One of the most iconic fish in Japan is Koi (鯉, carp), also known as Nishikigoi. Koi carps are a very familiar fish among Japanese people, and they can be seen not only in aquariums but also all over Japan. For example, they can be found in shrines and Japanese gardens, even in the ponds of private homes! It is no exaggeration to say that koi has a central part in Japanese culture. But what kind of fish is the koi, and how did it come to be so popular in Japan? In this article, we will look at the secrets of the koi fish from various perspectives.
What is Koi Fish?
Koi is a freshwater fish that widely lives in rivers, ponds, and marshes throughout Japan. It is an omnivorous fish and eats anything found in the water. They eat animal food such as shellfish like pond snails, crustaceans like crayfish, and insect larvae like dragonflies, as well as plant food such as algae. Sometimes, insects and fruits such as persimmons fall to the surface of the water, and they will devour them too. Koi really do eat anything that can be found in the water!
What does Koi represent in Japan?
Koi have been loved in Japan and they have been characterized by strength and success for a very long time. Koi fish stands for basically anything that is good; luck, prosperity, vitality, and longevity and is very closely associated with the Japanese cultural identity. However, koi first appeared in China about 2,500 years ago and came to Japan only many centuries later. Koi fish was first introduced in the early 19th century as a source of food. It was only after some period of time that people started to cultivate the fish and also started breeding koi. First let’s take a closer look at some of the elements that make koi so auspicious.
Koi is one of the strongest living creatures in the water, and can swim vigorously even in a cold pond. They are also large and sturdy, which may be why they look so tough compared to other fish. Because of their size and ability to live a long life, they have become a symbol of good luck and health.
The average lifespan of koi fish is over 20 years and it depends on the individual fish and species, but some koi can live for more than 70 years. That’s a very long life and thus the Koi fish is seen as a symbol of health and longevity. It is said that the average lifespan of koi in the wild is different from that of koi in captivity.
The legend of the carp climbing up the waterfall
There’s a Chinese legend about the koi that says that they are so strong they can swim up upstream and even up to the top of a waterfall. After overcoming the challenges and facing many difficulties, koi fish that reach the top of the waterfall will turn into a powerful dragon.
One of the most iconic fish in Japan is the Koi (鯉, carp), also known as Nishikigoi. The Koi is a freshwater fish that widely lives in rivers, ponds, and marshes throughout Japan. It is an omnivorous fish and eats anything found in the water. They eat animal food such as shellfish like pond snails, crustaceans like crayfish, and insect larvae like dragonflies, as well as plant food such as algae. Sometimes, insects and fruits such as persimmons fall to the surface of the water, and they will devour them too. Koi really do eat anything that can be found in the water!
Koi carps are a very familiar fish among Japanese people, and they can be seen not only in aquariums but also all over Japan. For example, they can be found in shrines, Japanese gardens… even in the ponds of private homes! It is no exaggeration to say that the Koi has a central part in the Japanese culture. But what kind of fish is the koi, and how did it come to be so popular in Japan?
In this article, we will look at the secrets of the koi from various perspectives.
“Carp(鯉)” by Koson Ohara (小原 古邨) in 1935
In Japan, this legend exists under the term “Tōryu-mon”, which means “the gate to success”. The story suggests you can’t become a master of your field without going through difficulties, but if you challenge yourself to the impossible, it’ll lead you to success,
The color of Koi
The color of koi varies depending on their variety. Many carps often seen in rivers and streams are usually light brown, but Nishikigoi come in a wide variety of colors. There are Nishikigoi with red and white patterns, and red, white, and black patterns. There is also yellow Nishikigoi that glows like gold. Nishikigoi is called “Swimming Jewels”, because of their beauty and nobility, which have fascinated all who see them.
How much is a Koi fish?
When the koi became more and more popular around the world, the breeding intensified and led to hundreds of types of koi. Its prices range from very low to very high depending on the type and condition of the individual koi and to which of the thirteen general classes they belong to. The better condition of the fish and the more beautiful their coloring and lineage is, the higher the price is of course. The most expensive type of koi is called Kohaku and their price can go up to several millions of yen. In 2017, the most expensive koi ever was sold for a whopping ¥200 million (1.8 million US$)! But not all koi are that expensive, the most affordable Nishikigoi can be priced as low as ¥500.
