I used to take large stand space for Infiltration at the BKKS National Shows for many years. These are held at the time of the year (late June) when good Koi are not easy to come by. I used to save some from the October/November and April visits to Japan just to be able to offer new Koi at this most important UK Koi event. We had three superb display ponds for these and each Koi was photographed and displayed above the pond in question.
Around 11.00 on one Saturday morning, a guy came over with a copy of Koi Kichi under his arm – he seemed visibly agitated and asked one of the guys to point out myself to him. We met and he seemed very distraught so I asked him to sit down and poured a coffee for him. He was an American guy living in Belgium who had a 150,000 gallon Koi pond in his garden. He told me that a local dealer had taken him to Niigata that January to find Koi, it later turned out that the dealer was also making his first trip to the area and that the guide in question was none other than Mr. Isa from Uragara village – see my write up on the ‘Mentors’ page. The guy had stayed in snowbound Yomigihira village at one of the large Japanese-style Ryokans there and had purchased many large Koi from several farms. Although I know the price paid it’s best I just say ‘substantial’. The Koi were shipped in spring and introduced to his pond, for the first few days they were fine but later started ‘scratching’. His local dealer scratched his head, he said he suspected parasites but then said that the use of medicines was not allowed in Belgium? Some Koi had been lost and the guy was desperate. I assured him we could assist by sending Harvey Leeming and Dennis Wordsworth to his pond the following weekend and a visit was arranged.
The man seemed to be a little more relaxed and started to look at the Koi on sale on the stand. He pointed to one pond and commented that he’d not seen such good Koi on his visit, I explained that these Koi had been bought in October and November when the best were available after the harvests and that his choice in late January would not be so good. He looked at the Koi again, came back over and pointed to the pond saying’ Yes, I’ll buy, can you bring next weekend? I asked him to point out which Koi he wanted and I would mark the photo with a ‘Sold’ sign to make sure someone else did not buy it. He looked at me and replied – ‘Oh, I’ll have them all!’ After a few minutes, the pond in question was covered and a ‘Not for sale’ sign placed on it. Around mid afternoon he returned to say he’d had a good look around and had decided he’d also buy the best pond we had at the show. Again, that pond was covered from view mid afternoon leaving only one pond of Koi left for sale, in view of the fact we never took dry goods down there – pointless unless you have something that people want and no-one else has – I closed the stand down early because I needed something to offer on the Sunday.
We had around six of us on the stand and I said to take it easy the next morning and get back on duty at 11.00am instead of 10.00am. As I recall it was one memorable evening in the bar!
We drifted onto the showground at 11.00 as arranged to hear jeers from the other dealers who mentioned alarm clocks etc. whilst we replied we were giving them a start chance to sell something before we returned! We reached the stand to find the same guy waiting, he came out with a terms he used later on many occasions which was ‘Gee, I **** my pants, thought you’d met with a road accident!’ After this, he promptly bought the remaining pond and left for home! It’s not really good for business being at the National Show at 11.30 Sunday morning with nothing at all to sell so we placed ‘Sold Out’ signs everywhere and wandered around the showground until we were allowed to pack up.
The following Saturday I got a call from Harvey & Den who were at the pond side in Belgium, they had managed to sneak upon one Koi after a few attempts and take a mucus sample to find ‘Gyrodactylus City’ alive and well in the 150,000 gallon pond. Supaverm was the choice of the day before we found Flubenol and so the amount required was measured and mixed in two large buckets and the intrepid duo set about in distributing it all via a small rowing boat fortunately on hand! The next day, the pond was seine-netted and several mucus samples were taken to find only a few parasites remaining. A new measure was made and the second dose was distributed the following Tuesday to find no parasites remaining and the man was happy.
This same guy got into Koi in a BIG way immediately afterwards and joined me in Japan on several occasions afterwards. He built a new indoor concrete pond for his better Koi and, a few years later, took Supreme Champion at the Holland show on two occasions. By then he had built a unit near his pond to store his dry goods that would make the biggest UK Koi outlet pale into insignificance – he needed this as he was buying Hikari Excel in two ton deliveries!
That’s the background – now onto the meat of the matter. The guy read everything possible to do with Nishikigoi and would ring at all hours if there was something he did not understand. As we know, some printed matter can be very useful whilst others can be downright dangerous. He began to mention the word ‘tategoi’ with every other sentence and the word had become imprinted in his mind.
One April morning he was with us at the Shintaro Koi farm in Mushigame where we were enquiring as to when he would be selecting his final tategoi/tateshita tosai before placing them into field ponds. This guy’s ears pricked up and insisted on spending the entire day with us when this would be made. At the end of the day in question we had one pond with around 200 tategoi and three other ponds of tateshita. We went to Saito san’s house for coffee and that’s when the guy enquired –
‘How much will it cost for the best ten tategoi plus growing costs for the season?’
