Origins & Myths

Once this came about, the producers of coloured carp in Yamakoshi really kicked into action after witnessing the real wealth that was already coming into their area. Soon afterwards the food fish dealers from all parts of Japan became pet fish dealers and flooded into the region to buy stocks after the autumn harvest had been completed.

IMPORTANT – The early promoters of these pet fish to other parts of Japan deserve SIGNIFICANT recognition, as these were the vital link between the breeders, hidden away in the mountains, and the Japanese public at large. This produced a ‘knock-on’ effect that later would introduce these coloured carp to the rest of the world. The promoters in question were as follows: –

  • The Niigata area was developed by the late Mr. Miya (Miyakoya Co.,) together with Mr. Hirasawa and Mr. Ichizo Kawakami.

  • The Tokyo area was led by Mr. Akiyama and Mr. Saikichi Yoshida.

  • The Osaka area by Mr. Tsujimoto and Mr. Takatsuki.

  • The Hiroshima area was promoted by Mr. Konishi; Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Tamaki.

After all this, many rice farmers began building their own mud ponds for coloured carp and some far-seeing ones ventured into producing coloured carp as a full-time employment after forsaking their rice paddies which still only produced a meager income. As a result, many rice paddies were changed to become much deeper mud ponds. (‘doro-ike’) – This was to be the real start of coloured carp production in earnest and the producers soon realised that they would have to expand quickly if they were to be able to meet the ever-growing demand.

Between 1963 to 1969 the hitherto quiet and reserved mountainsides of Yamakoshi became a hive of unprecedented activity. Mud ponds were being excavated everywhere, the first indoor facilities started to take shape and autumn saw the area awash with visitors from all parts of Japan. Coloured carp had finally become ‘the word’!

By the time 1965 came around and, after significant promotion by different individuals in different areas of Japan, the newly-found hobby of keeping coloured carp took off at an alarming rate. However, even then most of the villages were extremely difficult to access other than by foot as this map made by hand in 1966 shows.

Map made by hand in 1966In 1963, the late Sadaichiro Miya opened the first auction site for magoi in Ojiya and it would be a few years later when Nishikigoi entries took over the magoi entries. In the 1965, Mr. Miya produced the first ever ‘all-picture book’ on Nishikigoi. This was a lavish and enormous volume simply titled ‘The 100 Best Koi’ – the Koi shown were indeed the very best to have ever been produced at that point in time – simply the best in the world! Alas, they could hardly pass for ‘fishing pond’ standards if compared to the incredible Koi we can see today.

After the breeders of these coloured carp became used to many visitors placing huge sums of cash money into their hands, they made regular evening visits to Ojiya and Nagaoka by taxi to celebrate their new-found wealth. Bars and restaurants soon became aware of the enormous spending power that these unshaven, rubber-booted mountain men carried on their persons in cash!

Around the same time, many producers of these coloured carp made deals with individual wholesale customers from various parts of Japan to give them ‘first choice’ after the autumn harvest, to purchase their entire production for the year. This only meant that there was one sale, one packing operation and one payment. After this the breeder could relax comfortably without having any concerns about losing any stocks over the forthcoming winter. In short – perfection!

Also, between 1963 to 1968, the producers of coloured carp priced them by only one criteria and one only – that was simply SIZE.

They also expected this situation to continue for the foreseeable future where all their annual production could be quickly sold after the harvest and all they had to do was to produce ‘new colours’ and larger sizes by investing in different parent stocks and excavating both more mud ponds and larger mud ponds.

Alas, this expectation turned out to be extremely short-lived.

As the keeping of coloured carp became so popular throughout Japan, along with this came very serious enthusiasts who began to form area ‘Koi clubs’ as they had no written information from their dealers regarding any form of keeping methods. Some of these enthusiasts began to write articles and these were published in popular fish-keeping periodicals of the day whilst some others produced books on the subject.

During this period names were given to colours and patterns, some names originated from Yamakoshi and others added by enthusiasts.

Very slowly, armed with new information and experience in keeping these creatures, standards and firm names were set and published.

Some of this new information became accepted by the majority of enthusiasts at the time and was also conveyed to their suppliers namely:-

  • Health of a Koi is the most important aspect to consider.

  • Female Koi become more valuable than male Koi in later years as their body shape is far more desirable.

  • Male Koi should be far cheaper than females.

  • Kohaku, Sanke and Showa varieties are far more difficult to produce and should be more valued than other varieties.

  • Pattern is very important when selecting a new Koi.

  • Lustre is very important in all metallic varieties.

  • Any deformities at all should not be considered for purchase.

And so it went on, the Koi keepers were becoming to be selective in their choices of purchase and now ‘size’ became of far lesser importance to ‘quality’.

The wholesalers of the day returned to Yamakoshi with the news and related this to their suppliers. In a few years time this was to change the entire industry surrounding the business of producing Nishikigoi which has remained to be so ever since. As a result, the wholesalers became ‘picky’ and, instead of purchasing the entire production of their traditional supplier, chose instead to select, by hand, only 5% of the production.

The clever breeders heeded the news and took it on board especially with advance knowledge of Koi shows planned at the time where their production would be entered into, and judged, in a ‘beauty contest’.

They also advised their wholesale customers that if they wished to select only the very best 5% of their annual production then their standard ‘size’ prices would have to increase by 20-fold to compensate them for their unsold stocks.

Soon the words ‘tategoi’ and ‘tateshita’ came to be VERY important and the enthusiast was, in truth, completely responsible for substantial price increases.

The many breeders who disregarded this important advice eventually closed down and many can still be seen today in ruins along the roadsides and villages. Some of these farms produced and sold Koi in huge quantities until the words ‘quality’ and ‘selection’ became the in-demand words of the day.

Since around 1970, the clever breeders concentrated all their efforts on ‘quality’ that was to be further impressed upon them by Koi shows and the results forthcoming after final judging had been completed. These breeders concentrated on one or two varieties only and any other varieties required for resale could be readily found at many other farms where simply exchanging stocks without any need for hard cash could often make the necessary ‘payment’.

A combination of clever breeders and important Koi shows produced astronomical prices for certain Koi which never could have been dreamed of in the early days of production. Meanwhile back in 1972, the young Waddy who had just glimpsed his first Koi, was totally unaware of the happenings in Japan. It was to be another four years before he caught his first glimpse.

Later, the enthusiasts replaced the need for ‘local suppliers’, instead they made their own annual visits to Yamakoshi in order to see the availability of new stocks on sale at hundreds of outlets and make their own purchases with their own eyes and experiences.

The wholesalers still continued to make annual visits but only to find tateshita they could sell on to pets shops and fishing ponds.

Between 1970 to 1985 the Yamakoshi mountainsides, after the October harvests, were packed with Japanese enthusiasts scouring the area for tategoi that they could find, purchase and grow to eventually realise their dream. The breeders catered for this demand by building comfortable indoor display facilities where they could show their stocks in the best possible light.

This then, is the truth as to the origins and development of Nishikigoi in Japan as far as I have heard it and have experienced it. Sad to say, the ‘entire truth’ of it all was never actually documented and much of it relies on memories and some suppositions.

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