Introduction – The texts below have all been written by myself and are a true reflection of personal experiences I’ve had over many years.
I have stayed well away from assumptions, beliefs, tales heard from others and suchlike.
It may well raise eyebrows in some areas as my eyebrows were also raised at the times.
As the title above says, all readers can decide whether they will stick or twist, I have decided to stick.
The hobby termed as ‘Koi Keeping’ is also a business like any other business in the world where goods are sold for money – hopefully at a profit on cost.
The businesses that fail to make profit on cost soon realise they are not there for the duration.
The base costs and possible profits made on Nishikigoi production are much higher (in terms of percentage) than those made on Coca-Cola and similar products where base costs are almost negligible when compared to the huge advertising budget spent by such businesses.
Of course, many times more consumers spend monies on Coca-Cola etc. rather than Nishikigoi, but the amounts spent on Nishikigoi promotion and marketing are almost nil.
Yes, Koi shows are excellent promotional exercises but the major Koi shows in Japan are self-financing and always manage to end in profit.
Dealers, Koi Clubs and enthusiasts stage shows held in other parts of the world, the Koi producers risk little financial input in these events.
Koi magazines and videos also promote the hobby and the producers but little is spent by the producers on these items.
To sum much of this up, I know of few businesses where goods are produced at almost zero cost together with zero promotional costs to budget for.
Every year in Japan there are untold millions of Koi fry produced by the breeders and a huge percentage of these are destroyed after many selections have been made.
The vast majority of Koi breeders use family members and friends to assist them in their labours and generally only use three to five sets of parent Koi.
Others hire extra labour and the large outlets spend significant money on staff costs. However these large outlets use many sets of parent Koi in order to try and compensate for their high overheads. However, this also means they have to make more volume sales than the smaller outlets.
Most parent stocks today come from trial and error experiments although some are still purchased from other breeders and with modern-day breeding methods, just about all the eggs deposited by the female will result in live fry after first being fertilised with the assistance of the breeder.
It has been said for many years that each fry produced will cost the breeder one Yen, so let’s double that to two Yen today.
If a single set of parent Koi produce 500,000 fry then the overall cost to the breeder is 1,000,000yen. The overall costs take into account time spent in labour, food costs, mud pond rental if applicable and day to day living costs – please bear in mind, this only applies to one set of parent stocks.
After many culls have been made to the 500,000 fry during the summer there may well be only 3,500 small Koi that are considered to be worthy of any value – so 496,500 fry have already been discarded.
The 3,500 remaining Koi still have cost the breeder 1,000,000 Yen or 286 Yen each or £1.50 in UK currency – do remember, I have ‘doubled’ the actual cost just for argument’s sake.
All 3,500 Koi are housed in indoor heated systems and fed on a daily basis until the following spring when final selection is made, and of these, only 250 tategoi are chosen to be placed in the field ponds for the summer.
The other 3,250 tateshita are sold cheaply to dealers or brokers who in turn sell them to others – let’s say for a rock-bottom ‘average’ price of 500 Yen each.
This means a sale of 1,625,000 Yen so the breeder has realised his outlay in full and now shows a profit of 625,000 Yen PLUS the 250 tategoi in his field ponds.
Now many may not know this, but to purchase a female Go-Sanke nisai of around 40cms then be prepared to pay amounts ranging from 30,000 Yen for the worst ones and up to 2,000,000 Yen for the top ones.
Yet again, this example only covers the Koi produced from ‘one’ single spawning.
All the aforementioned texts are simply there to show just how profitable the Koi business can be today in Japan, but I’m not complaining about this in the slightest, quite the contrary.
I’m also delighted the breeders have such a worldwide demand for their produce that’s available in all price brackets from cheap right through to being incredibly costly.
Moving on now to those who actually keep the Koi for enjoyment and for many other reasons. You’ll need to forgive me now but these next figures are based on personal estimations – but experienced estimations nonetheless.
The overall hobby known as ‘Koi Keeping’ is minute in comparison to a thousand other hobbies/pastimes and many out there will pass from cradle to grave without even hearing the word ‘Koi’ mentioned.
However, there are also many out there who keep these creatures so I’ll lump them all together and give them the name of ‘Koi Keepers’.
I reckon 85% of these would never dream of paying the price of a Japanese-bred Koi when they can buy for a fraction of the price the Koi that are produced at home, in China, in Israel and from many other parts of the globe. These keepers are also resigned to the fact that the lifespan of these Koi will rarely last for more than nine months when deaths take place and then replacements need to be purchased.
Let’s forget this 85% for the moment and concentrate on the 15% who insist on purchasing/keeping Koi only bred in Japan.
(An explanation here, there is not such a sharp divider line here as stated because there are many ‘ditherers’ who do collect a mixture of both. Again, this is their choice.)
So, of the 15% remaining, let’s make this once more to 100% of the keepers who only purchase Japanese-bred Koi.
I reckon 85% of these would never even consider spending time and money to visit Japan and select their own Koi.
