Koi Fish have become the most expensive and sought after ornamental fish. The hobby of keeping koi did not start out this way. Read all about the beautiful Koi fish, its fascinating history, surprising koi fish facts and how koi fish keeping and breeding became the hugely popular hobby it is today.
Today, Koi fish are kept mainly in landscaped ponds and large aquariums for their pure aesthetic appeal. This was not always the case however. In their early days, Koi were simply bred for food.
Probably the most surprising koi fish fact is that they did not originate from Japan. Their exact origin and date of introduction to Japan has been much debated by Koi historians.
THE ORIGINS OF THE KOI FISH
Various Koi experts have said that Koi came from parts of Eastern Europe, Eastern Asia and China around 2,500 years ago. Koi actually means “carp” in Japanese and there are a lot of varieties of carp so that is probably why there was a lot of confusion and non-specifics surrounding its early history.
However, the carp we know today as Koi fish are actually Nishikigoi (“living jewels” or “brocaded” carp). This is the variety of carp which possess those beautiful colors and patterns we have grown to love. Although the Koi may not have originated from Japan, it was the Japanese who took the Nishikigoi and fine-tuned the art of breeding them to their stunning color mutations you see today.
KOI’S HUMBLE BEGINNINGS AND INTRODUCTION TO JAPAN
Chinese rice farmers originally bred Koi as fish food around the 17th century. They were brought to Japan, also to be used as fish food, by Japanese rice farmers in Niigata Prefecture.
Around the 1820s and 1830s, the Japanese began to breed Koi for their aesthetic appeal. Some farmers brought the koi back to the ponds in their garden. This is how Koi started to become ornamental fish for ponds.
HOW THE KOI HAS DEVELOPED
The Bunka and Bunsei Era (1804-1829) saw the development of the Koi with the distinctive red marking on their cheeks. White koi were also introduced at this time, and when crossed with the Koi with the red cheeks, they produced a white Koi with a red abdomen.
The Tenpo Era (1830-1843) introduced the white Koi with red on its forehead, the red headed koi and the koi with red lips.
In the Meija Era (1868-1912) carp from Germany were bred with nishikigoi, producing the doitsu. Koi breeders realized that different types of Koi bred together could create wonderful mutations of color.
The Taisho Era (1912-1926) saw the development of the white koi to levels of perfection with the red and black patterned white koi. Koi were showcased at the Tokyo exhibition of 1915 and that is when the Koi craze began to take off around the world.
One of the earliest of the developed Koi was the “Kohaku” with its white body and crisp red patterns.
In the early 1900s, black markings were introduced to the basic Kohaku red and white patterns to create the “Sanke” or “Sanshoku”.
In 1927, the “Showa” was created: a black koi with red and white markings.
In 1946, the ‘ogon’ or metallic yellow koi was developed. This led to other metallic koi versions being produced.
From the 1920s to the 1980s, Koi development took a incredible leap forward. Koi did not only become a huge hobby, it became a lucrative business. More varieties were bred, some ‘one-time hits’ were created which were never to be seen again while others become firm favorites.
THE BIG THREE
The Kohaku (white body, red patterns), the Sanke (white body, red and black patterns) and the Showa (jet-black base with white and red markings) are known as “Gosanke” or “three families”. In the US and Europe, they are often called “The Big Three”.
THE BASIC TYPES OF KOI AND GETTING STARTED
Overall, there are 15 different types of Koi, as differentiated by colors and size, in the standard classification. If you are keeping Koi as a hobby, a good place to start is to familiarize yourself with the 15 different types and think about the ones you enjoy looking at the most.
Remember, just like snowflakes, no two Koi are exactly alike and that is one of the reasons they make such fascinating fish.