The first container-load of filter mat sheets and Hi-Blow air pumps arrived in December ’84 together with the first filter brushes and the first bags of Re-Fresh; this was just after some guys in the UK had finally accepted that my bottom drains were essential.
Now I had to explain that the sheets had to be formed into cartridges and were useless as a flat sheet barrier; next I had to explain that heavy aeration beneath them would make them perform so much better and then I had to convince them all to turn their sparkling ponds into mud!
Of course, all that was just a piece of cake.
It was painfully slow initially but as soon as the would-be filter manufacturers of the day latched on to the magic of the lightweight filter mat cartridges their orders soon started to arrive and with the cartridges came orders for air pumps – admittedly all courtesy of Toshio.
I returned to Japan in spring ’85 to purchase stocks for a UK show I was staging near Nottingham and this had no links to any amateur Koi society. I had judged at the All-Japan in ’84 and saw how simple and accurate judging could be when all Koi were entered together by variety and size – it just made complete sense to me. However the Koi Societies of the day found this to be far too adventurous and refused to stage this type of event. Upon hearing this, I ordered a container-load of proper show ponds, instead of the clear plastic sheets used by the Koi clubs and set about asking Koi breeders to take part by coming over to judge the show.
The first one I asked was Toshio but his shyness was still there whilst Hiroji Sakai, Masutani and Itoh jumped at the chance. The show was staged in May 1985 and was an unprecedented success both in terms of attendance and profit. So much so that the BKKS borrowed my show ponds and staged ‘Koi ‘85’ Japanese-style for the first time later the same year.
(Of course, news in Japanese Koi circles travels fast and Hiroji Sakai told everyone of the market potential for Koi in the UK.)
When I returned to Isawa in October ’85, Toshio had relented and suggested he came over to the UK for ‘Koi ‘86’ the next year. One hell of a giant step to take for the man from Mushigame but he’d already realised that it was time to spread his wings to other parts of the globe. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the first air journey he’d ever make outside of Japan.
It was on that visit he really began to open up to me, not completely, but it was a start. He kept on telling me about his latest Magoi Sanke adventures and also that he was still the eternal challenger. He even showed me some of his best tosai from the Magoi pairings but they were far too small yet for me to appreciate.
On that visit he took me to yet another pond I’d not seen before where he showed me the best female Sumi-Goromo I have ever seen in my life. She was around 70cms and he’d paid a small fortune for her as a parent Koi. The next small pond contained four incredible male Goshiki, which he planned to use with her the following spring. As he said – ‘Isawa Goshiki, Ichi-ban All Japan – I YAM a Challenger’!
I think, but I am not sure, that visit was the time I first saw the MIB pay Toshio a call, it certainly was around that time frame.
The ‘reception area’ to the farm is a flimsy shed that once probably looked presentable years ago but it is next to the driveway to the farm. Visitors spend time there drinking tea and eating snacks whilst waiting for the man who may be dealing with others or has simply taken his early afternoon naps.
I watched as the black Mercedes S Class silently pulled on to the concrete pad outside the ‘reception area’ and noted that all the windows were black. The driver stepped out and opened the rear door to allow a well-dressed individual to exit the car. The driver returned to the car but the well-dressed guy walked through and into the farm presumably to find Toshio?
Within minutes, the sleepy Koi outlet became a hive of activity and a show pond was set up next to the Mercedes complete with aeration. Then followed three vinyl bags containing the three very best Koi on the farm – I know, I had dreams of all these Koi.
The well-dressed man nodded his approval and sat back inside the car. Within minutes the Koi were bagged, boxed and loaded into the boot of the car. The car then drove away as silently as it arrived.
I have also witnessed this at SFF – it’s all to do with big-time Yakuza clans satisfying local government officials who some are also Koi addicts in these instances.
It could be the ladies and it could be the drugs or even the yachts and fancy cars also, but if it’s Koi that’s the weakness then so be it. As long as there is profit at the end – anything goes here.
If there is a lone government individual blocking the road ahead to a multi-billion dollar investment – AND – the individual in question would like to be known as the owner of the finest Koi in the world, well why not buy some for him?
The high price of some of the finest Koi in the world is no more than a pittance in these matters.
Within minutes of the car pulling away, Toshio would receive a call asking how much money he needed and within an hour, he would have it delivered – in cash!
The country boy from Mushigame learned quickly.
The great one came over to the BKKS National show in 1986 fully expecting to take part in the judging of the event but, as expected, his offer was refused. ‘Rules are rules’ quoted the man from the BKKS – ‘Firstly he is not a trained member of the JSC and secondly we have never heard of Toshio Sakai’!
Truth was – the BKKS had never heard the name of any Japanese Koi breeder in those days.