No, these keepers are keen, they take pride in their systems and keeping abilities, they attend the Koi shows and become members of clubs, they read the magazines, they scour the websites of Koi outlets and these Koi outlets are the ones who supply their Koi.
The other 15% will find their way to Japan in order to visit the breeders in person – initially accompanied by agents or Koi dealers.
(Not so many years ago, ‘Koi Japan’ was firmly locked to all overseas visitors unless agents or dealers accompanied them. This is now no longer the case after certain books have become available – although I would strongly advise all newcomers to visit with agents or dealers – at least for the first few visits.)
I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve heard the remark – ‘The Japanese people are an honourable race’.
They are no more honourable or less honourable than the rest of the world’s population.
And this also applies to the Koi breeders of Japan, who to trust/believe and who not to trust/believe.
For decades now, there are many genuine Koi enthusiasts who believe that the field ponds these Koi stocks are placed in for the summer months have magical properties within them.
Sadly they don’t have any magical properties, but they are 100% man made and hold large volumes of warm water. They hold very minimal stocking rates of the Koi inside them for some three months. The breeder, on a daily basis, also feeds them frequently – either by hand or by auto feeder. Most of the ponds produce a green algae tinge to the water that also protects the Koi from sunburn.
As a direct result of all this, the Koi grows at quite an alarming rate, their pigments intensify and their skins increase in ‘shine’.
Isn’t that to be expected?
For many years, many customers I have taken to Japan have insisted that they wished to keep some of their more expensive purchases with the breeders they bought them from.
Standard cost for this 365-day service is 30,000 Yen for Koi up to nisai and 50,000 Yen for those above nisai.
After this, the rules are laid out before the buyer and the breeder takes no responsibility for –
The Koi dying for any reason at all.
The Koi showing future deformities.
The Koi being damaged for any reason at all.
The Koi not growing for any reason at all.
The Koi being lost or stolen.
(Before continuing, I have never ‘once’ left one of my own purchases in Japan for Azukari – in every case my own Koi have been shipped immediately back to the UK after payment.)
Now to return to the Koi left with the breeders by my customers, I was always there to see them one year later. Some I watched being harvested from the mud ponds and others were already inside the indoor systems.
I still retain all the pictures taken only for ID purposes – with detailed instructions printed upon them – here’s just a few of them –
From memory, after Azukari, 25% of these were significantly improved.
30% had improved.
30% had slightly improved.
15% had been lost.
Of the 15% that had been lost, some breeders offered free replacements – some of equal quality, but more often than not – Koi of lesser quality.
And after all, how can one possibly replace a lost Koi?
I must add here, that of all the cases where improvements had been made, I did not see a single appearance of shimi or hikui on any of these Koi.
I’d now like to move on to the available space in the mud ponds and the huge importance this means to the breeders.
Remember, stocking rates must be kept extremely low if the Koi are to grow at maximum rate?
In short, it is important to the breeders to give this space to their own stocks because this is where their future profits will come from.
Of course it’s positively unthinkable that a breeder would sell one of his customers Koi to another individual without the owner knowing?
Sorry, it’s not – I’ve seen this take place several times both by breeders and agents – it happens!
The question is – ‘How many times have I ‘missed’ seeing this happen’?
I’ve often heard mention of some Koi being ‘stolen’ from mud ponds by others, but I’ve never given this any serious consideration.
As to damage and loss by birds and other natural predators, the breeders are well aware of the potential dangers to their own stocks and take many precautions to ensure it is kept to the minimum.
These texts are not a witch-hunt and I refuse point blank to name any names but it is written as a warning to those about to visit Japan and spend money with the Koi breeders.
On one lone occasion, a customer wished to buy a nisai from the breeder but the breeder could not confirm 100% the sex of the Koi. So the customer paid the asking price on the condition that if it turned out to be male, the breeder would hand him a total refund in cash.
The breeder agreed to this and thankfully the Koi turned out to be female.
Moving on, regarding a casual conversation started recently with some serious Koi enthusiasts – this later turned out to be much more like a Q & A session between the enthusiasts and myself.
One guy mentioned – ‘I have a costly Kohaku that’s spent the last two years in Japan with the breeder I purchased it from. They sent a photo after harvest two years ago and I asked it to be grown again for another year. However, after harvest last year, the Koi has much hikui on the body and it’s now considered to be completely worthless’.
I replied – ‘Did you see the Koi being released in the mud pond last spring’?
He replied – ‘No I was here’.
I asked – ‘Did you see the Koi being harvested from the mud pond last autumn’?
Again he replied – ‘No, I was here’.
‘So all the information came from the breeder and you believed it’?
‘Sir, I believe your Kohaku never even saw a mud pond last year and has been kept for the duration in an indoor system that’s not been cleaned for some years – hence the hikui.
Now may I be allowed to guess the name of the breeder concerned’?
He replied – ‘Well you can guess, but there are many breeders out there’.
I named the one name and my guess was correct – as I watched many mouths around me to gape open wide!
