Origins & Myths

During some harvests of the small Magoi it was noted that a few showed the odd, coloured scale, presumably due to interbreeding of these different strains of parent Magoi. Some carp farmers kept these as their own pets and, purely as a private hobby, bred them with other carp from local farmers that were also showing some coloured scales. It was never realised at the time, nor was it considered to be of any possible importance, but this discovery was the ‘very beginning’ of the Nishikigoi we can see today.

At around the turn of the Century there were several small breeders producing ‘coloured carp’ (then known as ‘Irogoi’) purely for ornamental purposes. They were also selling some of their production to wealthy professional people in the surrounding areas who had ornamental garden ponds in which to keep them. In those times it was only possible to transport them for short distances.

In 1914 the Tokyo Taisho Exhibition was held and 28 ‘Irogoi’, from Yamakoshi, were transported by slow train in badly leaking wooden ponds and displayed to the Japanese public for the very first time. Many were lost in transportation and also during the exhibition itself. The surviving Koi were then taken from the exhibition afterwards and introduced into the huge moat that surrounded the Emperor’s Palace in the centre of Tokyo. An artist was commissioned to make a record of this event and that original and only document is owned today by a business acquaintance of mine who lives in Chiba. (He discovered this unique document for sale in the huge second-hand book store area in Tokyo during 1985 and purchased it complete with the lavish wooden presentation case, for £2.00! – It now resides in a Tokyo bank vault!)

Most Koi and parent Koi were lost in the mountains during the Second World War and serious attempts in breeding could only be continued in earnest after the war ended.
However, in the other parts of Japan, it was not until the early 1960’s that coloured carp really became well known it and this was directly after the invention of the vinyl bag. It was soon learned that the bag could be filled with water and then inflated with pure oxygen for safe transportation of the Koi – hitherto this was not possible.
During the mid-1960’s Nishikigoi became very popular in Japan and have since been exported to many countries all over the world.

The first few Nishikigoi were imported into the UK during 1966 and, soon afterwards, a few enthusiasts began to collect them and then form Societies and clubs in order to further their knowledge on basic Koi keeping methods.
In 1969 the first Koi show was held in Japan.

The British Koi Keepers Society was formed in 1970 and is still going strong today.
In 1975, the first Koi show ever held outside of Japan was in my own back garden. It was staged by The Northern Section of the British Koi Keeper’s Society.

I have touched upon the above subjects and also the ‘origins’ of Nishikigoi in both of my earlier books previously. However, after re-reading the texts thoroughly I feel I have not explained this as correctly and as detailed as I should have done with the full information I have to hand.

In view of this, I will try again by devoting more information on these matters.

The text below is the opening excerpt from a post I made on a Nishikigoi bulletin board in early October 2008. I will highlight this text with a grey background and then continue from there as I feel that only very few enthusiasts will have already read this post. My post went as follows:-

‘It is said by some that – ‘About the 1st. year of Genna (1615 – 1623) the people began to breed carp in villages within Nijimura (Yamakoshi)’ – magoi for food only, taken from Amano and first published in 1968. Others state that magoi were first introduced to the area around Takezawa village for ‘food production only’ around 1850 – (please bear this date in mind).

Many state in writing that ‘Hanako’, a very early form of Aka-muji or Higoi, lived to 278 years of age. I often wonder why today our Koi rarely, if ever, exceed 40 years in age despite the far better water conditions we can now produce.

Dr. Koshihara feeding his world-famous pet carpThis is a photograph of the late Dr. Koshihara feeding his world-famous pet carp named ‘Hanako’ and was taken in 1966. Hanako was kept in a five metre square pond near Gifu City which was constantly fed by a trickle of water from a nearby spring. Hanako finally died in in 1977.

A Poem about ‘HANAKO, the RED CARP’

‘There lives in our pond Hanako, a carp
Longer than two hundred years and still.
Still brightly aflame is Hanako, the red carp
Put a swimming long ago in Horeki by our forefather.
A bright day after rain, a killifish crosses the way
Of the red carp coming toward me at my call.
Hanako, Dear, thou eatest feed from my hand
Then fondlingly suckest thou my empty fingers.
The aged carp, knowing all the family history of ours,
Deep under the limpid water has gone’.

