The Price of Nishikigoi

I wish I had a fiver for every time I have heard the following request: –

‘Look Peter, I’m not looking for the quality of Koi you sell at your shop, I don’t want ‘Show Koi’, I just want to buy pretty, colourful, healthy Koi that I can sell to my own customers at a reasonable price to give them excellent value for money’.

And these people saying this, genuinely believed in what they were asking was easily possible!

I quickly learned to ‘translate’ these requests, which was: –

‘I want a supply of the highest quality Koi in the world but only wish to pay peanuts for them and then sell them for the highest possible profit’.

(It was quite amazing to note that these guys who ‘only wanted pretty Koi’ could instantly detect a slight variation in one single ray of a pectoral fin on a 12” Shusui from a distance of 20 metres and then remind me at every future opportunity as to how much potential profit they had lost on this ‘specimen’!)

For every successful import that these latter day volume shippers made there were another five which resulted in financial disaster, right from ‘break even’ through to ‘total loss’ and at many points in-between. At the end of it all the volume shippers came away licking their wounds before going into a far less risky way to invest their cash.

In 2009, I know of no ‘volume shippers’ bringing in ‘volume Koi’ from Japan to the UK.

As to the ‘Koi Dealers’ receiving their boxes in those days, these were opened with bated breath and great expectations before they found what was actually inside the boxes and then ‘buyer’s remorse’ sank in as subtly as a flying mallet! Of course, in the following weeks, many claims would be made to the importer as to the ‘quality’ and the ‘health’ of the ‘Koi?’ within the cartons.

Replies would come back (very sporadically) to explain that, whilst ‘some price adjustments’ (for this read minute refunds) may be possible regarding the cost of the Koi themselves, the cost of the airfreight cannot possibly be refunded. Slowly it dawned with the buyer that the cost of the airfreight and road transportation/handling/clearance charges can easily be over four times the actual unit cost of the Koi within the boxes. Then the word went round that this importer is not to be trusted, instead he’s a ‘rip-off merchant’ and so other importers were then sought urgently – out of the frying pan and…………..!

This went on until the penny finally dropped with the small Koi dealers and realisation finally set in that not one single Koi in the boxes is even worth the cost of the airfreight required to ship it over.

They also realised that earlier naive dreams had been vaporised and they now had to face up to reality by selling them to Koi enthusiasts in order to recoup some precious money!

In the mid to late 1990’s a few European companies/individuals made their bases in Ojiya City, Niigata to tempt owners of Koi outlets from all parts of the world to make trips to Yamakoshi in order to find a better class of Japanese Koi than were previously found in risky ‘consolidated’ shipments through the volume importers already mentioned above.

These outfits saw an opportunity in giving small outlets the chance of ‘hand-picking’ (I love that term –but it all really depends on whose ‘hands’ are ‘picking’ !) their own stocks with their very own eyes. They still offer this service today, albeit on a smaller scale, whereby some even arrange flights, rail travel, hotels, meals and daily transportation to many (but not all) Koi breeders in the area. At the end of the day, one has to consider that these companies are still nothing other than agents albeit far better agents than the volume importers of old who also had to use other similar agents.

At first, this brought in a new kind of buyer to the traditional breeders of the mountains who had spent many years concentrating on mainly Go-Sanke varieties with a few exceptions.

Soon, these new buyers mentioned they needed Chagoi; Soragoi; Ochibashigure; Benigoi; Kigoi; Doitsu & Gin Rin Varieties; Kumonryu; Asagi; Shusui; Kin Ki Utsuri and a few others. I recall the late Shoji Tanaka asking me if this demand was ‘serious’ and I explained that it was. He smiled and said ‘I can breed these varieties a lot easier than I can produce Go-Sanke’.

Some three years later the Marusyo Koi Farm in Yomogihira was brimming with all these varieties in an assortment of sizes as his proud line of Sadazo Sanke production took a back seat. I often watched fascinated as party after party of overseas dealers, mostly from mainland Europe, escorted by their Ojiya-based agents bought hundreds of these Koi for re-sale back at home. These dealers returned with their precious ‘hand-selected’ purchases of rarer varieties and proudly displayed them for sale to their customers. Some customers did buy at first but other customers had seen pictures in magazines of what exactly a ‘good’ Chagoi can be and that is, indeed, a mind-expanding creature!

Alas, as expected, this ‘class’ of Koi does not fall into the ‘not so good’ band that were being offered at a price of 5% of what the few ‘good’ Chagoi produced really cost!

These Ojiya-based companies are still operating today but have long-since realised that the good times are behind them and now they have to make serious cuts in their profits by way of ‘Once in a Lifetime Deals’ in order to tempt their customers to make another visit.

Decades ago, I realised that my dream of finding a Koi for One Yen and selling it for 10,000,000Yen would never, ever reach fruition and it was then that I started out to find out why this could never be so.

For anyone reading this who still thinks that there is any possible end profit to be made in buying and selling ‘not so good Koi’ in quantity as a valid business, I suggest urgent medical help is sought. The economics of it all is nothing short of disastrous especially if one also bears in mind the risks involved in handling quantities of any form of livestock.

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