This summer, during our train trip around Shikoku, the Far Outliers got a chance to visit one of Japan’s most famous gardens, Ritsurin (‘Chestnut Woods’) in Takamatsu. It’s not on the official list of the three most beautiful landscape gardens—Kairakuen in Mito, Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, and Kourakuen in Okayama (all of which I’ve visited)—but it definitely belongs in the same class. Among its unique features is a large pond that used to be used for duck hunting. The untrimmed overgrowth around its edges offers cover for hunters to conceal themselves.
At one end of the pond, there is an artificial structure designed to enable large numbers of ducks to be captured with nets. Called the 鴨場 kamoba ‘duck place’, it consists of a 鴨引き堀 kamohikibori ‘duck moat’ with a 覗き小屋 nozokigoya ‘peeping hut’ (or 小覗き konozoki ‘small peephole’) at one end. The duckcatchers would duck down behind the raised banks along both sides of the duck moat waiting for the signal from the watcher in the duck blind, then leap up in unison and toss their nets over the ducks in the narrow ditch below.
I was familiar with the term 馬場 baba ‘horse place’, meaning ‘race track, hippodrome’ (as in Takadanobaba in Tokyo), but had not encountered the term kamoba ‘duck place’ before. Nor had I ever heard of people hunting animals within the grounds of any of the major landscape gardens in Japan. The bilingual sign explaining the purpose of the kamoba at Ritsurin translated nozokigoya as ‘peeping hut’ but could well have translated it as ‘duck blind’ (or ‘hunting blind’) in this instance.