Nowadays, breeding is being done to produce more beautiful looking koi, and research is being conducted every day. In fact, the breeding of koi is being taken very seriously in Japan. There are also competitions to assess the color, condition, and beauty of Nishikigoi.
Koi fish and Japanese gardens
The koi have been kept in the ponds inside many Japanese gardens. Unfortunately, the exact reason for this is still unknown to this day. However, the noble beauty of koi blends well with the elegance of Japanese gardens, creating a graceful Japanese world view. In some Japanese gardens, you can experience feeding koi. Some of them sell koi food, so check out their stores located in the gardens or the official website in advance.
Koi fish and shrines
By now you know that Koi are closely related to Japanese culture and this means that they are also strongly connected to Japanese shrines. There is even a shrine that enshrines carp, the Kurihashi Yasaka Shrine in Kuki City, Saitama Prefecture. In front of the torii gate , there are usually stone statues of lion-like legendary creature called “komainu (狛犬)” as the messengers of the Gods. However, at the Kurihashi Yasaka Shrine, the god’s messenger in front of their shrine is a carp. This is a very rare type in Japan.
This shrine also distributes “Goshuin (御朱印)” with a design of a carp. Goshuin is a stamp to prove that you have visited the shrine, and some people collect those stamps as a collector. If you are interested in a Goshuin stamp of this shrine, ask the shrine staff to get it.
Koi fish and Children’s Day traditions
Of all the holidays in Japan, Children’s Day is the one that is strongly connected to koi. On this day, many families celebrate for the healthy growth of their children. It is also a day to thank the mother for giving birth to the child. In the beginning, it was a day to wish for the healthy growth of boys, but times have changed and now it is a day to wish for the growth of all children.
On Children’s Day, you can probably witness “koinobori“, carp-shaped windsocks. This custom is said to have started in the Edo period (1603-1868). At first, samurai warriors displayed their flags in front of their entrances, but later, townspeople started to do the same. The reason for displaying carp-shaped windsocks is said to be deeply related to the legend of the carp climbing up the waterfall, which is introduced above, and there is a wish for children to grow up strong and healthy like the carp.
Koi has been deeply related to Japanese customs and culture since ancient times. For a long time, koi has captivated many Japanese people. They have strong qualities that generally everyone wants to have and Japanese people believe that the koi are as brave as the samurai back in the day. We hope you enjoy watching these swimming gems while you’re traveling in Japan!
Everyone enjoys feeding koi carp
5 Facts About Koi Fish
Koi fish are an extremely popular and colorful form of the fish species Amur carp (Cyprinus rubrofuscus). These fish are commonly kept as an ornamental fish in outdoor ponds or garden water features. They have a rich history in Asian culture dating back thousands of years—but are not related to goldfish despite their similar coloration. Their bright vibrant colors and behaviors can provide a splash of color and activity to any outdoor pond.
1. Koi Fish Meaning
Koi is actually the informal name for this species—they are often referred to as Japanese koi or their Japanese name, Nishikigoi. Nishikigoi is known as the “swimming jewel.” In Japanese culture, koi fish are often kept since they symbolize luck, prosperity, and good fortune.
A koi fish was first displayed in Tokyo in 1914—propelling their popularity around Japan. This was also around the time selective breeding started in Niigata, Japan, which developed and spread worldwide.
2. Koi Fish Pond
Koi are commonly kept as pets in outdoor ponds. Ponds can be great ways to enjoy your Koi and even provide a scenic landscape to your property, since they often include elaborate rockwork and waterfalls. Koi are temperate freshwater fish that can adapt to water temperatures between 45-95 F. When keeping koi, it is recommended to keep them at a temperature between 68-75 F. A deep pond can maintain a thermocline (temperature gradient) in the water, allowing koi to experience different temperatures.
