TORAZO – a tale of the tiger…………..

Part One.

1977, after only a few hours on the very first day that my feet first touched the ground of Yamakoshi, I was 34 years old and also a VERY angry young man.

I was angry because I had wasted three precious hours selecting a good number of Koi at a breeder named Miyaishi with the promise I would get a good discount for bulk purchase.

After three very valuable hours of my time spent (I only had three days there), he grudgingly offered me a 5% discount – I glared at him and walked out of his premises fuming inwardly.

It did not register with me that the very first breeder I had ever visited in Yamakoshi was a crook – but were they ALL crooks?

I think it was the mouth full of gold teeth that did it for me together with the fake smile.

But where to go when the others in the party were still gazing at the Koi?

It was the first time I had been there and firmly believed it would also be my last time; I couldn’t see any way I could ever afford another economy return ticket to Japan at £1,200.00 because that’s what it cost me in 1977!

The weather was glorious sunshine and Miyaishi was right besides a main street. I looked left to see open countryside and right to see houses – I chose to turn right.

After passing a couple of roadside concrete tanks with a few Koi inside I came upon a larger one right next to the main street which held around fifteen giant Koi – some around 55cms. I considered these to be well outside of my price range and probably some could have been the best Koi in Japan – how was I to know?

The fact was realised later that I hadn’t a clue as to the worth of any Koi I saw – in truth I was positively clueless!

Pause awhile please.

(In those days, ‘technology’ meant owning a Polaroid camera and, if many shots were needed, it also meant many ten-packs of Polaroid films, which were bulky and costly. )

As a result, the only shots I took were of the Koi I purchased, why would I need shots of the scenery and the breeders themselves or so I thought?

But then, I have always been stupid……………

For many years I’ve wondered of the shots I COULD have taken from those times that would have positively shattered many assumptions that have been proffered since then.

(Oh, for a digital camera back then that could have been stored away until computers would raise their heads in later years and allow everyone to see the times in Yamakoshi as they were in those heady days.)

I was about to stop ogling at the magnificent Koi in the roadside pond when a man came out of the door of the house behind. No doubt he was much older than I but the first thing I noted was a smile and a kindly face as he walked over slowly.

Of course there wasn’t a hope of conversation – only facial expressions and those few expressions could only be accentuated with our hands.

We were standing close to the pond of Koi – I pointed to one, put my thumb in the air and beamed a smile. The man beamed back, smiled and nodded his head in a token of agreement and it seemed to me to be absolutely genuine.

I only wished to ask prices of his Koi to get some idea into my head as to what the price of Koi actually was but I had no idea exactly how to ask him?

We smiled again to each other as I pointed to one and another Koi and came out with words such as ‘Kohaku’; ‘Yamabuki’; ‘Sanke’ and others.

It was then I noted that the man’s expression was actually transfixed to ‘gobsmacked’ to hear a blonde longhaired foreigner utter such stuff!

Trust me, it happened; I can still recall the moment.

The man held his index finger aloft to indicate me to wait and then walked back into to the house. Within seconds he was back clutching a wad of Japanese Yen.

He smiled and pointed to one Koi then said ‘Kohaku’ (co-hak) and then peeled off some cash before showing it to me and then he pointed it at my chest.

There were two 10,000yen notes and one 5,000yen note – and that’s all he held towards me on that deal.

25,000yen in those times meant £25.00 – only this amount for a Koi that would hammer the UK National show into the ground?

I needed to clarify the situation and so I knelt down and pointed my finger to the Koi in question and watched him as he nodded his head in agreement.

I then stood up, took some cash from my pocket and then handed him 25,000yen after which he bowed, smiled and beckoned me towards the house.

That £25.00 Kohaku was the very first Koi I ever purchased in Yamakoshi!

As we entered the house he spoke a few words to a lady – (his wife) and then ushered me to a central table in the living room. Very soon I was brought some disgusting green tea (that I later learned to adore) and some snacks.

With the excitement of having bought the next Supreme Champion of the next BKKS National show I had also forgotten about the rest of my friends on the party.

I had only left them a few hundred yards up the road but the coach was the giveaway; I watched them as the party boarded the coach that finally headed towards me and then stood in the middle of the street with hands held high to stop the coach.

I boarded the coach and then screamed to the party – ‘This guy has some wonderful Koi, come over here and have a look’!

Everyone in our party was under the impression that we were free to go wherever we wished to go in the area to purchase our Koi on that trip. I wouldn’t know, until a few years later, that we had been closely chaperoned by Miyaishi and that our guides would only take us to breeders who had agreed to pay commission for any Koi purchased to Miyaishi.

This stop wasn’t a planned stop but, on reflection, there was little our guides could do to prevent the party from exiting the coach and taking a look around this place. Once again, I was convinced I would never be returning here and so I had no need to find out the name of the place or even note down any details. All I knew that we had been informed by the guides we were in ‘Yamakoshi’, that was a fact because I had written it down in my notebook.

Only the roadside pond indicated that this was some kind of Koi outlet, there were no signs on the house with pictures of Koi and I assumed that I had personally discovered a new, up and coming Koi breeder.

I do recall the look on the faces of the man and his wife as they stood at the door of the house and watched as some 25 foreigners filed out of the coach and then stepped into their garden to discover other outdoor concrete tanks that also contained Koi.

This family also had their share of nosy neighbours as they lead their children over to witness what I later learned was the first coach load of foreign Koi lovers ever to enter their sleepy village, no wonder we were a spectacle worth observing!

By then it was around 2.30pm and our guides were explaining to our interpreter that we were behind schedule and had other outlets to visit that day. As we all walked towards the coach I nodded to the man my good bye and as far as I was concerned that would be the last time I would meet him.

That was day one of our three day visit to Yamakoshi and early on day four the Koi we had purchased would all be loaded on our coach which would then drive us all direct to Narita airport for our homeward flight.

On the morning of day four we left the inn with our luggage and headed to collect our Koi to discover that the pick up point was outside Miyaishi the crook. There he was, beaming as we all lined up to pay him for all the purchases made over the three days.

That’s all payments except one; I had already paid for my Kohaku.

I paid Miya for the rest of my purchases and we were then asked to relax as the Koi needed to be packed at the very last minute.

By then I had a distinct loathing of this man Miya, which turned out to be correct some years later. Rather than spend time watching the packing I decided to walk the few yards back to the house owned by the guy who had sold me my Kohaku.

He saw me walking towards him and raised his hand in recognition. Upon reaching the house he pointed to a packed Koi carton and then to me; there was my Kohaku, which was to be loaded on the coach.

He beckoned me into the house for tea but I shook my head and pointed out some Koi to him. There wasn’t much time before we’d have to leave but I had a feeling that another purchase was imminent.

This time it was easy; out came my wad of Koi vouchers, I then pointed to a Koi and he’d take the amount he needed for the Koi out of my wad and hold it before me to confirm we were both in agreement.

Today I can’t possibly recall the Koi I purchased or the prices paid but the prices were very low and I was more than happy.

Instead of one carton needing loading there were four. The coach arrived, the cartons were loaded and as we pulled away we waved to each other, knowing full well we would never meet again……………….

Of course, I was wrong.

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