It has been relatively easy for me to document much of my experiences with ‘things Matsunosuke’ since the first sight of those ‘good luck’ Koi from Kamihata in ’79 right through to late ’97 simply because these experiences were ‘separate’ and followed on from each other naturally with spaces and pauses between them.
However, from ’98 to 2004, this 6-year period covered many incidents and many meetings made in many very intensive visits that also included a huge list of guests that were also involved. As a result it has now become just about impossible to document it from here on in date order with any accuracy. As a result there will be many snippets of experiences that did take place but there will be no dates with them.
Exactly when I first saw Toshio’s ‘Clean Water System’ I do not recall but I do know that Den was with me and several years followed whilst Toshio’s lawyers were producing the necessary documentation to get patent rights for Japan and the USA.
Right from the off, Toshio pointed out that whilst his system did produce the clearest and cleanest pond water imaginable and that all manner of fish would thrive in it, it was of no use for high quality Nishikigoi.
He invented his ‘Clean Water System’ specifically for ponds at hotels, public parks, golf courses, shopping malls and huge landscaping projects. I saw this system operating at two hotels in Isawa and at one public park there.
The Kagetsu hotel in Isawa is a luxury Japanese ‘Ryokan’ or ‘Inn’ which was to be installed on a huge area of land next to a small river.
A unique point here was that the grounds and the landscaping were the very first considerations; after these had been semi-completed the actual Inn was designed and built around the gardens.
Right from the off, the owner had planned to have a water feature that consisted of streams and ponds that would wend their way both to the inside and the outside of the Inn itself.
The landscaping is simply breathtaking. The huge and rare coloured boulders seen here were actually stolen in broad daylight from natural escarpments on Shikoku by the owner and his two sons in the early 1970’s and transported via the ferry to the mainland and then to Isawa in darkness on huge trucks complete with cranes.
Illegalities apart, these stones are installed at the Kagetsu and are truly magnificent. The owner lives in his own house in the grounds and his guests include many of the wealthiest families in Japan.
The owner contacted Toshio in the early 1980’s to say the water feature was causing him many problems with his guests who complained it was filthy and the fish were in bad condition. Toshio, in turn applied his system at the Kagetsu to produce the clearest water I have seen. Since then Toshio and the owner have become close friends.
I have stayed at the Kagetsu on many occasions; I have even been out in the gardens in the dead of night, armed with a torch. I have had my hands below the black granite sand on the pond base and have even seen the plans on the patent applications. I do know it involves much large bore pipe work but please don’t ask me how it works – I simply have no idea!
Toshio rents the Koi and other fish to the Kagetsu; these include old parent Koi, general tateshita, magoi and grass carp – hundreds of them, all in perfect condition. The guests purchase bags containing small portions of bread in order to feed the ravenous fish that follow the guests around.
At the end of each month Toshio goes around to collect his rent, which is soon exchanged at the bookies. Not bad for a country boy from Mushigame!
The ‘reception room’ at the Isawa Nishikigoi Center has been a tip ever since my very first visit and has continued to decay ever since. The ceiling is propped in parts with sticks and sticky tape and it’s apparent that no one has ever considered any form of maintenance.
I have witnessed the real reason for this shack not being replaced on several occasions.
The very moment strangers enter the farm, especially strangers speaking on mobile ‘phones and wearing business suits, the silent alarm bells ring and all the staff leap into action whilst Toshio sits alone in his tumbled-down shed with a very worried look on his face that even Laurence Olivier could not match.
Within minutes, every single pond on the farm is scarlet with the stains of potassium permanganate and not one Koi can be seen, after that the staff scarper.
Then follows the next stage of the carefully rehearsed plan when the guys walk into the shack and inquire as to why no Koi can be seen. I have watched him kick into gear once or twice; hell if he was flat broke he could get a well-paid job on Broadway.
‘I have just discovered that all my Koi are dying through disease’ sobs he. ‘I lost many over the past week and these will be the last on my farm’. After the intended pause he points to the ceiling of the shed and out comes – ‘Customers do not come here any more, I can’t afford to make the improvements – please excuse me.’
Soon after, the Tokyo tax officials make their exit silently – after a further 15 minutes all staff are busy with their normal duties.
As to his importance and standing in Yamakoshi where he makes many random visits, I have a tale to tell about that.
As mentioned before Den and I would spend the whole of October and November in Japan for the harvests. Before our guests arrived we’d make sure that we visited as many breeders as we possibly could in order to take in any special Koi that were possibly needed by ourselves or our guests.
I had long since stopped labeling any outlet as ‘bad’ because each season can produce different results, in view of this it’s wise to pay a visit to all of the outlets and that includes even those we would not dream of purchasing any Koi from.
One such breeder is very well known and, after a nasty experience with him back in ’77, I have refused to spend a penny with him – not that I’ve missed much.
We found ourselves back there some years ago inspecting the large sizes of Koi in the main display pond where my eyes landed on a superb large Showa swimming three meters down on the base of the pond. Den and I watched the Koi for some time; it stood out from all the other Koi and caused us to wonder how come this place had such a Koi. We just kept it in our memory and went to the next outlet.
A large party of UK collectors arrived later that trip and we started to show them all the Koi we had recently spotted together with Koi from the daily harvests still coming in. In the bar one evening, one customer mentioned he was desperately looking for a Showa but had seen nothing over the days we’d been out that tempted him. We both mentioned the Showa we’d seen and took him and the others there the next day.