Why should this genuine person and very genuine Koi enthusiast have to put up with all this crap?
I still have no idea why overseas dealers and enthusiasts choose to leave their Koi in Japan with the breeders for another year or more?
A well-filtered pond that’s well maintained can allow a much higher stocking rate than can a mud pond. In areas such as south East Asia they can have a much longer growing period than three months.
European collectors need to add heat at most times of the year and this can prove to be costly if the systems are not covered – but isn’t this what UK Koi keeping is all about?
‘Koi Keeping’ as opposed to ‘Koi Leaving’ produces far more self-satisfaction and experience to the genuine enthusiast, and believe me if you keep your own Koi, you’ll give them far more care and attention than another can or will.
I cannot even begin to stress just how important it is to have a squeaky clean pond and filter system. The vast majority of Japanese Koi breeders discharge their indoor pond and filter drains to waste via standpipes and after only nine months of running, empty the system, disinfect everything inside it and leave it all to dry out whilst stocks are being grown in the field ponds.
Even the mighty Momotaro 1,500-ton pond gets this treatment each winter.
By keeping all systems ‘squeaky clean’ regularly – both mechanically and biologically, this keeps the water in good condition; it promotes growth, enhances pigmentation and skin – irrespective of the quality of Koi within the system.
Regarding leaving Koi to grow with the breeders, the late, great Masao Kato was the only one I know of who got it right.
He had his own indoor facility near Ojiya and from November to June, this system was maintained daily by Nogami san.
He rented three mud ponds each summer for his best Koi, one from Marusada, one from Nogami and one from Dainichi. Only his own Koi were placed in these ponds.
When buying new Koi I never once saw Kato san dealing directly with the breeders, instead he hired two agents from Kyushu who carried out all negotiations with the breeders on his behalf.
His agents kept all details regarding every single Koi that Kato san owned and were always in attendance to photograph and check size/condition before they were placed in the mud ponds. The two returned again in autumn to do the same thing at the harvests.
Crookedness and double-dealings in the Koi business has been going on for as long as I can recall.
When I first started to make regular visits to Japan I urged other Koi dealers in the UK to come over with me to get a feel of it all but no one took me up on my offer.
Some three years later several changed their minds and asked me to take them.
That got me to thinking that if I did this then they would be able to avoid all the early mistakes I made for ‘free’, so I refused.
These UK dealers then contacted Bernard Channing at Japanese Water Gardens and he agreed to take them over using Nakamori as agent and Tani Farm for shipping.
On their return some of the dealers contacted me to say they were taken to a huge pond that contained several hundred high quality Go-Sanke around 45cms and the price quoted was so cheap that the dealers clubbed together and bought them all.
The cartons arrived at Heathrow and the dealers collected them to find that none of the Koi they’d seen in the pond had arrived and instead very low quality junk
Koi from the auction had replaced them all!
Two similar situations happened to me but nowhere near as costly, I didn’t complain, I just never spent any further money with the two breeders concerned. After all, much of it was my own fault – I should not have parted with money until I had personally witnessed the Koi being packed.
I believe I have now covered most types of enthusiasts who buy their Koi from Japan – except one that is.
There are many millionaires, multi-millionaires and billionaires on this planet but only a tiny percentage of these decide to collect Koi.
Believe me, the Koi breeders of Japan are well aware of this tiny percentage and they are also well aware that to these guys, time means money – huge amounts of money!
These guys don’t exactly wish to traipse around small villages hidden far away in mountainsides – instead they wish the searching to have been completed for them in advance and that the very best Koi in the world for sale at any given time will be on display in one pond that is very easily accessible.
Yes, I’m referring to Narita’s famous display pond at Komaki, near Nagoya International Airport.
Now, back to the breeders – usually the larger ones. They and the jungle telegraph surrounding them tells them that they have certain Koi that are worth much more than the vast majority of collectors can possibly afford – or do not care to afford?
They also are aware of the competition that surrounds this class of Koi from other major breeders.
We are speaking now of Koi that could well take Grand Champion award at the All-Japan show. Seconds or thirds are simply meaningless to these collectors.
The breeders are well aware that if their Koi can –
Be sold for a fortune.
Then take the Grand Champion award at the AJS.
Just think of the wealth, kudos and promotion this could do for their name?
Alas, these rare types of Koi are very thin on the ground and do remember – they only bloom ONCE!
If the Koi is not entered to the All-Japan show when in full bloom, then there’s not much chance it will be of any real competition one year later is there?
Remember – we are speaking of beauty competitions here.
The breeders themselves ‘groom’ these few Koi to their opinion of perfection and then transport them (at their own risk) to the Narita pond mentioned earlier – usually after the autumn harvests have been made.
The breeder concerned and not Narita still own these Koi – but of course, any sales commissions need to be paid.
Then follows the trickle of guys who can probably buy the entire pond for one day’s income!
Of course, there’s only one Koi per year that can take Grand Champion award at the All-Japan show.
After the award has been announced, the Koi is probably worthless.
Waddy, March 2015.