I must point out here that I have NEVER announced ‘Waddy’s Trips to Japan’ in any magazine at all nor would I ever think of doing so. In 1988, the BKKS asked me to organise a trip for a party of 25 members which took them to all parts of Japan and was an enormous success but I would never even consider ‘Advertising for Punters’ – I’ll leave that to the others. However, as a direct result of ‘Koi Kichi’ I began to get telephone calls from Koi collectors around the world asking if they could accompany me to Japan at the best times of the year in order to find special Koi that were not possible to find in their own countriAlthough the BKKS National Show had been, for many years, the very best Koi show (in terms of ‘quality of entries’) outside of Japan and it attracted visitors from other countries such as Germany, Belgium, Holland and even South Africa and the USA who were eager to learn how to stage similar events in their own countries; I suppose it was in 1996 when the overall quality of some entries began to escalate to true world-class status. This show saw Bill Oakley’s Kohaku take the coveted award, a Koi I had nick-named as ‘Lady Di’ a few years earlier.
‘Lady Di’ became quite famous at the time and Michael Hayes from Hayes Garden World commissioned a porcelain model of her the next year limited to 1,000 copies only, the one showed above was presented to me after the run was completed.
The result of all these contacts wishing to visit Japan to find Koi saw me in Japan during October through November with many guests accompanying me. By 1998 I had to bring extra guys from the UK to drive extra hire vehicles to form a convoy of three whilst driving through the mountainsides. The vast majority of these visitors were wealthy to say the least and every one had to be handled with great care as they all had differing personalities. Special Koi I had bought occasionally in previous years for significant prices merely became the order of the day when up to ten or more would be found and purchased and these purchase prices continued to escalate with each trip. Soon to follow were ‘All-Japan Class’ specimens. It was beyond my wildest dreams that I would ever be associated with Koi of this class but there it was, the days had arrived after some 20 years of pleasurable daily labours.
I first took Dennis Wordsworth to Japan with me in autumn 1993, ‘Den’ had been a Koi man since 1982 and, even when his feet touched Japanese soil for the first time, he could not believe he was actually there after years of dreaming until he saw his very first live Koi in the mountainsides. Den returned with me every trip right up to late 2004, I taught him the routes to take initially and now he knows them better than I do after many ‘days off’ scouring every imaginable side road and track in the entire area. We also covered endless trips to Yamanashi, some to Mihara and some to Osaka but Yamakoshi was always our home base. There are only a few overseas ‘Koi Eyes’ I value and Den is one of those ‘Eyes’. Because we were together week in and week out, we ‘bounced’ opinions off each other and, after a few years, a team was formed. As the quality of purchases escalated ever upwards our ‘eyes’ had to adjust to greater things. Den may come across initially as a quiet individual but, please take my word, there are few overseas guys who have even seen the quality and number of world-class Koi that Den has. He has not only seen them but has been a part in buying and shipping them. Get Den involved in discussing ‘real’ Koi and he’ll talk your legs off for hours and – he knows what he’s talking about!
Coming back to our guests, the vast majority were absolutely super people who also became friends in the following years whilst a very few ranged from being ‘difficult to ‘impossible’ to handle unless very great understanding was shown to them, only them and no-one else in the party before them. Kid glove tactics and a few smiles rarely satisfy these few individuals who stamp their feet louder and put their lower lips out farther when displeased with any outcome of events. They are convinced they have the right to do this in view of their significant worldly wealth. After experiencing a few incidents first hand I also quickly realised that these few also needed me far more than I needed them. Despite their self-considered importance, and, after other efforts on my part failed, I decided to leave them alone with their dummies in their mouths. On two occasions I was asked if it would be possible to ‘re-sell’ them a Koi some other person in the party had reserved and the two individuals even offered nearly twice the amount that had been agreed by the other member of the party. When I told them in no uncertain terms to ‘piss-off’ they became even more disgruntled and took their ball indoors before a whole day of sulking in the mountainsides followed. I was only their ‘Koi Guide’ and that is why they employed me, had they wished to have a Nanny or personal advisor accompanying them they should have made other arrangements but all of these tantrums revolved around Koi which they chased after with blinkered eyes. Thankfully, the other members of the party made up for the few and very enjoyable experiences and sidelong jokes were usually the order of the day.
