1984. ‘Nishikigoi Collector’ – somewhere in the Himeji area.
I cannot recall exactly where this was but I arrived there with Naoji Takanashi after being advised by Yoshio Isa (mentioned earlier) that there may be several large Koi here for me to purchase and send to the UK.
We entered the area through a huge, ornate wooden gate which was later discovered to the entrance to the owner’s private home.
I do not recall the name of the man but was told he had amassed significant wealth over the years as a result of initially importing huge volumes of meat from many world markets and selling it to meat wholesalers throughout Japan. After this he further expanded his business by opening his own chain of supermarkets throughout central Japan before then going on to building high class hotels in various cities.
Apparently his one real weakness in life was Nishikigoi.
We strolled around his huge traditional Japanese home after first making our way through the vast, manicured gardens surrounding it. Naoji mentioned to me that some of the dozens of garden trees here were easily worth over £50,000.00 each. Throughout the gardens were pond after pond of huge Nishikigoi together with a team of groundsmen caring for everything around them.
The main door of the house was finally reached and Takanashi San rang the bell. The door was opened by a servant and Takanashi San bowed and presented him with his business card. We were ushered inside and told that the owner was expecting us and had instructed his driver to take us to him at the other end of his ‘complex’ where he had to do some work that day. The driver arrived and we both climbed into a shiny new black Mercedes limousine which drove us silently to our destination.
In around five minutes we arrived at the ‘complex’. I have never visited Disneyland but would guess that, if I had, it would probably look like this on a larger scale.
There was a large car park before us which seemed to be full, we then drove past an enormous supermarket full to the brim with shoppers, next came a children’s theme park and various other children’s attractions including a small zoo. This was then followed by vast Japanese gardens with Koi ponds and various restaurants and finally a luxury hotel came into view.
And all the time I was wondering what the hell this had to do with me and why was I wasting my time here when I could be searching for Koi in Yamakoshi?
We eventually met the owner who greeted us warmly, here was I worried about my attire of jeans and tee shirt only to discover that our host was also dressed in the same way albeit he was a couple of decades older.
By then it was around 1.00pm and the man suggested we get back into the car. We drove for around two minutes to one of the restaurants in the grounds – a room of which had been reserved in advance for the three of us.
I will never forget the enormous volume of foods that followed, all brought in by uniformed staff and placed before us on a huge table. A salver of freshly cooked lobster arrived first and the staff commenced breaking the tastier parts open for us. Our host had no concerns at all for etiquette – he simply picked up a juicy tail in his hands and motioned us to do the same. Whilst we started, other staff arrived with bottles of wine and began to pour them for us. The lobster was exquisite but Takanashi San urged me to take only a small amount as he feared much more was to come – he was 100% correct.
Next followed a large silver tureen containing a clear, yellow liquid of cold soup. The staff carefully ladled this out for us onto the soup plates before us. It was then that Takanashi San pointed out to me hundreds of very tiny live fish swimming in our soup and then further explained to me that the vast majority of Japanese people could never afford to even taste this dish as it was so expensive. I swallowed two mouthfuls and my plate was, thankfully, removed.
In the meantime chefs with white costumes and tall hats were assembling hot plates on the far end of the table and then followed silver tray after silver tray of freshly prepared raw meats and poultry one could ever imagine. I stared at these in total wonderment and tried to estimate just how many hungry mouths this could have fed.
Our host recommended the Kobe beef and we agreed, immediately we were brought various fillets of this to select from. Takanashi San then asked me how I needed it cooking and I replied ‘Rare please’. The steak was then taken to the chef who immediately cut it up into bite-size chunks before immersing it into a bowl of liquid and then placing each piece carefully on the hot plate before him. In the meantime our host was calmly enjoying his beef completely raw. My steak was delivered to me in relays as each piece was cooked to perfection by the chef. I have never, before or since, tasted steak that can come anywhere near to that steak I savoured that day.
Then followed trays of cooked vegetables, freshly-prepared fruits from all around the world, wine in abundance and selections of puddings, pies and gateaux. Then followed world cheeses with biscuits.
To finish we were served copious measures of Louis 14th. brandy.
(In later years whilst spending the last night of another trip in the Sky Bar at one of Narita’s airport hotels, a Japanese gentleman approached me to try out his English on me. He insisted on paying for my drinks in return for conversation – he asked if I liked brandy, I said it would be fine. He then ordered shot after shot of Louis 14th. brandy and I glanced at the drinks menu before me on the table before doing a quick calculation that a single shot cost £90.00.)
I wonder if I will ever finish this story!
We spent an hour or so recovering from the feast and talking about our common love of Nishikigoi, after this his car arrived and we were driven to another large house in the grounds which he said was his ‘Koi House’ purpose-built for conversations about Nishikigoi. It was a large open room with walls decked in mahogany that he had imported just for this room and had been installed and finished by craftsmen from overseas.
One could hardly see the mahogany as it was just about completely obscured by hundreds of Nishikigoi trophies mounted on mahogany shelves which he told me were dusted daily. He also could remember each Koi that received that particular trophy together with its age, size and the breeder who produced it!