Oh, I would dearly love to be able to accept this wonderful fable but can we really accept this as fact and as truth, even bearing in mind that Hanako was not a true Nishikigoi/Irogoi?

How OLD are Nishikigoi/Irogoi really? Decades? Centuries? Or older?

I do not recall the name ‘Nishikigoi’ ever being used in 1977 on my first visit, although ‘Koi’ and ‘Koi Kichi’ were often mentioned and probably the first time I personally saw this word ever used in print was in Kuroki’s book ‘Manual to Nishikigoi’ as recently as 1980 – only 28 years ago.

The first All-Japan Nishikigoi Show ever staged was in 1968 – only 40 years ago.

Why, I ask myself, were shows not staged earlier if, as many also profess, they have been ‘a part of ‘’Japan’s Heritage’ for Centuries?

The Tokyo Taisho Exhibition staged in1914 – this was the very first time ever that the Japanese people had even heard of them, let alone actually seen them.

To transport 28 ‘Irogoi’ from Ojiya/Nagaoka to Tokyo by train, in those days, meant using wooden ‘ponds’ that leaked badly and adding the necessary aeration to the water by hand – (no air pumps back then) – indeed a very difficult task to carry out.

Some years before WW2, Koi were transported in wooden containers by rail to other areas of Japan – Saitama; Shizuoka; Kyoto; Osaka; Hiroshima; Kyushu etc. for breeding purposes in some warmer climes – many were lost during the lengthy travel times of these long and slow journeys.

Quote from Amano (again first published in 1968) :–

‘the bitterness of feeling which the producers (breeders) experienced in delivering up their pet carp to cover the (WW2) wartime deficit of foodstuffs’.

(In short, most were eaten by the starving villagers as food)

‘Consquently, the production declined to such an extent that it was feared recovery after the war would be past hope, but thanks to the efforts of the parties concerned to preserve adult carp, the recovery of carp breeding has rapidly progressed.’

(Once again, ‘the recovery’ refers to 1968 or just a few years prior to that – still only 40 to 43 years ago).

From many conversations with Nishikigoi breeders and Koi historians over many years it appears that the real beginning of coloured carp production, as we know them today only commenced AFTER WW2.

Another quote from Amano –

‘the standard price of fancy carp, in reality, does not exist and the sale-price and purchase-price differ according to the seller and the purchaser.’

This statement has always remained to be the same in my experiences.

Please also note that around 1962/3 – the first vinyl bag was invented and produced. Later it was discovered that, by putting water into the bag, adding the Koi and then inflating the bag with pure oxygen, it was, at last, possible ‘to transport Koi safely for the very first time’ – and that was only some 45 years ago.

Despite all of the above ‘snippets’ of texts, the real truth of the matter remains that NO real and accurate documentation of the very early days of ‘coloured carp’ production can be found anywhere today and, believe me, I have tried on many occasions to dig up the truth from many Japanese Koi breeders and Koi historians only to get an array of both incredibly confusing and completely conflicting answers.

Magoi may well have been bred for food purposes in Nijimura/Yamakoshi many years ago and some scant information has been recorded from time to time.

I documented some of the Takezawa official village records in my book ‘Koi2Kichi’. The very first mention of coloured carp to the area served by this ‘village office’ was in 1906 when it was recorded quite simply that ‘The first doitsugoi was produced’.

I can assure you that the very first ‘Sakura’ varieties ever produced and detailed in 1917 at the recorded time bore absolutely no resemblance to the actual Kohaku strains produced in the late 1950’s and then developed through the years into the Kohaku we can all see and admire today.

As also stated in ‘Koi2Kichi’ and for the purpose of the text continued below:-

Can we simply just accept that the ‘serious beginnings of today’s production of Nishikigoi’ only really commenced around 1947- 1948?

Just a mere 60 years ago or so!

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