A deep pond will also make it easier for koi to stay in the pond during winter. Water can freeze anywhere between 18-24 inches deep in a pond. Ensuring your pond is deep enough will prevent your fish from freezing. During the winter, koi will go into torpor or dormancy when the water temperature reaches 45-50 F. Their bodies will shut down and will not require as much food. A pond heater can be added to increase the temperature of the water to ensure koi survive winter temperatures. Special measures can be taken if your pond freezes over during the winter. For example, creating a hole in the ice and adding an aerator can help your koi survive.
When selecting fish for your pond, remember that smaller fish will grow over time. Knowing how big your fish will become as an adult is important to determine how many fish can be kept in a pond. Generally, every inch of fish requires about 10 gallons of water. So a 100 gallon pond can have a 10 inch fish.
3. Prices of Koi Fish
Koi can range in price due to many factors. Typically, a small koi will run anywhere between $8 to $50. Some koi, depending on size and color, can cost over $100. The most expensive koi ever sold at auction was for 1.8 million dollars in Japan at the 2017 All Japan Koi Show.
Factors that determine the price point for koi may include:
- Genetic lineage: Highly sought after lineages are more expensive
- Koi variety: The most popular varieties include Kohaku, Sanke, and Showa
- Pattern: Steps and symmetry in patterns often can increase the price of a koi
- Size: Larger animals are more expensive
- Origin: Imported animals are more expensive than domestically produced animals
- Number of fish purchased: If koi are purchased in bulk the price tends to be lower. Make sure you can house all the koi you intend to purchase if they are not fully grown yet
4. Koi Fish Color
There are over 100 different varieties of koi that are separated into 16 groups based on Zen Nippon Airinkai (the original koi club) who oversee the breeding and judging standards of koi. Koi can be differentiated by coloration, pattern, and scalation. New varieties of koi are constantly being developed by selective breeding.
Three core colors make up many koi varieties: red (Hi), white (Shiro), and black (Sumi). Other colors that are commonly seen include yellow, orange, blue, and cream. Some fish may have a silver or gold metallic sheen to their appearance. It is common for koi to be tricolored but they can also be either single, bicolored, or multicolored.
5. How Long Do Koi Fish Live?
Koi, when provided with the correct environmental conditions, can live between 25-50 years on average. Reports of koi living to 100-200 years do exist—the oldest koi ever documented lived to be 226 years old. Water quality, pond conditions, nutrition, and preventative health care can help improve the longevity of a koi’s lifespan. There are many commercial koi fish foods that are available to pet parents, and can be used exclusively to feed koi and provide complete nutrition. Overfeeding is a common concern that can lead to health issues.
Providing appropriate vet care can help improve the lifespan of any koi. Not all veterinarians will treat fish, so be sure find a veterinarian who specializes in your pet. Organizations such as the American Association of Fish Veterinarians (AAFV) and Find a Fish Vet function can help assist in finding a vet that has experience treating koi.
Koi fish are a colorful, ornamental versions of the common carp. Though carp domestication is believed to have begun in China as far back as the 4th century, modern Japanese koi are believed to date back to early 19th-century Japan where wild, colorful carp were caught, kept and bred by rice farmers. There are now dozens of different color varieties of koi.
Koi can grow up to 3 feet (90 centimeter) in length.
Wild koi are native to the fresh bodies of water around the Black, Caspian and Aral Seas. Domesticated in the 19th century, carp have now been introduced throughout the world.
Koi are omnivorous feeders who will eat food found at all depths of water.
The Japanese koi at the Kids’ Farm are fed a floating pellet, though they will also eat aquatic insects, algae and plants.
Koi will migrate significant distances to reach their preferred spawning grounds — flooded meadows and stagnant marshy areas. The breeding season is in the spring, around May or June. Females reproduce for the first time when they are between 4 and 6 years old, males when they are between 3 and 5 years old.
Once they reach sexual maturity, they will breed every year. They attach their sticky eggs to water plants or any object submerged in the water. The young hatch as larvae and stay in warm, shallow flooded areas until they are large enough to brave more open waterways.
Koi have an average lifespan of 40 years. It is believed that the oldest-known koi lived to be nearly 230 years old; the age was determined by testing the fish’s scales, which produce growth rings much like a tree.
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