And I thought I was the only one who was barmy!
He then recalled how he had fallen out with the ZNA as they were all ‘stick-in-the-muds’ and ‘hoity-toity’ as well as being totally set in their ancient ways. He then said he would make no further donations to their cause. I have often wondered just how much he had already donated.
Then followed the Nishikigoi experience of my life. A door at one end of the room took us through a narrow corridor for only a few metres and then led to another door. This opened up into a very large glass building which housed three ponds and the very best examples of Nishikigoi that I can ever recall seeing in any one place at any one time.
Our host explained to me via Takanashi San that he believed this to be the very best collection of high quality Nishikigoi to be found anywhere in the world. I had no doubts in my mind as to the truth of his statement but kept wondering and wondering…………
Just what the hell has all this got to do with a Koi dealer from England trying to earn a living?
I just continued to stare and stare at each of the Koi before me, huge and perfect examples without a single blemish – the other two ponds contained his tategoi, one for sansai and the other for nissai. Again, each and every one was immaculate to Waddy’s ’1984 eyes’.
Back to the large pond, Kohaku after Kohaku passed by very calmly and as I pointed to each specimen our host would come back with ‘Nanasai, 83cms, bought two years ago from Hoshikin in Shiyodani, won Hiroshima ken show last year at 78cms.’ – etc. etc. etc.
The man knew every single Koi he owned, despite his astronomical wealth, his mind must have been full to capacity with his beloved collection of Nishikigoi.
Our conversations went on un-noticed for hours and hours fuelled further by the odd glass of sake.
It was then I really warmed towards him and knew I could learn much from this man.
It is sad that I remembered his name for many years, but when documenting this text for the very first time, it has completely slipped my memory – although I do have a real suspicion it began with ‘H’. I am sure I can get the name from the famous Koi breeders of the day at that point in time, he must have been extremely famous throughout Yamakoshi.
There was one Koi in the main pond which called my eyes back again and again and it still remains with me today. It was not one of the incredible Go-Sanke, it was not even wagoi! Perhaps it was because I had never seen one before or perhaps I was still far too inexperienced. Whatever the reason, I will never forget this Nishikigoi and pointed it out to our host who immediately replied by saying:-
‘Doitsu Shiro Utsuri, mesu, yonsai, 66cms. from Marusada, Mushigame, tategoi’. This translates as Female Doitsu Shiro Utsuri, four years old, 66cms. tategoi bred by Marusada in Mushigame.
To my eyes it was simply incredible, gleaming white skin, perfect frame, sumi like jet and no fraying edges together with a pattern that could not possibly be excelled even by the best Koi artists of the day.
Please remember this, readers out there, as the real and full truth of this same Koi will not be revealed until 1996.
He then told me that all the Koi he had in his collection were found by himself and his agent Yoshio Isa who had been paid a commission and expenses on every single purchase.
Our host then mentioned he had many Koi he wished to offer me to purchase and then led me to another pond inside another indoor glass room where there were around 40 or so Koi in different sizes and asked if I would care to make an offer to him as to any I was interested in.
‘Making offers’ has not really been a strong point of mine when buying Nishikigoi. I prefer the good old fashioned……………
This is followed always by a simple Yes or No reply. Only on very rare occasions do I resort to bartering.
The Koi before me on that day may well have been ‘also rans’ to our host, however 30% would be serious world-beaters back home.
In view of the fact that the hour was late and our host had given us both his best suites in his hotel for the night we retired to our rooms after our host suggested I ‘think about making an offer’ overnight.
I really do hope I will finish this story!
I laid awake for a few hours before finally getting to sleep.
I considered the salient points:-
Our host was rich beyond my wildest dreams – beyond doubt.
He was a mega-businessman – beyond doubt.
He loved Nishikigoi beyond doubt.
He had bought the very best – beyond doubt.
He had made a few mis-judgements in purchases, as we all do – beyond doubt.
He wanted to dispose of his ‘also-rans’ – beyond doubt.
With this in mind I considered:-
Even if I paid him twice the amount he had actually paid, this would just mean loose change to him – beyond doubt.
Why didn’t he just put them in the ponds next to his home and enjoy them from time to time?
Why didn’t he offer these still wonderful Koi in part exchange for a Mega-Koi or two from other breeders?
I did not warm to Yoshio Isa and knew his commissions would have been exhorbitant – beyond doubt.
If I made a ‘fair offer’ on my part, would it simply insult the man who had treated me like Royalty?
Waddy was in a real dilemma!
I took the ‘delicate way out’ after breakfast the following morning by explaining to our host, via Takanashi San, that the UK was not yet ready for Koi of this class and price. I apologised for taking up his valuable time but felt that this was the best way rather than make an offer which may insult him.
Our host understood me and thanked me for my appreciation of his collection. We shook hands before we departed after he welcomed us back for the same reception at any time we wished.
My first impressions – ‘total and complete wonderment’.
That was to be the first and last time I ever met the man. He passed away some three years later.
I later learned that the executors of his estate appointed Yoshio Isa to dispose of his precious Nishikigoi collection!
This story is not yet over – far from it!