There are some very rare Koi that transcend even these ‘levels’ although it sounds difficult to grasp. In spring 1995, I spotted a 4-year-old Sanke in Isawa when she was 71cms long and had a body shape resembling that of a length of 4” pipe. I asked the breeder Toshio Sakai to let me see her in a bowl but he shrugged off my request by saying ‘No good body’ and left it at that – but he did lift her out for me. I saw her again in autumn that year and Hiromi Igarashi measured her at my request where she was 81cms in length but with the body shape of a longer length of 6” pipe. Toshio still shrugged her off with his ‘No good body’ comment.
In January 1996 I attended the All-Japan Show and Bill Oakley came along, on the Monday morning after the show we went for a day visit to Toshio’s outlet to look at Koi. We arrived around 12.00 mid-day and, by 2.30, Bill had purchased five exceptional and costly Koi, during this time the ‘Pipe Sanke’ jumped out at me constantly but Toshio hardly gave her a glance. As we were totting up the bill, I pointed ‘the pipe’ out to Bill who looked for a couple of seconds and then looked at me quizzically. I asked Hiromi (not Toshio) to put it in a bowl for us and watched him do this VERY, VERY carefully. We knelt around the bowl and gazed, Bill complained about the pipe shape until Toshio came over and simply said ‘Takai!’ – the dreaded word for ‘expensive’. I had already expected this well in advance and had a strong suspicion Toshio did not wish to sell. Bill and I looked closely – skin, pigmentation, perfect outline plus a pattern that would not exactly suit a small Koi but a perfect one for a large Koi. When I did finally ask the price, Toshio turned away and went to the opposite side of the pond – thinking. He came back and asked me – ‘If you buy, do you need to ship immediately?’ and I replied with a quick ‘Yes’. He then returned to his thoughts before finally coming back with a price that even knocked me off my feet – ‘All-Japan Price’ plus some. Bill was even more taken aback than I was and that’s when we both knelt down again to inspect further, by then Toshio had disappeared. Although the decision was Bill’s we started talking about the Koi and Bill found it hard to accept the shape until Hiromi passed by and whispered ‘Magoi blood – number one tategoi’. We must have stared at her for a further 30 minutes before going for a coffee. During the break, Bill asked me my honest opinion, which came easily to me. I replied by saying – ‘It’s probably the best tategoi I have ever seen in my life, if you can pay the cash, buy her because you’ll never find another’.
Bill bought her, by far the most expensive Koi he’d ever bought, but he still had doubts that were voiced on the flight back home. ‘The Pipe’ finally arrived at Infiltration during May 1996 along with a number of other very high quality Koi. Before taking her from the oxygen container used to transport her from Heathrow and into a pond prepared for the new arrivals I asked the guys to place her into a large bowl so I could look closely at her. From early February to mid May she had improved on her body by around 5% and it was noticeable to me. Another customer (now deceased) who had come to Japan with me on at least six trips came over and knelt down by the bowl. After only a few seconds he looked at me and said – ‘That’s the finest Koi I have ever seen with my own two eyes’ – and he’d been to two All-Japan shows. It surprised me that, on the same night, Dennis only gave her a cursory glance before walking away. ‘The Pipe’ went to Bill’s pond in mid June 1996 and, almost immediately afterwards, Bill rang on a number of occasions to tell me that ‘The Pipe’ (now called ‘Doris’ after Bill’s mum) was taking all the food before the others could get to it. For the next year, Dennis (who always visited Bill’s collection on a weekly basis) kept telling us all that we would not believe the volume that the Koi had attained and was still growing at a rate of knots. As mentioned earlier, ‘Lady Di’ took Supreme Champion award that year whilst ‘Doris’ became the secret weapon. I saw ‘Doris’ the next time in April 1997 in Bill’s pond and was literally blown away. ‘The Pipe’ had become a submarine with a body shape that was difficult to come to terms with.