In 1987 the UK went totally ballistic for Koi, it was impossible to supply the demand despite the fact that the Israelis were now on the scene.
I returned in early April with a German guy named Robert Hilble who was just setting up the first Koi outlet in Germany named Sakanaya and introduced him to my man at Narita.
The man at Narita also had new overseas dealers there who wished to find Koi for re-sale. I do believe it was on that same visit I first met the young Mike Hernandez and the very young Max Ng.
If my memory is correct it was also the first time I met Mr. Yap and another Mr. Yip but I could be wrong. We met up on many occasions afterwards and traveled all areas of Japan in search of Koi.
Anyway, it was my job on that visit to get these guys across to Mihara City in Hiroshima where we would link up with Hideo Masutani who would drive us around SFF; Uedera; Masutani & Omosako (the father in Kure town).
After that it was also my job to get them back to Tokyo via Narita Koi farm in Komaki and then down to Yamanashi to visit Toshio. After that we would spend some days in Yamakoshi in search of tosai. It was all a matter of trains, hotels and Koi breeders together with many Koi conversations all along the way.
I do remember us all checking in to the Sun Plaza to meet the blank gaze of Bagpuss.
(I’d told all the guys all along the rail journeys that she was my very special Japanese girlfriend and I couldn’t wait to get to the Sun Plaza to see her again.)
‘Didn’t I tell you all she was absolutely gorgeous?’ waxed Waddy as he gazed into her eyes.
The young Max was visibly mortified whilst the others looked away in silence as they silently signed their names for the room keys.
I kept all this up for two nights marveling at her beauty whilst Bagpuss simply kept saying ‘No’ and touching up her make up. I told them she was just playing hard to get and had them totally convinced I was madly in love with her.
If you saw the looks of surprise upon seeing Bagpuss for the first time, you should have seen their eyes when they saw the Koi at the Isawa Nishikigoi Center for the very first time!
Upon seeing all these gaigin faces together, Toshio went back into his shell a little and became much more reserved than I’d seen him on the last visits. I really do not recall very much about that visit but I do know that many Koi were purchased from Toshio.
After the guys had left Japan, I had to stay behind for much of the summer and attempted to learn ‘Koi Japanese’ at the Koi auctions in Niigata, Saitama, Nagoya and Hiroshima.
I’m not saying it was easy but I’m not saying it was difficult either; Japan is no different to any other country on the planet in that there are different dialects in different part of the country. The trick was to understand the language of each auctioneer – I never quite trusted the wooden clapperboards.
Toshio always attended the Isawa auction and entered many of his ‘also-rans’. Of course it was easy to recognize his Koi when they passed through and if I were bidding on them, my hand would be held out towards the auctioneer but my eyes were always focused on Toshio who would be nudging the price upwards with a flick of a finger but his eyes looking up towards the roof.
On occasions when the bidding began to slow from all the others and I still wanted to buy we both knew it was down to the two of us.
Did he want to sell the Koi or did he wish to take it home?
Conversely, was the Koi really so important to me? Only I knew the answer to that one!
Of course, on the rare occasions it ever got to that stage my eyes were transfixed on the Koi in question – pattern is fine, check the body, check the fins, and check everything.
Why is it so cheap? What’s wrong with it?
And then one or two others would come back into the bidding and the circus would all start again – you really did need eyes in the back of your head.
On very rare occasions when I was bidding almost up to my own limit on the particular Koi and there was only the two of us remaining we found ourselves staring into each other’s eyes – each with fingers held out!
I’d shake my head and draw my finger in a little to show him it was my final bid and then it was up to him – I was going no further.
Within seconds there would be the ‘Once, Twice and Sold’ coming up.
More often than not he’d withdraw his finger and mine would come back out again – for the last time and the Koi would be mine.
The consensus of opinion back in the UK in those days was that ‘Auction Koi’ were junk Koi but that only came from the mouths of UK Koi dealers who were not allowed to take part and even if they were they would have no possible idea as to what was going on.
As a matter of interest, some of the finest non Go-Sanke I ever bought came from the special auctions.
(At the Isawa auction I did once watch a well-known UK Koi dealer and his Japanese agent bid for a 68cms Tancho Sanke, which was just about, the worst Tancho Sanke I had ever seen. The start price of 3,000yen should have determined that but the UK dealer WANTED it badly. He bought it for 25,000yen (£41.00 in those days) – way over the value of the Koi and after the auction told me he’d ‘stolen it’ for a measly 250,000yen (£410.00), he was happy but didn’t know his agent had just added another zero to the actual price after the hammer had dropped!)
In summer ’87 I found myself spending many auction days with Toshio both in Isawa and in Niigata when he was visiting to check his stocks in the mud ponds.
Also in summer ’87 I had to return to the UK from time to time for major shows and also to make final arrangements with some 25 members of the BKKS who had asked me, through the BKKS, to organize a trip to take them to Japan that autumn.
These were made up of BKKS members of the day such as Ian Stewardson, Mary Riddoch, Alan Rogers, Rachel Gosling as well as newcomers like Greg Peck, Nigel Caddock and Phil Edwards together with many intermediaries – all ‘first-timers’.
It was a daunting thing to arrange in view of areas, hotels, coaches, trains and all the other little things surrounding it. I’d mentioned it to Toshio and he said he’d be harvesting his Niigata ponds at the time when we landed in Niigata and it may be best that he met the party there.
I disagreed and said they would be impressed by Toshio’s junkyard and his Koi and we would like to arrive there before he set out to Niigata.
On reflection we should have skipped Isawa as the place had few stocks when we arrived – all the best stocks were still in the Niigata ponds.
As it happened I was in Niigata with Greg Jackson from Harrow Koi who was also joining the trip a few days before the rest of the UK party arrived where we would meet them and head off to Hiroshima for the first leg.
I took Greg to the Nokyo auction one afternoon and was surprised to see Toshio there also. We nodded across the auction room as I watched him bid for and buy some really average metallic nisai for pennies.
I assumed he’d had a large order from overseas for his own stocks that also needed some Hikarimoyo stuff included which he did not own and so he was buying them here.
That wasn’t the case at all!
The brothers Toshio and Toshiyuki thought that their stocks of strictly Go-Sanke would not be valued with their impending guests and so they would offer them as free gifts together with other varieties of their own which would certainly not be free from charge.
We did eventually arrive at Yamamatsu one autumn morning in ’87 to make the village look like a hive of activity once more.
A large bowl was brought to the front right next to the roadside and part-filled with water.
Next one after another junk Koi were displayed one by one as Toshiyuke gave them all away with a smile to each and every visitor.
All Hikarimuji, Hikarimoyo and Kawarimono!
After the junk was offloaded the first Go-Sanke was entered into the bowl, then followed mayhem after the first price was announced.
It was a nice Matsunosuke Sanke – around 66cms.
From a distance Greg Peck screamed to me – ‘Waddy, buy it – it’s mine’!
Then Mushigame erupted whilst Ian Stewardson and Alan Rogers complained bitterly to me that it simply wasn’t cricket and that there should be much more time allowed for decisions!
There were many Koi purchased on that trip from many individuals – most of them never to return to Japan again. It was also my job to collect the payments and make sure they were passed on to the Koi breeders in question.
The breeders themselves only recall the one that handed over the cash and had no interest from whose pocket it came from originally.
Peter handed them the money!
More later – it gets better.
Remember – we are still only in ‘87; just what were your Koi activities in ’87?