of man to his environment rather than an attempt to dominate it. They testify to the wisdom of a minimalist and sustainable approach, where functionality blends with natural aesthetics.


In a world where technology and rapid progress can often distance us from nature, the Tanajibu remind us of the importance of balance and respect for the environment that sustains us. They embody a philosophy of life where simplicity, sustainability, and harmony are not empty words, but fundamental principles guiding human interaction with the natural world.


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