He spent that week with me after I collected him from Heathrow and then to the show. He spent some time studying the entries and wandered around the numerous dealers’ stands. He also attended the dinner dance where some of my customers came over to shake his hand but sadly, language was a barrier.
During the show, a lovely lady (sadly no longer with us) invited us both to spend the night with her at her country seat, a perfect opportunity to show Toshio a delightful English country home and estate. Rachel Gosling was a true English lady and despite her advancing years still trained gun dogs and was often in Scotland with them after being hired by wealthy Japanese guys wishing to shoot on the grouse moors.
Her two sons ran the estate, which was principally farming untold acres of wheat and other crops. Rachel lived alone in the immaculate mansion house that dated back to the 1600’s but she had two maids taking care of the cleaning and the cooking.
Toshio was truly amazed when he stepped into the mansion to be greeted by the maids in black and white; his eyes inspected the woodwork, the staircases, the doors and windows, it seemed he had to touch everything just to make sure his eyes were telling the truth.
Rachel noticed this and said to me – ‘Dear boy, can’t you see your friend wishes to explore? Be a good chap and show him around whilst I’ll see how the dinner is getting along.’
We started outside again by walking all around the mansion, next we inspected the immaculate kennels and then Rachel’s ponds and Koi before finally inspecting every room and one secret passageway inside the house.
Of course the meal was wonderful, I can’t recall exactly what was served but there was venison and game birds that Toshio found to be delicious. I had to find him pictures of what we were eating from country magazines in the house. Toshio was truly captivated with the experience but I had to bring him down to earth the next day and show him how ordinary mortals lived!
He spent two full days at Infiltration, which was a hive of activity in those days, and, despite the language barrier, I learned much from him in those two days. He urged me to use a constant trickle of incoming mains water to my systems instead of ‘topping-up’ and also reminded me many times that I needed more daylight into the buildings. I had many Koi in stock at the time but I could see he wasn’t exactly impressed with them, I knew I needed a Koi teacher and there he was before me – the very best Koi teacher possible, but we still could not speak!
It was all very well for me supplying Koi that went on to win all the major awards in all the major shows but I knew that the UK was still light years behind the Japanese in terms of selection and appreciation. I think it was around that time that the enormous importance of Go-Sanke finally registered with me.
I returned to the Isawa Nishikigoi Centre in early October ’86 after first dropping my luggage with Bagpuss. It was a different Toshio who greeted me that time with genuine smiles and even a handshake. We sat in the reception area and his wife made tea as Toshio handed me a note written in English that read something like –
‘Hello, my name is Miss (forgotten – sorry), I live locally to Mr. Sakai who wishes me to act as translator between you both. Mr Sakai wishes to offer you advice and also answer any questions you may have. When you arrive he will call me and I will come to meet you.’
PAYDIRT – AT LAST?
I still recall all that was discussed and covered in that meeting which took some four hours of discussion together with live examples of Koi brought by his staff to a large show pond set up on the concrete apron outside the reception area.
Toshio strongly urged me not to purchase cheap tosai and nisai in quantity simply because he’d never ever met any Koi dealer who had made actual profit in buying these from him despite how attractive his prices may have seemed.
Of course he needed to sell the ones he produced by the thousand and he did so to the auctions and to the dealers and agents who visited him and then sold them to export customers or domestic pet stores.
I didn’t really understand at the time because I could sell anything I purchased to the UK market but it was only a few years later that I finally realised the sheer truth of what he advised that day!
The man was absolutely correct, I also have yet to see ANY company or individual actually showing actual PROFIT from cheap Koi bought in quantity from any country in the world – think about it!
But it was the live examples he brought before me that raised my eyebrows; the yellow Kohaku tosai that were ‘not for sale’; the yellow Sanke and Showa tosai that were ‘not for sale’ – all these were his tategoi to be grown in the Niigata mud ponds the following spring.
Then followed the RED reds with the WHITE whites and the BLACK blacks – all to be sent to the auction houses – ‘Do not buy these in quantity Peter san, select the best patterns and you will pay more for each one but they WILL be profitable although they will never become good.’
Then followed 20 tosai that would knock anyone’s eyes out – absolute perfection indeed! Miniature Supreme Champions 3” – 4” long right there before your very eyes! ‘How much for all’? yelled Peter san. Toshio smiled and replied ‘Very expensive – these Koi will take first prize in size one at any Koi show in Japan. It’s impossible to say right now but most will be male but that’s of no importance in size one.’
He lifted a 3” long Gin Rin Showa that sparkled and placed it in a blue bucket – ‘This one I sold to my customer last week for 300,000yen and it will take Kokugyo award at the Tokyo Dome show next month but it will not grow and by this time next year it will be worthless.’
(300,000yen in ’86 meant £500.00 – today it means £2,300.00!)