In late ’79 together with quite a pot of monies made mainly from my very lucrative shipment, I returned to Niigata alone. Kamihata had insisted that autumn was the only time of the year one could find many Koyas for sale in Japan.
That was a ‘new one’ to me because I had been led to believe they were readily available at all times!
However, there were many more ‘new ones’ to be learned on that trip.
Although I am repeating myself here, I’ll say this again for those who have never read my earlier texts regarding what Yamakoshi was like back then to foreigners.
I used to take a local train from Nagaoka where I stayed and took a 10-minute journey to Ojiya station where I took a short taxi ride to ‘Uragara’ village – I had learned that word by heart.
From being dropped on Uragara Main Street, I just started walking and looking for any trace of Koyas. The weather was always mild so I wore jeans, tee shirt and carried a shoulder bag with Polaroid camera plus film; a notebook and pen and some Yen cash.
There were no advertisements outside the breeder’s houses at all and the village folks had rarely glimpsed a foreign face before. The hotel staff had taught me how to say – ‘Su-mee-ma-sen’ (excuse me) and then point around with my hands before saying ‘Nishikigoi’ and that was my total Japanese vocabulary!
This tale revolves around Matsunosuke so I’ll concentrate on that part of the trip.
A Mr. Hiroi befriended me on that visit as he watched me wandering by one day and I had found some Koyas near his home in a roadside pond. He didn’t breed Koyas but he seemed to know everyone who did and kindly took me to many breeders around Yamakoshi.
Of course I hadn’t a clue where he was driving me to – or from. The roads, the tracks, the villages and the houses all looked identical so getting my true bearings embedded in my head was impossible.
Thankfully the staff at my hotel had offered to act as translators for me if I got into difficulties and Mr. Hiroi had their contact number as well as a telephone at his home.
One day whilst driving he mentioned ‘Matsunosuke’ and made a circle with his thumb and forefinger as we drove; I looked puzzled and he found the nearest telephone booth and rang the hotel. After ten minutes or so, the hotel receptionist told me that Matsunosuke was the most famous Koi breeder in Japan and Mr. Hiroi was taking me there.
Of course I never thought it to be useful to take shots of the breeder’s premises back then but this old snow shot taken in ’93 should suffice. If you imagine the road to be a mud track, that’s exactly how Matsunosuke looked in 1979.
The wooden house was the family home; the brown house held two small indoor ponds and the white building had some concrete tanks. Now if you accept the fact that this WAS the most important Koi breeder at the time, I’ll leave you to estimate the size of the other outlets back then.
After arriving to find no Koi there, Mr. Hiroi started speaking to one guy there and soon went into the house to telephone my hotel. I then got the explanation that Matsunosuke were gathering their stocks from field ponds tomorrow and please go back to see them the day after. He further added that only regular, important customers could view them on the day of the harvest and things would be very hectic on that day.
Although the day after the harvest was fine for me, I couldn’t possibly imagine how that sleepy outlet could ever be ‘hectic’?
The following day, whilst driving, Mr. Hiroi said ‘Matsunosuke’ and then winked at me.
Although he had taken me back to the village where Matsunosuke was, I did not recognize it – as usual. He then pointed across my chest to a house as we entered the village from the top and once again said ‘Matsunosuke’ and I looked below me.
If you look again at the photo and imagine the finest motor cars in the world parked in a line from beyond where the last car is and for another 100 meters upwards of the road where it ends in the photo, then that’s pretty much the sight I saw!
Despite all of this, I still had no idea of what was going on and it would not really be understood by me until around 1983. I returned to the hotel that night still scratching my head.
The day after we did return and we were allowed to enter the brown building that housed all the Koi, however we still had to wait for others coming out before we could find a place to stand and actually see the Koi.
I just stood there, mouth and eyes agape, trying to understand what I was looking at but all was in vain.
Perhaps there were some 230 Go-Sanke together with another 20 Koi in other varieties in sizes from 60cms to almost 70cms; the condition; the pigmentation and the skin was truly wonderful….
BUT……How to tell the best from the rest when every single one was the best?
For Peter Waddington, renowned Koi expert, this was absolutely impossible because Peter Waddington really hadn’t a blooming clue!
I looked in these ponds for an age as realization slowly set in that I’d either have to change jobs again or trash every single thing I thought I knew about Koyas and start out with a blank sheet of paper because that was the simple truth of it all.
I do recall sitting on a large stone outside in the small garden area with head in hands and considering my options. The truth was, all I’d been learning about Koi from books and verbal advice for the past seven years had not only been pure bull.sh.it – it had also been precious time wasted and also very dangerous.
It was really hard for me to suddenly realise that just about everything I knew and believed about Koi and the hobby for all these years could be thrown away and forgotten.
I may well have started keeping Koi in 1972 but I didn’t even begin to understand it all until around late 1982 and that’s when I started again – from scratch.
The only other thing that sank in on that trip which never left me was the village in which Matsunosuke lived was called ‘Mushy-Gammay’ – yet another daft word, probably invented to confuse idiots trespassing from England.
On the flight home, I wrote down a couple of thousand questions I needed to ask but not one answer was forthcoming.
I had bought Koi that I knew were the best anyone in the UK could only dream of and selling them all would never be the slightest problem – and it wasn’t.
The big problem was…………..I had still not learned a single thing about Koi apart from how to make a profit on them!
I knew I needed a real expert who could possibly teach me; so why not try and get the best Koi breeder in the world to enlist me as a new student?
Why not ask Matsunosuke to be my teacher?
Good idea but WHO was Matsunosuke?
By the way, that was the first time I saw Mr. Hiroi – it was also the last time.