Masaru asked him – ‘Who is selecting?’ – the guy replied – ‘You and Peter.’
A price was set including growing costs, I know the price as I was paid a commission on it but that’s another matter, again, let’s just say ‘substantial’. (However, I must point out here that, although to guys like myself the price was substantial, to the man buying them it was little more than loose change.) Masaru even took us to the small field pond where they would be grown and also said he would include choice number eleven in the event of any Koi ‘disappearing’ over summer. The buyer was delighted and kept reminding of us throughout that summer of what he would see at the harvest in October.
We now move forward to mid October when he was with us again and so were several other high-end collectors. One evening in Nomole bar, Masaru came in and advised that the harvest of the mud pond would take place the next day and invited us all to attend. Everyone readily agreed and the spirit of anticipation was high as was the real excitement that people were showing with that prospect in mind.
That was, until a new-found friend of the guy chipped in with the comment –
‘Hey – I wonder how many turn out to be male?’
There was a hush around the bar and a few minutes of silence elapsed before the guy stood up and returned to the hotel without a single word to anyone.
As we drove into the mountains the next day, the silence accompanied us. We all made it to the pond in question that had been part-drained and watched as Masaru and Shousuke started the net around the perimeter. It was only a small pond but all eleven Koi were placed in a bowl of muddy water and transported the few hundred metres back to the farm on a small flat-back truck.
The average size of the Koi when purchased was around 20cms and the largest harvested that day almost touched 48cms. There were around ten of us watching closely as Masaru checked the sex of each after number eleven was taken back as his rightful property. You could have cut the air with a knife until eventually it was given that eight were female and only two were male.
The eight females were placed in a large bowl for close inspection and two were truly world class Nishikigoi whilst the other six were simply superb. Everyone congratulated the guy and shook his hand after this enormous success and we thought that that would be the happiest ending one could ever dream of. I knew that the best Koi there could not possibly be bought now for the total price paid back in April.
At first the guy was elated but, as the day wore on, he became quiet again. We ended up at Kazuto’s mid afternoon where several guys were making choices on certain Koi they were deliberating over when the guy came over to me visibly agitated – just like the day we had first met. He tugged my sleeve and asked if I’d go back with him to Shintaro to see if he would exchange the ten Koi for ‘larger ones’ as small Koi were ‘not his main interest’.
(I had fully realised what had been in his mind all day after the harvest. He was a businessman first and foremost and he needed a return on his ‘investment’ made in spring. Quite simply he’d paid X for 10 Koi and so his head told him that each one cost X divided by 10 and that’s how he saw things. Two were male so there was no point in even discussing the matter with him and thus we returned to Masaru’s farm.)
I mentioned the exchange for larger Koi and I cannot recall Masaru ever moving so quickly, his eyes lit up and within minutes we were inside his main Koi house with large nets in hand. A large bowl was filled with water and soon four 75- 80cms female Koi were inside the bowl, a few moments later a fifth Koi joined them before Masaru said – ‘Select any four Koi from that bowl as full exchange for the ten nisai’. The guy said he thought that all five Koi were for him but Masaru said that if he wanted the five he would have to pay and extra cost that represented one sixth of the buying price of the ten.
During that short time and on two occasions I tried to suggest to him that he stuck with the ten Koi he already had but the sight of the jumbo Koi before him had already been calculated in his computerised brain as being by far ‘the best investment’. He took the five and gave back the ten after paying the extra cash. Within minutes after the deal he was back to being his chirpy self again.
I recall looking at the five large Koi and wondering that, if they were back at my place for sale, who would even have them for just the cost of the airfreight alone!
That is not the end of the story by any means; the number one nisai was grown again for one more year in Masaru’s best earth pond and harvested at 68 cms. In January the following year she was purchased by none other than Masao Kato on the advice of his two dealers who always accompany him when he intends to find and purchase new Koi. Again, I know the actual price paid which was just over three times the price that was paid for the ten tategoi selected two years earlier.
The following summer and the one after were spent in a Dainichi pond when she was harvested to measure 89cms. After this she was entered in many major ZNA shows where she took Supreme Champion awards and became a very famous Koi known to many enthusiasts.
(Incidentally I have since seen a few of the other eight Koi that were exchanged that day and three turned out to be memorable entries to some important Japanese Koi shows.)
The Koi above is the Koi in question, sadly she was lost in the 2004 Chuetsu earthquake but I often reflect on the impact she would have had in Europe had she been kept for two more seasons by Shintaro and then shipped back home to Belgium!