Of course the owner of the outlet believed he’d won the lottery when he saw all these foreigners descending on him – ‘Ah Peter san, welcome.’ I tried to smile and nodded back to him and then pointed out the Showa to my guest. We both pretended to be looking at all the Koi but we were only looking at the Showa – still three meters below.
‘That is one superb Showa’ he said, by then many of the others had also spotted it.
I called the guy over and pointed to the Showa; he called his staff and soon the Showa was in a large bowl on the narrow walkway.
Imagine eight or so pairs of eyes crouched low over the bowl letting out gasps of ‘OOOHS” and ‘AHHS’ with cameras clicking away merrily and me on tiptoe behind them trying to get a look.
‘Ichiban Koi in my shop’ waxed the owner beaming his best smile.
The guest in question escorted me away and said ‘I want to buy her, please get me the price.’
I walked over to him, asked him the price and waited for the expected banter telling us all just how good his Koi were and how important his traditional Koi farm was. He did speak a little English.
Eventually I got the price and it was significant, the guest agreed and we went over to the office to pay whilst the others were still taking photographs.
Back in the bar that night, the photos of the Showa were passed around between us all. The consensus was, there was no Showa in the UK that could equal this one and I agreed. About two weeks later the Showa was shipped and arrived in perfect condition when she was placed in the main pond for resting. That was it – job done!
No, it wasn’t!
Back home many customers would come along to see the new Koi coming in and no one knew if they were for sale or if they belonged to guests.
A regular customer pointed out the Showa to the guy in charge of the shop whilst we were in Japan and asked ‘Can I see that Koi in a bowl’? The reply came back that no Koi could be netted until I returned.
The customer said ‘I don’t want to buy it but have you checked the eye’?
Long and short of it all, the Showa only had one eye and had ALWAYS had only one eye!
Excellent photographs were emailed to me, fortunately there were many others who saw this but in the black area where the missing eye should have been was a perfect white circle that actually resembled an eye!
By then the owner was back in the UK and I had a dilemma on my hands. Firstly I was dealing with a crook that MUST have known this all along and secondly just why hadn’t this Showa been culled years ago?
It was pointless discussing this with the crook himself and the only person I knew who could possibly assist was Toshio down in Isawa. I telephoned Miwa and explained I needed to see Toshio after explaining part of the problem.
Later I emailed the photographs down to Isawa and Miwa came back to say her father would be at Yamamatsu in two days time.
The man has an aura surrounding him when he makes visits to his birthplace. As we both walked into the breeders outlet I noted the expression on the face of the owner. Toshio and the owner walked into the office and I waited outside, the conversation lasted for 40 minutes before we finally left. It was then that Toshio telephoned Miwa and later she related the outcome to me.
The breeder had apologized and said he had no idea of this missing eye – (Toshio smiled when he heard this).
The breeder had agreed in writing to make a full refund to me subject to the Koi being returned to him in good condition because he could use her as a parent.
(He would have been under the impression that no Koi could be sent into Japan from the UK because that was the rule. However, some rules can be broken and I had NO doubt that I could get the Koi back to him in perfect condition.)
There was only one man I knew could have come away with that result – Toshio Sakai!
Next thing to do was contact the owner who was blissfully unaware of the problem. I explained every part of the story in great detail and suggested he let me ship the Koi back to Japan immediately to get a full refund. The owner deliberated and said he’d ring back after considering the option.
He did ring back the following day to tell me he simply loved the Koi and wanted to keep it as a pet?
I contacted Miwa again and asked her to beg her father to ring the breeder to get a new price for the owner bearing in mind it only had one eye.
Some minutes later Miwa rang back to say would gladly offer a 50% refund to me in cash to pass on to the owner.
(You bet he would – he’d have done anything rather than have to refund the full amount!)
30 minutes later I was back at his outlet; he handed me the envelope, I checked it and then left.
The owner got his 50% refund!
I never knew why but all these trips to Japan gave Waddy periods of acute constipation, whether it was the water or the food I’ll never know. On one trip to Isawa it got the better of me and I thought Toshio may be able to find me something at the chemist that would do the trick. The problem was how to explain it to him in the days when there was no English by way of Miwa and Toshi.
You’ll just have to imagine me sitting on an imaginary lavatory whilst Toshio looked on as I feigned ‘a perfect strain’ together with all the associated facial expressions. I then put my hands underneath my bottom, drew them back out and showed them to be empty and then raised my hand up with a puzzled expression on my face. Toshio didn’t seem to get it so I repeated the mime once more with great feeling. I think the second one produced the desired effect.
‘Ah’, said he ‘Bempi’.
Soon we were at the local chemist where Toshio pointed out to the assistant that the gaigin was ‘Bempi’.
‘Bempi’? said she.
‘Bempi des’ says Toshio.
Soon a bottle of liquid was purchased and I took two large spoons full in the store.
Two days later in Nagaoka nothing was happening, instead it got worse. That night I thought it would be a good idea to take the bottle with me to Nomole and ask Master if I had been taking the correct amounts.
Thankfully Fujio Oomo was also there so I showed the bottle to them both after first explaining my predicament.
After the two had finished splitting their sides they told me that the stuff Toshio bought me bunged me up even more – my mime just was not good enough!