When Jason Meninger won Kota’s American Dream Tournament in 2010, he won more than an all-expense paid fishing trip to Japan – he received a life-changing experience.
Not only did Meninger get to fish Lake Biwa, which produced a world-record-tying bass in 2009, but he was immersed in Japanese culture for a full week and came back a changed man.
Elite Series pro Kota Kiriyama created the tournament in hopes of bridging the United States and Japan through a common interest: bass fishing. Kiriyama arrived in the U.S. when he was 18 and didn’t know a word of English. Through hard work and dedication, he is living his dream as a professional angler.
Now that he’s established, he wants to pass on a new understanding between the Japanese and American cultures, and his tournament is the vehicle.
“I want the people in both the U.S. and Japan to understand each other better through bass fishing,” he said. “We can learn a lot from each other, not only about bass fishing but about life as a whole.”
Meninger, a 39-year-old from Gainesville, Ga., is an FLW Tour pro. He entered the American Dream Tournament after a slumping season on Tour and believes that his experiences in Japan have given him a new perspective on fishing as well as a new drive and focus.
“The fishing experience was really neat. They have a different mentality with their finesse fishing, and their attention to detail amazes me. I took away some of that to apply to my fishing,” he said. “This past year, my focus wasn’t there, and I felt like going there has made me a better angler and a better person.”
Meninger took on Lake Biwa’s crystal-clear waters and gained an appreciation for Japanese-style finesse fishing.
“Biwa is a big lake, but there is a lot of fishing pressure on it, and the water is super-clear. Fishing is hard, and it was a reward when you did catch a fish,” he said. “That’s their mindset; you have to work hard and be diligent to get that payoff. You have to keep you focus all day long.”
His focus paid off in an 8-pounder among his catches. Meninger described the fishing as power finesse, as most of it is done with casting gear and 12-pound fluorocarbon line in and around grass.
However, Kiriyama designed the trip so that the winner could experience everything Japanese: the culture, the history and the food. Meninger and Kiriyama visited ancient temples and shrines, and ate at what is considered to be one of the top sushi restaurants in the world.
In the name of fully experiencing the culture, Meninger ate raw cow tongue, heart and parts beyond. Once he got over the post-feast stomach issues, he appreciated Japanese culture much more.
“This wasn’t just a fishing trip. It was a really good cultural experience, too,” he said. “Watching the chef prepare the sushi really brought together the whole experience for me: the attention to detail, the pride that they take in their work and how hard they work was embodied by what he was doing. Plus, it was delicious. I feel like I have taken some of this away from them and can apply it to my life and my fishing.
“They’re so passionate over there about their work, whether they clean the street or build buildings. I’ve got a new work ethic that I can apply to my work and my fishing. It was the experience of a lifetime.”
On Dec. 3, Kiriyama will hold another Kota’s American Dream Tournament on Lake Wheeler. It’s a one-day event, with the top prize being a trip to Japan or $3,000 cash. Kiriyama will also donate $25 of every entry fee to the victims of the recent storms in Alabama as well as the Japanese tsunami relief. The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is sponsoring the event for a second year.
For more information, visit: KotaAmericanDream.com.
For the Kota photo gallery, visit: Kota's American Dream Photos
For video of Meninger’s trip, visit: YouTube.com