Koi Fish and Koi History: Between Hobby, Art and Heritage in Japan

by Guest Writer 31 October 2009 One Comment

Koi’ could mean two things in Japan, one is ‘Love’ and another is the main topic here – a specialty carp fish.

Both words are written in different Kanji though. Koi fish are actually the descendants of wild common carp that have been selectively bred since thousands of years ago for color, pattern, body shape, scales and personality. Yes, you can say it is another kind of Japanese art heritage that is cultivated through time. Now, the koi breeding has been spreading worldwide and there are various exhibition and competition held yearly every year in many regions of the world, particularly in Asia.

Now you know that koi is not goldfish, since there are so many people might have been deceived to see it as a big goldfish. Originally, carp in the olden days in Japan were used as food fish. In a country that had minimal access to large domestic animals such as cows and chickens even, carp had also become a valuable source of protein. Carp are highly adaptable fish and because of this, natural color mutations have occurred across all carp populations, and thus the beginning of koi and koi breeding hobby.

Japanese carp koi fish

Japanese carp koi fish (Credit:Borman)

Common carp were first introduced into Japan by way of China between 400 to 600 years ago. Common carp were first bred for color in Japan in the 1820s, initially in the town of Ojiya in the Niigata prefecture on the northeastern coast of Honshu island. They held a lot of koi competition here as well annually. However, the outside world was not aware of the development of color variations in koi until 1914, when the Niigata koi were exhibited in the annual exposition in Tokyo, which had fired up the Japanese interest in koi fish, desiring for an ever more beautiful and unique strains of koi.

Nevertheless, the Japanese term koi had expanded to nishikigoi which means broaded or colored carp to describe the local domestic version. Which means, if you’re buying the fish elsewhere aside from Japan, you’re simply buying koi. But if you’re buying it in Japan, you’re looking at nishikigoi. A single koi of excellent breed and a definite award winning could worth up to ¥5,000,000, which is about $50,000! Koi breeding and hobby is no small business, the koi with especially favored traits commanded a higher price than the koi intended for food, and it is certainly not an easy and cheap business either.


Writen by Guest Writer, Borman K

An avid fan and breeder of Koi fish. Enjoy some of his video of koi

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One comment

  1. David Maguire

    I am a koi fish grower enthusiast myself. Seeing other owner’s koi fishes continue to amaze me even if I have my own in my garden. Over time, Koi fish have been selectively bred in order to produce the vast array of wonderful rich colorful patterns that are available today. These features are the reason that Koi fish are such a popular and sought after pet that is in high demand.


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